Newsflash: The Swarm launches today

While I don’t usually write about myself on here, I’m very pleased to announce the launch of THE SWARM, my new venture that will be offering mobile consultancy, multi-platform content production and creative workshop design and facilitation.  A full(er) website will launch soon.


Please check out the site and get in touch if you’d like to work together.

Yes, this means I’m leaving the BBC – officially in the early Autumn – after 8+ great years here.  I’ve learned alot, had a great time and now it’s time for my next adventure.


Mobile Webbys: Things are getting fun again

The mobile Webbys were announced recently and, of course, I’m excited BBC News won the People’s Choice award in the News category, but I thought I’d offer another thought I had after going through the list of nominees and winners: Things are getting fun again.

From the Webbys mobile list

From the Webbys mobile list

Games have always dominated in the app stores and as mobile downloads.  We know this.  But it looks like elements of fun and ‘play’ are edging their way into some of tools and utilities that are emerging and I think this trend is great and important.  So many of the sites and apps out there are either ‘functional’ or ‘games’ and very few of them manage to make their functionality fun in a way that isn’t distracting or annoying.  I think the apps that do this well will have a serious competitive advantage over apps that make you feel like you’re still working in the office.

I’m no stranger to foursquare – and if we’re friends on it, you’ll already know that.  Is it creepy?  A little.  But you only have to broadcast your location when you want to and to the people you want to know about it – like any other tool, I think we just need to use it wisely.  And if you use it, you can’t deny that ‘checking in’ has been made kinda fun.

I think its great that the leaderboard and badges you earn have integrated a level of play and fun into a functional city guide.  The way foursquare balances city guide functionality with social connections and fun competition is just great.  I’m curious to see what they’re doing with all the attention data and location data they’re collecting.  It must be a VERY rich data source about customers and business that’s valuable to many sectors.

And speaking of fun being woven into utility, huddle seems to be trying to leverage a brand name associated with sports and play to sell its project management app (also on the Webby’s list). Wouldn’t you rather be playing (American) football or rugby than doing project management?  Conversely, mobile stream sharing service UStream were on the Webbys list – but wouldn’t you rather play with your Kyte (one of their competitors with a more fun name)?

Geocaching is definitely a game but is another example of hardcore technology services and functionality and taking on the face of game play.  It’s been around for years (my friends Laura and Dave introduced me to it years ago in San Diego) but the app lowers the barrier to entry so nicely that I think this could make the activity alot more mainstream.  Being able to tap into users desires to feel like they’re having fun and play to get them to adopt technologies is one of the things that I think will drive the use of apps and ultimately, drive their value to users and for their creators.

Wrap up from: MIPTV and X Media Lab Sounds Digital

Well, last week was an eye opener. I attended both MIPTV and X Media Lab Sounds Digital and thought I’d share some highlights.

MIPTV: Mobile Engagement 2.0

Without wishing to blow my own trumpet too loudly, I’d like to say that I really enjoyed moderating this panel as part of MIPTV’s digital focus.  Thanks to the lovely Ferhan Cook for inviting me to host it.

We had a great line up – Michael Schneider, CEO of Mobile Roadie; Rudy De Waele from DotOpen and (aka @Mtrends on Twitter); Clare Boonstra from Layar and Kurt Sillen from Ericsson.

There’s a live blog report of the session on the MIPTV site (as well as a video of the debate – choose the second video down, under April 15 – not sure why there’s no addressable link). The panelists talked about the importance of apps, location , media transfer and other issues but there was a healthy debate about which was the most important.  Check it out.

Rudy’s presentation was great for people who are interested in where the mobile industry is going (he and I are in agreement on alot of points!):

Clare’s presentation on augmented reality was particularly good and here it is:


One of the coolest things I saw all week was Starling – a new mobile app that enables social TV viewing – it will essentially make it possible for audiences and broadcasters to create experiences like the one MTV created for The Hills where users could comment in real time and then MTV could overlay the best comments on the screen.

When I first saw The Hills (purely out of professional interest, I might add!), the main thing I didn’t understand was why it hadn’t been done on mobile in the first place – and this app does just that.  I’ve often said that broadcasters aren’t making enough of the natural proximity  CEO Declan Caulfield was kind enough to give me a sneak preview of the alpha and the interface is very slick – combining loads of bursts of social media with various contexts in a really slick way (and I promised I wouldn’t say any more than that!).  Good write up on it from Mobile Entertainment here.

Mobile Roadie

CEO Michael Schneider was on the panel I hosted and showed off what looks like a great product for build-it-yourself apps.  There’s bound to be alot of pretenders in this space – I get emails from them regularly – but Michael also demonstrated that he’s making apps for major names (including Madonna and Taylor Swift) in the music industry and that these apps are making money and increasing the ‘laser focus’ (as he called it) on their brands.  Michael also used the panel as an opportunity to announce that Mobile Roadie would be opening a European operation.  One interesting insight he told me is that they’ve seen fans buying songs in the music apps that they already own, because they are so drawn in and wanting a complete experience while they’re inside the app.  Interesting, and very different from the web ‘model’ for music and artists that we’ve seen so far.

And speaking of web vs. mobile discussions… Newscorp’s Chief Digital Officer Jon Miller talked about how he no longer sees mobile as ‘just an extension of the web.’  He also talked alot about Newscorp’s forthcoming paywall policy (and the related notion of ‘freemium’ content like what the Wall Street Journal is doing on the iPad), and hinted at a paid music subscription service from MySpace.  He also expects to see different tiers of quality of content and experience to emerge based on whether or not users are willing to pay for better experiences and quality.  Interesting.

I had to miss Gerd Leonhard’s talk on Social Media because I was in a rehearsal for my panel but caught up with him in person and have reviewed the presentation and thought I’d point that out too.  Worth a read:

X Media Lab Sounds Digital

I was lucky enough to get to talk about mobile (what else?) and mentor on Sounds Digital over the weekend and really enjoyed it.  My presentation is below – basically an update of things I’ve posted here before.  And prettier.

