November 01, 2005

Web 2.0, the BBC Programme Catalogue and the irrational fear of Doing Less

In early October I attended the Web2.0 conference ("web2con") in San Francisco.

I found the event teeth-grindingly frustrating, with a couple of honourable exceptions.

Too much soggyness. Insufficient crunch.

Heureusement, my gloom did not survive my return to London. While I was away, the remarkable Matt Biddulph had done the Web 2.0 thing to the BBC's Programme Catalogue, albeit as a really fast n' filthy prototype running next to his fridge. Decades of unheralded effort by the BBC's fastidious librarians had finally found a medium which could do it proper justice.

Since then Matt has kept stirring the pot, Ben H has begun adding his special sauces, Murray has spent weekends brewing up some tasty AJAX and I've soon come to realise that building stuff the Web 2.0 way is vastly preferable to waffling on about it all.

However, the impact of events such as web2con are rarely immediate or obvious at the time.

Back at the conference, Jason Fried from 37 Signals had delivered a short, sweet "Less is More" routine. At the time my appreciation was tempered by the sea of glazed "Who is this loser?" looks on the faces on those surrounding me. Why settle for Less when you can afford More? ("The Money's back! Ha haa!")

But something must have stuck.

Over the past couple of weeks we've been pondering what user tools to build into the prototype. Once we'd sorted out our data, how could we make it easy for people to leave their mark in the margins of the BBC's vast canon?

We've toyed with offering wikipedia-style 'talk' pages for every programme & contributor. We've discussed user ratings, user comments, complex annotation, semi-structured pseudo wikis and worse.

And as usual, we've been banging up against the perennial BBC moderation headaches. People expect the BBC to keep a close eye on stuff that appears under the umbrella of its brand. That costs, both in terms of cash and in terms of freedom of expression.

Then today, as I nibbled my chips, Matt B nailed the answer.

We do nothing.

Or rather, we take pride in publishing Our Great Data. And then we encourage people to build their stuff with our stuff.

Within minutes Matt, Murray and myself had conjured up half a dozen sumptuous mash ups, most of which could never thrive under the glare of the BBC brand. As Matt Jones always said: Be part of the internet; not just on the internet.

Blindingly obvious, really.

Do less.

Posted by tomski at November 1, 2005 12:36 AM