Backstage at the BBC

Martin Belam  by Martin Belam, 14 May 2005

Whilst I've been away the BBC has finally given birth to backstage.bbc.co.uk, a place where the corporation is making available feeds, and eventually API's, to allow people to "use our stuff to build your stuff". It was an idea first formally put in front of the public in November last year as part of Governors Response to the Review of bbc.co.uk:

The BBC will support social innovation by encouraging users' efforts to build sites and projects that meet their needs and those of their communities...This is exemplified through plans for Backstage, a public site for the BBC's in-house development teams to share development plans with their peers and audiences. In a similar way to Google's Labs test-site, this will be a place to demonstrate work in progress, share expertise and invite contributions and collaboration with expert users. The BBC will also be committed to using open standards that will enable users to find and repurpose BBC content in more flexible ways

I'm really pleased that the yay-sayers have won over the nay-sayers on this one. Despite a lot of forward-thinking people within the BBC who see the value of sharing this kind of data with the audience in a new media environment, there are tremendous hurdles to overcome inside an organisation that has traditionally dealt with retaining exclusivity and rights for TV and radio output. Things like the Radio Player, and the Creative Archive Licence Group initiative show that this is gradually changing.

Two of my own prototypes already feature on the site - Where Is The BBC News? and an RSS Feed of the BBC's responses to Complaints. [Both of these are unfortunately no longer available]

Of the work that has already been submitted from outside the BBC the one that really grabbed my eye was "Who's in the News?" by Simon Cozens. It is a great little application extracting named entities from news stories, using the Lingua::EN::NamedEntity perl module. Not only are the results interesting in themselves, it made me turn my mind back to when I was trying to extract named entities from the BBC's search logs to make popularity tables of searches for people. Why didn't I know about Lingua::EN::NamedEntity then?

(Actually, in some ways it is also a sign of how my script-writing has improved *slightly* - nowadays, thanks in no small part to listening to Mark, Iain and Murray, I at least think to check whether someone has written a perl module to achieve what I'm trying to do first)

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