Lots of other interesting tidbits I gleaned…

Tune Rights proposal that we can all be ‘cons-owners’ music that invest in tracks and artsist is really interesting (and works in Sweden – so let’s hope it rolls out further soon);

– Susan Bonds from 42 Entertainment talked about how their work on an alternate-reality-game was directly related to Nine Inch Nails directly marketing music to their fans without going through a label;

AudioFuel looks like alot of fun for other triathlon/running fantatics;


– I’ll see alot of you in Egypt for MasterPeace (I hope!).

iPad – a brave new past? A few of the iPad’s ancestors…

OK, everyone’s talking about the iPad today and I’m not going to contribute alot more to that but I saw the below device today at work and it made me think that for all the technological advances Apple’s announced (10 hr batter life – WAY better than my iPhone), there’s not really much of a new idea in the thing.  I was hoping for something more.

So, behold… the iPad of the past:

iPad of the past

iPad of the past

iPad of the past

iPad of the past

If you look closely you’ll see its even called an eBook – and I’m sure there must’ve been a bookstore of some sorts to get them from.  Admittedly, Apples will be better than this but it shows why I’m not wow-ed by the iPad, initially anyway.

And while joking about this while someone I was working with at the time, he reminded me of the TRUE ancestor – the Apple Newton.  Remember those?

Apple Newton or iPad prototype?

Apple Newton or iPad prototype?

I guess its good to know that the drumbeat of mobile computing continues, even if we’re not wow-ed at every turn.

‘Divergence’ – the computing around us – my mobile 2020 predictions

I just finished reading Mobile Trends 2020 from M-Trends and it’s great to see what some of the leaders in the industry are thinking about for the next decade.  This is the presentation:

I’ve been offering some predictions in the talks I’ve been giving lately – like the one I did at XMedia Lab Sydney and Over The Air 2009 (click to see my post/slides on this).  Broadly they could be summed up in the final slide which had the message: “Your mobile was just the FIRST connected device.”  I introduced this by making more specific predictions that:

– Mobile will take centre stage (in our computing lives)

– Everything becomes connected (even our clothes.  Yes, I want an umbrella that wirelessly knows when it’s going to rain and beeps at me as I leave my flat, reminding me to take it with me.)

– Everything becomes filtered by location (and this drastically changes our relationship to content and its meaning)

– Mass participation and creativity will grow (because more and more of the unconnected will become connected).

So, broadly I was glad to see that alot of the experts in the industry were talking along the same lines.  Really encouraged, actually, even if their predictions were generally alot more informed and nuanced than mine.

What struck me though, is that there isn’t really a name for the trend that’s being widely predicted about what I’d call ‘the computing that happens around us.’  Broadly, I’d say this is a combination of: wearable/embedded/environmental technology, ubiquitous connectivity, context awareness and pervasive screens.

Depending on who you talk to, ‘convergence’ has happened or is about to happen.  iPhones and Android handsets are here, Netbooks are taking off and there’s that persistant rumour about the Apple Tablet and firm plans for other tablet devices (newspaper killers?!).  Sooner or later, I think we’ll all end up with a ‘smart’ converged device that will connect into the ‘computing around us’ that I described above.

So, I’d like to propose that at good name for this trend of smaller computing points on/in our bodies that connect to other computing points/screens in our environment be ‘divergence.’  Why?  Because what fundamentally underlies it is a move from us each having one personal computer that we interact with to a world where we interact with many computers simultaneously and sometimes unknowingly, even if much of this computing is/will be consumed through our converged devices (which will remain important!).

I’d like to propose that at good name for this trend of smaller computing points on/in our bodies that connect to other computing points/screens in our environment be ‘divergence.’

Broadcaster have had to (or are) shifting from a one-to-many model to a one-to-one model with their content.  Soon, I think we will move from a one-to-one (or a few) model for our user-to-pc access to a one-to-many model for our pc/mobile access.  We’ll have devices that are ‘ours’, devices that ‘know’ (recognise) us and devices that are ‘unknown’ but that we still share information and data with (often in a passive sense) – the level of trust and permission we permit these diverged devices to have will depend on which of these categories they fall into.

Please, let me know what you think.

Mobile connecting the unconnected world

As much as it doesn’t feel like it, alot of the world still isn’t connected via PCs and this is something I’ve had a number of conversations about lately.  The role of mobile in this space is interesting to think about.

Two weeks ago I spoke at X Media Lab in Sydney and presented the following information about BBC Online (desktop PC vs Mobile):

Alot of folks (including some internally here at the BBC) were amazed to see how different the top countries were when you look at what we do by which type of device is connecting.  It shows that there’s a massive opportunity to connect to people in the developing world via mobile.  These are people who might not have the money or access to get a nice shiny new MacBook Pro (like the one that arrived on my desk this week!) and broadband but they do have mobiles and a desire to be connected to the digital world harness the power of the network.

Another speaker at X Media Lab told me about an application in India that let’s farmers check to see what their crops are selling for in the markets near where they live so they can determine where to take their crops to get the highest profit.  Brilliant!

To respond to this, the BBC World Service has recently launched a massive number of new language-service sites – with a specific eye on reaching countries and cultures that don’t traditionally connect.  I think its great they’ve got these up and look forward to seeing how they do in the new year.  You can check them out below:

BBC Para Africa

BBC Swahili

BBC Somali

BBC Hausa

BBC Great Lakes

And this is in addition to the other language services already on BBC Mobile:

Arabic –

Hindi –

Indonesia –

Spanish –

Persian –

Portugese –

Russian –

Turkish –

UK China –

Ukrain –

Urdu –

Vietnam –

Chinese (simple) –

Chinese (traditional) –

(Sorry about the formatting – I hate the formatting controls on WordPress…)

Closer to home… I had a conversation with a colleague yesterday about how these language services might also help speakers of these languages get online via their mobiles in the UK.  A large part of the ‘digital divide’ (those without PC/internet access) are non-English speakers.  And while they don’t have PCs, many of them have mobiles, so maybe the BBC providing content in their first languages will help them get online (via mobile) and get connected.

Maybe I’m too idealistic, but thinking about this makes me hope that what we’re doing is making the world at least a little bit better.

