Blogging at the BBC: Part 2 - Highlands...

 by Martin Belam, 12 December 2007

Yesterday I started a series of posts looking at my experiences of blogging at the BBC, explaining how I first found blogs like Blackbeltjones, The Obvious and Plastic Bag. I also said that it seemed to be BBC Scotland who were the first area of the BBC to really grasp the blogging nettle.

Without being 100% sure that there isn't some prior art lurking on the servers somewhere, Scotblog was the first thing on the BBC that looked like a blog.

An entry on the BBC Scotland Scotblog

Scotblog opened on July 8th 2002 with this post linking to Duncan Cumming's showcases of photographs of graffiti. It featured a range of contributors, but one of the driving forces was Martin Conaghan, also behind Copydesk. Aside from the blog itself, Scotblog carried some of the BBC's best early attempts at explaining the nature of blogging to a mainstream audience:

What is Scotblog?
Scotblog is the weblog of BBC Scotland Interactive, providing links to internet-based items and resources, featuring short executive summary and unique perspective on the web.

What is a weblog?
A weblog is a frequently-updated, chronologically-ordered collection of hypertext links, comprising short, text-based 'posts' or entries, almost like a journal. Scotblog is presently written by a select group of BBC production staff, who are individually identified by their first name beneath each entry. The views expressed are those of the contributors, not the BBC. Each Scotblog writer usually posts about a variety of topics.

The site also featured an RSS feed, something that a lot of early 'blog' type content on the BBC couldn't muster. I reckon it was also the first official domain link to Biased BBC as well - in October 2002.

What was interesting about the iniative from a BBC point of view was that it was an entirely different approach to being a 'trusted guide to the web' for the UK - part of the BBC Online remit.

The central new media department in London was trying to achieve this in two ways. Firstly, this was by maintaining a central directory of links to external websites with reviews in the shape of WebGuide - essentially the Yahoo! directory model, but specifically tailored for the UK market, with a great deal less editorial staff and no advertising.

BBC WebGuide logo

BBC Webguide in 2002

Eventually the BBC realised that this model didn't scale, and required considerable investment in re-visiting old sites and reviews to keep them fresh and up-to-date. The next central BBC strategic approach was to provide a web search engine with a specific UK focus, and supplement it with a selection of hand-picked 'best links'. A case of apeing Google rather than Yahoo!

Meanwhile, away from the constraints of the close watch of the regulators, BBC Scotland had found the new medium of blogging to be perfectly suited to this purpose. Quick links to interesting and topical sites, with one or two lines putting them into context. Plus, a big disclaimer which basically said, we posted this on date x, if the website doesn't work now / isn't any good anymore / is full of pr0n, well, tough luck, that's how the internet works, sunshine.

Scotblog went 'on hiatus' in November 2004 - although the lack of a post since suggests 'hiatus' very quickly became 'closed'.

"I'm sorry to have to tell our regular readers, but Scotblog is going to be placed on hiatus for a wee while.

Don't worry, it's nothing to do with any BBC cutbacks or laziness on our part, it's just that Scotblog seems to have served much of its original purpose, and we're now trying to concentrate on proposals for some new blogging projects, which you should hear about over the next few months.

Over the past two and a half years, Scotblog has published no fewer than 621 entries and spawned two sister websites, in the shape of the fantastic Island Blogging and the multi-language World Service blogs.

We'd also like to think we've contributed to the blogging revolution here in Scotland in our own way - and we've certainly raised awareness of blogs as a new publishing medium inside the BBC."

That Scotblog post mentioned the other major blogging initiative to come out of BBC Scotland at that time - 'Island Blogging'. In the next part of this series I'll be looking at this experiment to connect remote Scottish Islands to mainland Britain using blogging as a bridge.


Wow, you bring back some memories there...

I remember emailing Martin asking for an RSS feed and a few days later they had one. That's what I call customer orientation!

It was sad when it finally went on "hiatus", but then again it probably really had fulfilled its purpose and it was time to move on.

Aha! I have finally found my old files. It looks like we had an MT blog running on Comedy for the Edinburgh festival in 2003.

Except, it wasn't actually a proper MT install, we were using it as a backend CMS and publishing the baked flat pages to live.

Happy days.

(Also, I have a 1995 BBC Drama website kicking about my hard drive somewhere...)

Keep up to date on my new blog