"Mostly good" - Governors response to the review of bbc.co.uk

 by Martin Belam, 9 November 2004

Every media site and newspaper supplement will no doubt be examining the minute details of the response by the Board of Governors of the BBC to the Secretary of State's Review of BBC.CO.UK. So I didn't want to be left out...

"Mostly good" is a phrase I have been using a lot recently, and I think I can happily apply "Mostly Good" to this document.

On initial reading three areas grabbed my attention - understanding the learning curve of interactive activity, being open about what the BBC does, and putting a safer web search at the heart of our efforts to connect our audience with the rest of the internet.

An explicit recognition that it takes online audiences time to mature in the way they use interactivity is, for me, a breakthrough:

the BBC will foster a 'learning curve' of interactive engagement, encouraging audiences to move from passive consumption to active participation online

with a recognition that

A key barrier in achieving more accountability is the extent to which audiences feel comfortable using online tools - message boards, e-mail, chat - in offering feedback to the BBC

and that therefore

the BBC will not solely rely on complex and advanced community tools such as message boards. Instead, it will find simpler ways to capture and reflect user feedback - for example in the form of one-click interactions, such as voting on a news or current affairs issue or rating the content on an entertainment site.

In terms of being more open about what we do technically the Governors' response introduces "Backstage":

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 can't express how excited I am that some of the brilliant people I work with every day may have the opportunity to release their code and their ideas back to the Licence Fee paying public who have invested in the development. Or that we have a written commitment from the Board of Governors to "open standards". On the other hand I do have the fear that the shonky perl I wrote that somehow got into our production systems will finally get exposed for the charlatan it is.

[and I can't help observing that the name "Backstage" follows a grand tradition of the BBC, as a television dominated business, moulding the naming conventions of its operations around the theatre. I was once at a meeting where there was a proposal that the people who produced our prototypes should be called "rehearsal engineers", because that is what they did in television terms...]

Finally for me I am delighted at a formal recognition that the BBC intends to act as:

a trusted guide by offering more frequent and more consistent linking to content and services provided by others on the internet, through our search engine and through the provision of links throughout our own service

with a commitment that

This will be achieved in part through the continued provision of a web search service which protects users from inappropriate or offensive sites and material while enabling them to find precisely what they are looking for quickly and efficiently. The service currently incorporates 12,000 recommended sites, and the BBC will continue to monitor and recommend appropriate external sites

As I said, "mostly good".

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