Curl Up IN The Fire – Compilation 2009

For those of you who have known me for a long time, you’ll know that I have a tradition of making a compilation of tracks I’ve been listening to (new-ish and old – so it’s not a ‘songs of the year’ CD, necessarily).

This year is no exception and so, without ado, here’s this year’s track listing.  I’ve also added a Spotify playlist for those of you who have it and am also going to try to turn it into a podcast.

1) Talk Like That – The Presets

2) The Bachelor – Patrick Wolf

3) Too Young to Love – The Big Pink

4) Poison Arrow – Sonic Youth

5) Signs – Bloc Party

6) Who Can Say? – The Horrors

7) By The Time – MIKA and Imogen Heap

8 ) Slaughter Killing Carnage (The Meaning of Words) – A Sunny Day in Glasgow

9) Forever Young – Youth Group

10) Better Off as 2 (acoustic) – FrankMusik

11) The Flood – Simon Bookish

12) Box n Locks – Mpho

13) Danger Makers (demo) – H Bird *

14) Feel The Love – Cut Copy

15) Half Asleep – School of Seven Bells

16) Let Go of the Fear – Maps

17) I Am Not a Robot – Marina and the Diamonds

18) Pink and Glitter – Tori Amos

* H Bird aren’t on Spotify (yet!) so I’ve put another treat on the Spotify version: L’Amour et la Violence (Floating Points mix) – Sebastien Tellier

If anyone can suggest some free software that I can use to easily turn an iTunes or Spotify playlist into a podcast on a Mac, I’ll put up a podcast version too.  (I’m sure I should know how to do this…)

download: curl up IN the fire

Enjoy – and Happy 2010 to everyone!

BBC Mobile: Carousel of Content

Extract from my post today on the BBC Internet Blog…

Mobile homepage carousel

Mobile homepage carousel

If you’ve looked at the BBC Mobile homepage today, you’ll have noticed we’re giving you more choices than ever. Yesterday we launched a carousel of content in our top promotion area so that you can scroll through a range of content we’re highlighting across BBC Mobile. It’s available to a limited range of handsets right now but will roll out gradually to a wider range as we develop the technology.

Read the full post here…

BBC Electric Proms Dizzee Rascal Player

BBC Mobile has announced that it will be providing exclusive content to audiences as part of BBC Electric Proms 2009.  You can check it out in the promo video below: 

To do this, our Audio & Music team worked with Dizzee Rascal to provide his fans with the chance to play his samples and mash up his songs using a mobile soundboard. The application can be downloaded from the BBC Mobile site, or accessed by texting ‘player’ to 88111, and includes samples from some of his signature tunes.

The soundboard is live now to the majority of mobile phone owners, although not every handset can be supported. This application will join elements on the mobile site introduced especially for BBC Electric Proms including exclusive interview audio, photo galleries, wallpapers, set lists and Twitter updates during the gig.

These new features, in addition to the recently introduced radio network pages and the increased personalisation aspects to the BBC mobile homepage, are all intended to enable audiences to stay connected to the BBC wherever they are.

Download your Dizzee soundboard at

Over The Air – The Future is Mobile presentation

I spoke at Over The Air 2009 recently and have just uploaded my slides to share with the attendees and thought I’d share them with my readers too, in case you want to get a better view of what the BBC is up to on mobile and also, some of my personal predictions for what might happen in the mobile space.

Two highlights I wanted to pull out were my mini-analysis on what makes a good mobile app, which I’ve boiled down to:

Makes your life easier

Uses unique hardware capabilities on the device

Makes a better media experience on your device

Makes it FUN (aka GAMES)

Full details are in the slides and if you want to know more (since the talk isn’t on there), just get in touch.

The other part I wanted to highlight were my personal predictions around things that I think will unfold in the mobile space.  They are:

Mobile take centre stage as the first computing device you turn to

Everything becomes connected – clothing, toys, etc

Everything filtered via location

Mass participation and creativity will grow

Again, there’s more in the presentation but if you want to talk about any of these, or find out more, just get in touch.

I also gave a longer version of the talk at Ad-Tech London – part of London Digital Week.  If you want to see the extended version (with more details and examples of good stuff in the industry), dive in here:

Endz2Endz – The Place for Young Talents

Greetings, readers.  It’s been a busy summer for me but I’m ‘back to school’ with my blogging now and hope to catch up alot over the next few days/week.  This is about one of the most exciting projects I’ve been involved with over the summer.

I didn’t even really know what Endz were when I met the 4 young men who told me they wanted to start a ‘magazine’ called Endz2Endz last year via the Create Not Hate Facebook group and I ended up volunteering to mentor them once a week.  We’ve now been meeting for about 9 months and the first edition and the website launched in July (like I said, I’ve been having a summer break from the blog!).

I’m incredibly proud of what the guys achieved in that time.  They have an incredible vision for what Endz2Endz should be and what it can do for young people.  The editors have grown up in tough backgrounds around London and want to inspire other youths to use their talents to stay out of trouble and and make a positive contribution to society – connecting them between different ‘endz’ that would normally be at odds.  With their vision and dedication, ‘all’ I had to do was show them some of the tricks of the trade when it comes to editing and publishing online and we were good to go.  I have to admit, I was a little bit skeptical at times that we’d ever publish the first issue but what they came up with was better than I’d ever imagined.  It looks professional and they got great interviews and a strong editorial mix where they explored the effects of stereotyping on society by combining stories from real young people and celebrities. 

The cover should give you a taste of what they can do:

Endz2Endz cover

“But…” I hear you thinking, “why a magazine when they want to reach young people?”

Well, I asked the guys the same question when I met them and got an answer that was a bit of a revalation for a guy who started his career as a print journalist before moving into the online space.  When they talked about a ‘magazine’ they imagined a brand that was native to the online space with videos, music and interactivity – that just happened to also be printed.  Quite a revalation to someone like me who still remembers when magazines were just printed.  When I was at university, I worked on a study called The Role of Magazines in the New Media Age – any my, how far we’ve come.

Has every moment been smoothe?  Nope.  But all of us are learning from each other as we work on it and I’m looking forward to the second issue.

