Six Apart at the BBC

Martin Belam  by Martin Belam, 13 May 2004

Today at BBC Television Centre we had a visit from a coterie of people from, or connected to, Six Apart, the company behind Movable Type & Typepad. They gave an overview of their products and future strategy to an audience of people who were mostly active bloggers who happened to be BBC staff - most of whom were later on going to the London Bloggers meet-up doo-dah. The presentation was led by Loic Le Meur with Heiko Hebig and consultant Andrew Anker - and all arranged by Euan.

Actually, it was a mix of a product overview, a presentation on the "impact" of blogging, and a cheeky inquisitive prod at a big corporation.

They talked about the fact that currently there is an uncertain relationship between journalism and bloggers. That journalists can now be fact-checked in a post-google world in a way that never happened before, and that journalists can, should and probably ought to gauge an instant reaction to their stories. And my take on it is that even if that reaction is only generated by a small self-electing bunch of online middle class white blokes in the so-called democratic west it doesn't matter, because, in the majority of cases this is exactly the kind of demographic that these media organisations are trying to sell advertising at.

Six Apart were also boasting about the take-up rates they were getting, via not just Typepad but with their deals in Japan and via U-Blog* in France. The suggestion was that there were now 5 million blog publishers to date on all platforms in the global online world, with more and more joining every day. That is a lot of pet traumas to read about.

However, Six Apart see blogs / feeds / "spools" as a fantastic medium for tapping into niche markets, whether it was the example used today - Across The Seams - or an example I'd use - a bunch of technobods bitching about other technobods in a way that makes other other technobods laugh (see 2lmc / the spool / scribot). It isn't of interest to the bulk of people in the real world - frankly it isn't of interest to the bulk of people I know online - but it is possible to capture a small market (i.e. me and my mates) that would never be addressed in this way in the mainstream media.

The presentation also touched on an increasing corporate use of RSS (or Atom - I'm agnostic on this issue, MT can crank out templates for both, so why fret?). The example given of good use of RSS was the Nokia Content Syndication Program - a huge amount of corporate information and documentation from them is now delivered via RSS.

Delivering content in an RSS format is something that has been quite vexing at the BBC. BBC News have done it - and have really done it at a micro level. You can get any of the 'indices' in an RSS format, whether it is a massive feed like World News, or a specialist one like Leyton Orient. Elsewhere we are not always so forthright.

BBC Scotland's "Island Blogging" doesn't seem to deliver any summary feed content. Elsewhere on bbc.co.uk the Comedy Blog manages to fulfill a role that goes somewhere between 'news' about comedy and 'commentary' about comedy. The people who make the site (like Kim) get to give a flavour of themselves online, whilst keeping the site reflecting current events & trends on radio, stage and screen. It does do a Comedy Blog RSS version, though you either have to second guess the URL or dig in the source code for the <link rel="alternate"> statement. (But then you don't want to get me started on the "undocumented features" of bbc.co.uk).

Loic also pointed out the way Macromedia have dealt with their staff blogging - by promoting it on their corporate site. This is also a format that the BBC have dabbled in - BBC News journalists "Reporters' Log" has them sending in very short bursts of copy during big but predictable breaking news events - for example Hutton or Bush's visit to Britain. The BBC London site also seem to be experimenting with the format in a user-generated way for this year's elections. They have several election diaries running in the build-up which are in a blog-ish format, with comments encouraged from the audience.

Mind you, even with all this thought stimulated, I'm still not sure the Six Apart guys did enough to convince me to go through the installation pain required to upgrade currybetdotnet to version 3.0 when it arrives.



*Which has the beneficial offshoot of allowing me to improve my understanding of colloquial French

<ADDED 17th March 2004>: Loic Le Meur has written up some of what he presented to us far more eloquently than I managed to summarise it - Journalism's New World and how Media companies should adapt

6 Comments

I did want to go to this event but work commitments, well you know.

Did they mention MT3's funky new crippling pricing policies? Hmm... To do the (non-commercial) stuff I do with MT 2.66 now for free, would cost me a whopping $599 to do with MT3. And that wouldn't actually allow me to do the absolutely everything either.

(Not that I'm bitter or anything)

Being the author of Across the Seams, I'm curious as to what the blog was an example of. The Six Apart folks were highlighting the blog? I'm confused.

It was Andrew Anker who used the site as an example. He was talking about how journalism might utilise blogging, and was pointing out that you blogrolled another 10 sites that write mostly about the Giants. He was comparing the enthusiastic output generated by this collection of blogs, and others about the Giants, with the output of the regular sports journo who has to write a 450 word piece about every game whether they were interested or not. Andrew was suggesting that your local print newspaper - The Mercury(?) - could easily get a deal going to re-print that blog content and get itself a variety of journalistic voices for pretty much the love of writing and the joy of getting material in print.

Incidentally, one of the best moments of the presentation came when he switched from PowerPoint to show a browser window to load up Across The Seams - we all got to see his face fall as the latest post - Harmless (Phillies 10, Giants 4) - informed him of a defeat he hadn't found out about yet.

The other important thing that was discussed, but which I didn't mention in my original post (because we were asked not to), was that they showed us the new license pricing model to go with Movable Type 3.0 - the first question from the floor was basically "don't you think you are going to have a lot of angst in the MT community about this?". Just a little. Look at the TrackBack pings on Mena's announcement post

Hey Marty... I wanted to let you know I'd be using your blog in my talk but couldn't track down an email address for you. Email me at aa at kamungus.com and I'll explain more.

thanks for the explanation. it was a strange thing to see my baseball blog mentioned on what seems to be a uk-centric site. glad it was a positive thing, though i wouldn't have minded if it was a slam, either.

First I should correct my earlier comment. It's actually $189.95 I'd have to pay. Although for some reason I didn't see that pricing option when I first looked at the MT site yesterday. It might have been there or it could have been a hastily made adition. I suspect the former myself :)

Secondly, what I did absolutely love was what happened with the whole trackback thing - indeed last night the trackback section was giving errors so wasn't appearing. Being cynical I did wonder if they'd crippled it due to all the bad comments but it's back now.

There is something wonderfully twisted and ironic that this PR disastor has been fuelled by the very software that the company are trying to sell though.

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