My space on BBC.co.uk
So after a week some of the dust has settled following the BBC's Creative Futures announcements. A lot of the coverage in the mainstream 'new media' media has focussed on the BBC's apparent aim to "creating a public service version of MySpace.com". My friend Kim has already pointed out the huge gap between what was actually said by the BBC, and what was reported.
Whether aiming to replicate MySpace or not - and for what my opinion is worth the BBC isn't aiming for that - what is undeniable is that the BBC has realised that people now expect a greater deal of personalisation than ever before from web sites. The numbers of people registering for services at bbc.co.uk is growing:
In the last few months we've seen an exponential rise in the number of people registering on bbc.co.uk. A year ago we had only a million people signed up the site, four months ago it was 2m, now it's 3m.
The reboot:bbc.co.uk competition is aiming to gather some thoughts and ideas from the audience on Ashley Highfield's stated aim that:
What we need to do is come up with a personalised BBC homepage that will provide people with a starting place for their journey through the BBC's content and beyond. We might do this in partnership with some existing services, but we absolutely don't want to replicate anything that's already out there. We want to weave the BBC's content into something that reflect's people's interests, tastes, friends and so on.
I can't help but feel the BBC could, and should, have already been even further down this route. MySpace.com is only the latest in a series of social networking sites to make headlines. I can remember a presentation to the BBC in 2002 about LiveJournal.com, which seemed to divide the audience into two camps - one lot saying "This is just American teenagers jibbering rubbish at each other", and the other half saying "Look at the way those networks automatically scale - think what you could build with something like that, the UK population, and the authority and brand recognition of the BBC URL".
The BBC has actually had mini-MySpaces on the web since it bought h2g2 in 2001. Looking at h2g2 most people tend to compare it to Wikipedia (including me in the past) because of the content. However much of the life and soul of the site is in the social behaviour facilitated by the software. Every account-holder has their own "Personal Space", with a "Journal" for keeping an online diary. In fact, when the software was re-used to power Collective in 2002, the equivalent page even got called "My Space", with links to your conversations, messages and your very own bbc.co.uk hosted weblog.
The DNA software has been expanded to power various sites on bbc.co.uk, and a whole series of message boards. The 'personal space' or 'Your Discussions' page on the BBC's message boards is just restricted to a list of recent conversations, yet with 3 million members and counting it would look to be the best place to start hanging extra personalised features.
During much of my time at the BBC conversations were always rumbling about the concept of building "Member pages" based on people's registration details, which would allow them some ability to customise the content they received from, and the identity they displayed on, bbc.co.uk.
It was, however, fraught with difficulties for the BBC. If you allowed people to upload personal profile pictures, how would you scale the moderation of the images to ensure they were family friendly? If you allowed people to connect via interest groups, would the BBC have to restrict which interest groups were acceptable, or open it up, running the risk of people setting up networks for 'dogging' or 'football violence' on BBC servers? How could the BBC make the service accessible and easy to sign up to, yet deal with the threat of people setting up 'spam' members just to try and get some highly valuable backlinks from the bbc.co.uk?
Several years down the line since that presentation about LiveJournal.com, these are all questions that the BBC will still have to find answers to before it could even think of moving anywhere near the MySpace arena.