Also – if you’re reading this thinking “What a great idea.  How can I help?”  – we are desparately in need of meeting space and PCs – any donations would be much appreciated!  So far we’ve worked completely by ‘beg borrowing and (not) stealing’ by using cafes, borrowed equipment etc which shows just how far into the DIY media age we are; but it isn’t easy to work with no funding so any help is most welcomed.

Looking ahead to London 2012, the mobile Olympics

As part of the BBC Internet Blog’s day on mobile, I wrote a post about what we’ve been doing in terms of planning for the 2012 Olympics and mobile.

Here’s an excerpt and a chart from the work.  You can read the full post at: .   Please let me know what you think of the work and if you want to know more!

2012 Olympic Scenarios for Mobile

2012 Olympic Scenarios for Mobile

This is just one page from the much larger report/piece of work.

Full blog post here:

My First (and the BBC’s first) Live Twitter session

I’ve just finished talking to users of BBC Mobile live on Twitter ( what a neat experience – really great to have the direct conversation with them, even if some are alot more technically minded than I am.  Thank goodness for my colleagues helping me with the tough tech questions!

It’s DEFINITELY the first time I’ve done something like this and my colleaugues think it’s a first for the BBC so, to presever this momentous occasion, here’s the transcript.  It was all part of Mobile Day on the BBC Internet Blog  I guess you could call it ‘One small Tweet, for Auntie…’

(Read from bottom up.)

Twittering Live

Twittering Live

It’s been really good talking to all of you. Must sign off now. Thanks for participating – I think this has been a first! Jason less than 20 seconds ago from web

  • WhiteHi @thephazer You’re right it’s not all on the mobile site but we’re working on increasing the amount available and making it work1 minute ago from web

  • WhiteHi @rafeblandford Thanks for the feedback. Hard to know what’s going on without looking at your mobile.2 minutes ago from web

  • WhiteHi @fafeblandford Thanks for the feedback. Hard to know what’s going on without looking at your mobile.3 minutes ago from web

  • WhiteTo @nathanmassey We’re investigating… no firm plan yet.4 minutes ago from web

  • WhiteHi @catherinelucy Visual radio is a trial right now (a cool one, I think!) – so no firm decisions on where it will be available after trial10 minutes ago from web

  • WhiteTo @catherinelucy Best to check with TV Licencing on that…14 minutes ago from web

  • WhiteHi @codingmonkey Re HSDPA – It works on Vodafone or 3 if you’re on their networks.15 minutes ago from web

  • WhiteHi @codingmonkey Catchup radio coming to N95 minutes ago from web

  • WhiteTo @alaninbelfast It’s a rights issue. But you might try podcasts for time shifted radio on the go.17 minutes ago from web

  • WhiteHi @thephazer Give our mobile site a try – its got mobile optimised video on it 🙂 minutes ago from web

  • WhiteHi @catherinelucy Check out: about TV licencing20 minutes ago from web

  • WhiteHi @arepeejee We don’t run the networks so best to talk to your network operator directly26 minutes ago from web

  • WhiteHi @johnsto We’re looking at what social features will give you best experience in conjunction with PC BBC iPlayer. It’s exciting!29 minutes ago from web

  • WhiteHi @thefalken Wifi gives a better experience and a free experience – that’s important to us so we optimise for that31 minutes ago from web

  • WhiteHi @thephazer Are you looking at the mobile specific site? Or the PC site on a mobile. News clips should work for you.32 minutes ago from web

  • WhiteHi @allaboutiphone – See David Madden’s post: minutes ago from web

  • WhiteTo @markbridge Live radio is on iPlayer on devices that support it and podcasts and are looking at other ways to make live audio available37 minutes ago from web

  • Whiteto @stevelitchfield Best to get tech support for your router – we can’t offer tech support on routers because they’re in your home38 minutes ago from web

  • WhiteHi @liveJ We have basic minimum requirements for the devices we can put iPlayer on – if they meet those specs, then we’re considering them.40 minutes ago from web

  • Whiteto @stevelitchfield We started w/ N95 because it has large reach. We’re always looking at many other devices-but they need to have wifi too43 minutes ago from web

  • WhiteTalked to David Madden and OMA 2.0 is the most suitable right now and don’t forget we’re on iPhone and other platforms tooabout 1 hour ago from web

  • WhiteWe use standard web technologies for our streaming. We’re looking at whether we can make that work with the 3.0 iPhone softwareabout 1 hour ago from web

  • WhiteRe iPlayer on other networks – its not currently supported on all networks but we’re working with all of them to get it there.about 1 hour ago from web

  • WhiteRe mobile BBC iPlayer on Android, we see smartphones as key and want to be on as many as possible but I can’t comment on specific datesabout 1 hour ago from web

  • WhiteSorry for the delay. We had some technical gremlins.about 1 hour ago from web

  • WhiteHi everone. This is Jason DaPonte, Managing Editor of BBC Mobile here to answer your questions. #bbcmobiledayabout 1 hour ago from web

  • WhiteBBC Internet Blog: BBC iPlayer application on Nokia N95, N85 8GB and E71: I can hardly believe.. 2 hours ago from twitterfeed

  • WhiteBBC Internet Blog: Getting mobile in the Blue Room: Up on the fourth floor of Broadcast Centre.. 3 hours ago from twitterfeed

  • WhiteThis is a fun clip. Here’s Roland Allen in the BBC’s ‘Blue Room’: (Gadgets ahoy!)about 3 hours ago from web

  • WhiteBBC Internet Blog: Jason DaPonte answering your questions live at 4pm: We hope you’re enjoying.. 4 hours ago from twitterfeed
  • BBC Mobile Day – featuring… Moi.

    We’re doing a whole day on the BBC Internet Blog about BBC Mobile later this week.  I’m not going to give it away too much here but the idea is to give you a glimpse into a ‘day in the life’ of the place where I work and, if you’re interested, will be featuring some stuff written by me.

    I’m particularly excited because i’m going to be ‘Twittering live’ with users (possibly even you, gentle readers) and think this might be the first time a BBC staffer is doing this (not confirmed but I’ve been told this is the case).

    Full details are on this link and you can also submit questions you want answered:

    Mobile video use with teens

    Great to see some new stats from Nielsen about the use of mobile video – especially amongst teenagers.

