Where is the BBC News?

 by Martin Belam, 12 April 2005

Over the last couple of months the BBC has been running an internal competition for staff to make prototypes of new uses of BBC data. One of my entries was screen-scraping the BBC Complaints site into an RSS feed, which I've already written about.

My second entry was called "Where Is The BBC News?"

This admittedly crude prototype splices together the RSS feed of the BBC News World Edition Index page with World 66's "Visited Countries map" to produce a real-time picture of which countries are in the BBC's news headlines.

Screengrab of my Where Is The BBC News? prototype /a>

The script parses the BBC's RSS feed, then pattern matches across the headline and description of a story in the feed to look for the names of countries. It then constructs the query string needed to generate a World 66 Visited Countries map, and pulls that into a frameset. This means it can be displayed alongside a list of the headlines from the feed, and the headlines link back to BBC News and open the correct story in a new window.

In an ideal world the map would be a smooth flash-based interface, and have the headlines of the relevant stories as tool tips if you hovered over them. I'd also love to have shading so that countries which had more stories written about them would appear darker. And I'd like to make countries with no news about them disappear off the map completely, so that you saw a different outline of the globe's land masses depending on the current news agenda. It has already been pointed out to me by a friend at the BBC that it would be great to capture the image at set time intervals, and then generate an animated timeline of snapshots that showed how the news agenda had moved across the globe.

I should add it was also pointed out to me that my explanation of how the perl works - "If there is a country with a name, I have an IF statement for it" - would make a great t-shirt for me to wear around the office.

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