    Their latest numbers are showing major usage and growth in the 13-17 area. These figures are for the US and some unofficial stats I’ve seen for the UK indicate they may be even higher. Interesting and short full details here:

    Fun fashion fantasy fone stuff

    My Doggie Ring Ring

    My Doggie Ring Ring

    It’s a bird, it’s a plane… No… It’s a dog, it’s a phone… WHAT?

    I’ve always thought alot of the digital media devices we see are UGLY so was relieved/amused by two things that crept into my inbox today thanks to some very fashionable colleagues.  (If this type of thing interests you, I highly recommend you read We Make Money Not Art which looks at the intersection of art, fashion and technology.)

    The first is seen in the picture above.  OK, it might not be QUITE what everyone would call fashionable – but it’s a great stab at making mobiles fun and fashionable.  Apparently, this is what one of my colleagues learned recently when she went to the showroom for the company that made the My Doggie Ring Ring in Japan.  They’re called iida – and doggie phones aren’t the only cool thing they make (but it might be the most fun!).  They’ve also got a range of concept musical instrument phones and ones that incorporate solar panels.  The work is being done in conjunction with the Au Design Project – check out their site for more interesting concepts.

    I really like the way that the designs incorporate fun and fantasy with objects that provide us with utlity.  Sure, usability and utility are great – but I sometimes feel in our hyperconnected world that we need a little room to indulge ourselves with a bit of fantasy and frivolity and that all too often we gloss over this because it might impinge on usability.  Why shouldn’t we have devices that give us a laugh, connect with our tastes and personalities?  Services on mobiles are becoming more personalised – why shouldn’t the devices themselves do the same – and maybe give us a tiny bit or reliefe from the hyperconnected world we live in?

    On a slightly less practical note, I was also sent a picture of a QR Code belt buckle.  So, if you want people taking pictures of your crotch and then being able to use that picture to download a URL to their phone to go to your blog (or other online profile?) you can now do it!  More here.

    QR Code Belt

    QR Code Belt

    And… not mobile related at all but as long as I’m pointing to some everyday objects re-imagined, I couldn’t resist this one – Creative Coffins.  Eco-friendly (cardboard!) and reflect your tastes, pastimes, nationality – whatever you want.  I quite like this beekeeper’s model:

    beekeeper coffin

    beekeeper coffin

    Customers or Shareholders? – Sir Michael Lyons talks about the BBC

    There’s alot of talk going on at the moment about the future of the TV licence fee that funds the BBC (where I work – so yes, it pays my wages).  There was a debate about freezing it in the House of Commons today.  BBC Director General Mark Thompson was recently interviewed about it in The Observer, too.

    More interesting, to me though, is the speech that the chairman of the BBC Trust (the BBC’s regulator) gave last night where he likened the public to shareholders (who want influence) in the BBC rather than customers (who just choose whether or not to buy something).  You can read the full text of his speech here.

    The good news, in my opinion, is that seems to see our audience members the same way as I do – funders who should be allowed to voice their opinions – very directly – to the BBC about what we should and shouldn’t be doing and making.  This isn’t to say they should CONTROL what we do – but they should certainly have a strong voice and an ability to communicate with us.

    What I’d have liked to have heard though, is how this could happen.  I felt the commitments he made were all good – but could have gone further.  The proposals all felt like they came out of a very linear world; where the audience can’t inform (again – not control) what’s going on.  We’re now in a world where audiences can and do expect to have a level of control with their media – and this is a growing expectation.  I’d love to see a world where the BBC pioneers a new way of maintaining its editorial quality and impact – and where it still surprises and delights its audiences – but where we give them a much stronger voice (using the direct channels digital media allows us) in what we do.

    I posted a rough proposal for how I imagined this could happen a few months ago.  I wonder if Sir Michael’s read it.  I doubt it but would love to know what he thinks.

    Mobile as the 7th Mass Media by Tomi Ahonen

    Click here to find on Amazon

    Click here to find on Amazon

    OK, so I probably shouldn’t be promoting books I haven’t actually read yet but wanted to put up a pointer to this one after reading a great excerpt last night.  I’m excited to get the whole book – looks like a great read and what I read was full of good stats.

    Sure the author is a guy with an agenda (heck, so am I) but he makes a very convincing case, not that mobile will replace all other media but that it is about to become a key part of the media ecosystem.  Think about it – what’s the first device many of us look at when we wake up and the last one we look at when we go to bed?

    I’ll write more after I’ve read the whole thing.

    Download the excerpt I read.

    Tomi Ahonen on Twitter.

    Lego, Imagination and Work

    Last week I was lucky enough to go on a session about using Lego as a means of facilitating creativity and/or strategy.  It wasn’t the full ‘Lego Serious Play‘ experience – but it piqued my curiosity in this and was interesting so I thought I’d share – and share some fun photos I took of the serious play we were enganged in. Serious Play is a technique that Lego have developed for using their bricks, etc in the office for, erm, work.

    The session I went to was run by the Digital Research Unit based in Huddersfield.

    The idea is that using the bricks can help people use their imaginations and using the bricks to express complex ideas and relationships in 3D, describe complicated relationships and also give you a chance to use your hands (which, in theory, helps some people engage their brains more).  They can also be used in brainstorming – and many of you saw an example of how this can be done in an exercise one of my colleagues ran a  few months ago.

    We worked through a process where we used the Lego to model our own role; then how we operate within that role; the wider organisation etc, until we built up a large model of how our roles fit together and fit into the BBC.  We also built aspects of ourself that we don’t bring to work and used these to do some introspection into how we might (or might not) change the way we operated, etc.

    The main idea was to get people to work through their individual identity, then team identity and then the wider environment/landscape their role and organisation exists in.

    My role - in Lego!

    My role - in Lego!

    How I operate in my role - In Lego!

    How I operate in my role - In Lego!

    A 'model' BBC

    A 'model' BBC

    I was really captivated by how much the Lego opened up the conversations we were having.  ‘Playing’ allowed us to put alot of our normal conversational conventions to the side and forced us to explain things in a simple way that wasn’t offensive or overly formal because we were using simple tools for explaining our ideas.  I also thought about people I work with who aren’t necessarily comfortable expressing themselves verybally who could use this as a means of showing instead of speaking.  And, best of all, building something before you explain it makes you think before you speak; and let’s face it, we could all do more of this.

    Effectively we were building stories.  Stories about who we are, where we work and how we do it.  But this storytelling could be expanded to help build stories for use in programme making or other content.  I recently read an article in Wallpaper* (which unfortunately isn’t online) about how architects are building stories and fantasy into some of the new work that’s being done in that field because they’re trying to embrace our contemporary need for more narrative experiences that blur the difference between real and fantastic.

    I think this is especially important when you work with digital media – sure everything needs to be functional and simple – but it should also delight and building this delight is the hardest part.  Sure Google search is a wonderful piece of technology, but it latched into not being ‘just another search box’ by having fun and playing with its logo.  I’d hope that in the type of work that I do, that if we start by expressing our ideas with Lego (or other manual tools for that matter) that we might capture some of the fun and fantasy that can get lost along the way.

    We’ll see how it goes.  I’ve just installed a few containers full of Lego in meeting spaces for my team to ‘play’ with…

    Some more info on Lego in the office/work environment:

    All The News That’s Fit to Print (in a Tweet)

    Here’s a great little (no pun intended) experiment that I think is really cool. All the day’s news – in one Tweet.

    The tweet takes you from “tinynews” to a site with (only slightly longer) “fullernews” and makes for interesting, if brief, reading. Check it.

    MIPTV Keynotes: It’s all about mobile and TV will not die

    I’m at MIPTV in Cannes and am incredibly impressed – almost shocked – at just how important many of the keynote speakers are saying mobile is.  It’s amazing and great to hear some of the real big shots in the media carrying on about the space I’m working in – and it feels a little like 10 years ago when the industry really started taking the web seriously.  So brace yourselves folks, I think this is yet another sign of alot of excitement to come.

    The other good news was that while all the speeches I saw predicted a tough time ahead for TV, they predicted a bright future.  Now, they would say that at a TV industry conference, wouldn’t they?  But, there was some serious data and thought behind the predictions and again, mobile played a big role in their thinking.

    Here’s what I took away from some of the keynotes:

    Sir Martin Sorrell, WPP Group

    TV will not die – network tv will still be effective for reaching large numbers quickly and cheaply.  But, he predicted, it won’t have the same dominance.  Sir Martin predicts the balance of advertising spend will redistribute itself like this:  20-25%, Newsapper 20-25%, Other 20-25% and New media around 25%.  He predicted that an increase in mobile would make up a good part of the increasing spend in new media areas.

    PC video and mobile content – especially mobile in B R I C s (his term for the Brazil, Russia, India and China markets) – would be especially important since this is where mobile can give cheap access to those who are not yet connected.  He pointed out the significance of China Mobile having 450m subscribers out of a total 650m mobile subscriptions in China to emphasize this.

    The ability for mobiles to become a distribution and consumption platform for TV/video content is what makes them important in combination and why it’s likely they’ll survive the tough times and come out stronger than before.

    This sentiment was echod in the next keynote I attended.  (Official/full MIP blog post on the session here.)

    Jeffrey Cole, PhD – Director USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future

    Jeffrey’s speech backed up Sir Martin’s predictions with some serious academic data that the Center for the Digital Future has been collecting for years.

    His basic premise was that ‘all media survives.’  Media never get completely wiped out – they just change and often thier market dominance becomes smaller.  He cited that radio was not wiped out by TV and (in America at least) is still a vibrant business, though not as huge as it once was.  He predicted similar fates for music, film and newspapers (scarily he predicted there will only be 3 or 4 newspapers in America after the next few years).

    TV is the exception, he said – “Rather than shrinking, television (video) will grow dramatically in importance.”  People will watch TV on a small screen – including long form and series.  TV is our constant companion and follows behaviour of people turning to their mobiles when they’re bored.  This lines up with the way we’ve seen people using Mobile BBC iPlayer in my work.  The myth that people will only watch tiny clips of short-form videos on phones disappears once you give them a means of easily accessing and consuming full length content.  (Official/full post here.)

    Niklas Savander from Nokia also echoed similar sentiments in his keynote; but this was mainly with the aim of promoting the long-talked-about Ovi store.  Which sounded like a completely different Ovi to the one that Nokia were talking about here last year which was all about sharing media created on phones.  Strange.

    Video of Niklas:

    I’ll be writing about some more highlights from the conference soon.

    Views of – and into – the future

    1984I read George Orwell’s 1984 when I was way too young and have carried its message with me – possibly too closely – through my career in technology and media.  Working in the space, its far too easy to see how the tables could be turned, allowing for a society with pervasive surveillance and monitoring to arise.  I already live in a country that’s covered with CCTV and find it a little too Big Brother like (and i’m not talking about the TV series here, folks).

    In reading Halting State by Charles Stross, a similar – but less sinister and more dysfunctional – world view emerged. 

    Stross creates a world where technology has (largely) been developed with the best of intentions but sometimes its failures or misuses lead to disastrous consequences.  In his near future, the characters wear glasses that automatically anticipate what their wearer needs and projects it for them – very cool – at first I couldn’t wait to sign up to get a pair.

    But, what happens when these don’t function QUITE as you’d expect – at one point a policewoman wearing them has CopSpace (the all pervasive police information service that communicates with her glasses) crashes in the middle of a police manuever leaving her helpless.  Do we want to be THAT dependent on our techology?  The idea of CopSpace is sinister enough – but devices that make us dependent on it and that aren’t reliable make it seem truely scary, to me. And what of the character who’s fighting in a virtual world on his and ends up getting stabbed in the real world because he forgets the guy he’s fighting in the virtual world is standing only a few feet away in the real world? 

    Halting StateOne chapter is called “Systems Fail People Die” – and I think this illustrates perfectly what could go wrong in a world where we become overdependent on underperforming technology and systems. 

    The plot of Halting State revolves around a blur between the boundaries of reality, gaming and other media.  Pervasive gaming – via the video glassses – is prevelant and characters are faced with deciphering when messages they get from their ‘games’ might be from authorities in the real world and not just characters.  Initially, it sounds cool and entertaining – but as the characters find out that these systems could be using them as pawns in something far more sinister, it becomes creepier.

    Please don’t read this as me being anti-technology – I’m not.  Much of the technology that Stross describes could be wonderful and make our world a better place – but there’s a fine line between personal services and surveillance systems.  Thanks to Phillip for suggesting this good read.

    On the upside of this and back in the real world, I heard from Ken Brady (CEO of Genkii) today about the launch of Sparkle – the first live mobile touchpoint that allows users to communicate into virtual worlds while they’re on the go.  Seems great to me – allowing users a pervasive connection to their virtual lives (ok, it’s only Second Life for now but that’s still damn cool) can only strengthen their relationship with the content and services there.  From what I can see (still wishing for an iPhone here!) this is a great first step towards something I blogged about shortly after I met Ken in Korea last year.

    Check out this video of how it works and the coverage its had on TechCrunch:

    BBC Mobile launches beta customisable homepage

    You may have already heard that BBC Mobile (the site I’m the managing editor of) launched a new beta homepage this week.

    There’s been some great press coverage of it (phew!) – and we’ve gone through a lot to make it easily customisable, giving users a wider range of content that they can tailor to their needs when they’re on the go and that’s more suited to their devices.

    Here’s what my colleagues blogged on the BBC Internet Blog about it:

    Here’s some of the nice things that have been said about it (in addition to some great feedback from users):

    The customisation has (for good reason, I think) been the big story. But from my perspective, what’s there now is just the tip of the editorial iceberg.

    I think the content that we’re offering to let users customise with is a great base to grow from, but not the endgame. I’d like to see us offering a wider range of content and letting users do more with it.

    In case you’re wondering, on my phone, I’ve added: Newsbeat (from Radio 1), 6 Music and London Local news.

    So, if haven’t tried the new page, please do. And please, let me know what you think of the content selection? What do you like about it? What don’t you like? What’s missing? What would you love to be able to add/remove from it? Make me a wishlist and I’ll see what I can do…

    Smartphones are like porn – I know ’em when I see ’em

    I was recently lucky enough to be part of a conversation (off the back of people being at Mobile World Congress) where a number of mobile experts were talking about the growth that smartphones are driving for mobile services. Loads of stats have shown that the iPhone and other ‘smartphones’ are driving consumption at incredible rates and they (and their app stores) seem to be driving innovation in the space. Great stuff.

    Thanks to Six Steps on Flickr

    Thanks to Six Steps on Flickr

    But wait… wasn’t the Windows Mobile phone that I was sold nearly years ago a “smartphone”? The term “smartphone” seems to have gone underground after what I think many would consider a pre-mature birth and now re-emerged for devices that truly are smart and really delivering on the promise that early devices didn’t.

    That said, what is a smartphone? In discussion with the experts I was talking to, we couldn’t come up with a perfect answer. Personally, I think you know one when you see it – a bit like the way that US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once tried to explain “hard-core” pornography by saying, “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced . . . [b]ut I know it when I see it.

    I also think its important to think about the use and purpose of a device before giving it a name. No offence to my lovely mother, but an iPhone in her hands would be anything but ‘smart.’ I’m sure she’d agree that a phone with buttons would be much ‘smarter’ for her.

    Even Wikipedia says there’s no standard definition which makes me think this is a subject worthy of further conversation – probably one there won’t be an answer to, but still worth talking about (though does offer one).

    Below I’ve extracted some quotes from the conversation we were having and I’d love to know what you think – so please comment:

    “Phones capable of push email and browsing desktop websites.”

    “Phones capable of running 3rd party apps.” – according to Mobile Entertainment Forum

    “Maybe … a smart phone is:
    1. Capable of rendering xhtml
    2. Capable of video playback
    3. Capable of running 3rd party applications”

    “Nokia will simply tell you that a smartphone is a multi-media computer.”

    “A smartphone bridges the gap between the computer and phone; it is a converged device with superior capability. What this means in practice will vary over time.”

    “A data oriented device that also had all the voice functions of a mobile phone with an open (or semi-open) OS that has an SDK that allows for the development of native third-party apps. The voice functions are not accessable by third party apps.”

    BeebCamp gave me a new idea for how the BBC could work

    I went to BeebCamp today – an ‘unconference’ for people involved in all things digital at the BBC and (this time) some influential and interesting outsiders.

    Can you spot me? (Thanks to RainRabbit on Flickr for this)

    Can you spot me? (Thanks to RainRabbit on Flickr for this)

    Sadly, I had to leave early for personal reasons but I got to go to sessions on “The Games Challenge – Making Things Fun” and “Building the Datadesk at the LA Time” and “What Happens When (and if!) Mobiles and Desktop PCs Swap Roles” and one on “Piracy”.  They were all interesting but, in the one on Piracy, I had what feels like a big thought that I want to write about before I go into detail about what happened at the sessions.  So here goes… please let me know what you think…

    Pre-pay BBC

    Imagine this very simple concept: Each year you pay your license fee to the BBC in exchange for programming that you own and control the destiny of.  YOU decide what gets made because YOU decide which ideas, programmes, themes, seasons, etc you want to invest in.  This could be done via an online marketplace that let’s you manage the money in your account and that links you to what other people are doing with the money in their accounts.
    The thinking came out of a discussion on piracy where I pointed out that Bandstocks (which I’ve blogged about before) has partially found a way around piracy of music by effectively creating a ‘pre-pay’ model where listeners who really want new music pay for it to be made and then share in the profits (if any) should the music become successful.  Sure, people can pirate the music later, but the artist gets paid up front if the users really want to hear their album.  There’s no guess work by A&R men – you know the album will sell because listeners have already registered their demand with votes and with their own cold hard cash.
    People pay the license fee with their cold hard cash, too.  Hopefully because they care about commercial-free content public service content (and possibly because they can be prosecuted if they don’t) – but let’s focus on the first part.

    Every year households all over the UK ‘invest’ a fairly large sum of money into the BBC in exchange for a portfolio of content and services across TV, Radio, Web, Mobile, etc that should “inform, educate and entertain” them (probably more than they invest on average in cash in any other company – but I’d have to check this).  But, once they’ve paid it, they have no control over that portfolio.  In fact, they have less direct control than they do if they invested in shares in a corporation because they can’t sell their stocks later. 

    Once the funds come in, people like myself, spend loads of effort researching, planning and strategising about what that portfolio should be – we do nothing short of our best to try to “build public value” with the funds we get.  And yes, I honestly believe, most of us do try our best to do this – so this isn’t an attack on anyone inside – I work for the BBC, believe in the BBC and think it does a great job given the giant task it has on its hands.

    That said, not allowing our audiences to have at least a level of direct control over what programming gets made seems outdated in the digital age.

    I’m imagining a digital marketplace where editors, producers, directors, etc “float” ideas to the public and where anyone who’s paid their license fee can choose to allocate a portion of the funding they’ve pre-paid to us.  This could be at the level of specific programmes (after reading a brief posted by a commissioning exec), for an entire service (if say, they really love 6Music – like I do) or even an entire genre (if you just can’t get enough cookery programming).  Those who don’t have access to PCs or mobiles could acccess the system using paper postal surveys.

    Programming would have to reach a certain threshold to go into production and larger areas would need a certain amount of funding to continue.  Those areas that received enough funding to go into production and to operate, would do just that.  New areas could be considered by the public and invested in if they were deemed worthy enough.

    Would this water down the quality of our content?  It could.  And that would be a disaster; but I suggest that we would only allow ideas that clearly deliver public value and were true to the BBC purposes and values into the system in the first place to avoid this.  Yes, we still need commissioners and editors to perform this function – I’m just proposing a more direct and accountable connection with audience members.

    If we knew every programme had an eager audience before it was made, would we ever have another ‘flop’?  I’m not sure the idea is that good but think about this… if audiences loved (and I mean really loved some programming), I’d suggest we give them the opportunity to invest over and above their license fee if they want to.  I can imagine plenty of fans of particular programmes who would love to be able to pay a bit extra to get an extra episode of their favourite programmes – and just imagine the affinity this would build between the fans and the content.  Just imagine the hype fans would create around progamming/content they’d had a direct influence on financing.

    Don’t get me wrong here – I’m not suggesting this would allow audiences to decide whether to pay a license fee but rather that they have more control as to how the fee is used.  I also recognise that a large corporation has many overhead costs and operating costs that audiences would not have visibility of or ever choose to invest in so realise a ‘penny for penny’ approach wouldn’t work – but this could be overcome by a point system or something similar.  The ability to allow audiences to see how their money had been used and the direct impact they’ve had on the content would also strengthen the accountability and transparency of the BBC to them; effectively opening the company up to a much greater degree.

    Crazy talk?  Maybe.  But I’d love to know what you think.

    As for the other talks at BeebCamp…  Here were my highlights:

    The Games Challenge: Making Anything Fun

    This was hosted by staff from Six to Start and helped us work through the challenges and opportunities of making ‘anything’ fun.  We took on Funerals, the Middle East, Health and Safety regulations, commuting and taxes.  And, sure enough, were able to find a way of making each of them fun so, yes, you can make almost anything into a game.

    Building the Datadesk at the L.A. Times

    In this session Eric Ulken said: “Journalists gather loads of data, use what they need to write the story, then throw the rest away.  I tried to figure out what we could do with all of that extra data.”  The results were the datadesk at the L.A. Times and he showed us some cool examples of what he’s doing.

    What happens when (if?!) ‘mobiles’ and desktop PCs swap roles?

    This is a session I ran – based in a question that I honestly don’t know the answer to but am very curious about after having read it in Fjord’s predictions for mobile in 2009 (see my previous post on that).   We didn’t, of course, come to a conclusion – but the conversation raised some interesting points which I’ve tried to gather here.

    The conversation kicked off with people talking about he pros and cons of storage of assets in ‘the cloud’ and the desire for ownership of assets.  A great point was made that this was an “over 25 model” for looking at this in that anyone under the age of 25 wouldn’t even think about physically owning media (cheers to Alex Murray for that thought).

     Thinking along the lines of download vs. broadcast models for media then lead us into seeing a third dimension to this paradigm which is the ability to upload.  Uploading, the group seemed to agree, allows for a different level of creativity and participation which meant that information in ‘the cloud’ could only really meet its full potential to be socialised.  Someone summed this up really nicely (I thought) by saying, “It’s about what I can do on the device that I can also share.”

    Conversation then turned to the idea of portable devices being the centre of users digital lives because they’d contain a portable, central profile that would identify you to other non-portable devices.  A key point here, was that to reach the full potential of this promise interoperability will be needed and the group seemed to still feel like that was a way off.

    BBC iPlayer on Mobile wins Global Mobile Award @ Mobile World Congress

    BBC iPlayer on mobile (which was produced by the BBC Mobile team, which I am part of) won a big award last night – Best Mobile Music or Video Service.  I won’t gloat but this is a big deal and really exciting.

    Check it out:

    Mobile Usabilty – a view from Jakob Nielsen

    Jakob Nielsen has just released a new take on mobile usability based on testing he’s conducted and the results are interesting.

    The good news, for me, is that what he recommends is very much in line with what we do on the BBC Mobile site – publish different versions appropriate for different devices.  It’s not great, of course, that he feels mobile usability isn’t moving fast enough – but it’s always good to have a challenge, right?

    I think the most interesting point he makes is his final one:

    “…not all sites need mobile versions.”

    This is a point I’ve made when talking to people who create desktop (or ‘full fat’ as I like to call them) sites.  Trying to offer the full functionality and content of every site simply doesn’t work – even if you have an iPhone.  He sites that users only use their phones for a narrow range of activities and therefore these are the sites/activities for which mobile sites are most needed.  I’d love to know what activities he found people were using them for in the testing.  I’d hazard a guess they’re around: communication (social networking and web mail), news/sport/weather information and some basic transactional stuff.  If anyone knows, let me know.

    Mobile predictions for 2009 from Fjord

    Christian Lindholm and his team at Fjord (whom the BBC have worked with on a number of occasions) has released a set of predictions for the mobile world in 2009 – and if they’re right, it sure looks like an exciting year ahead. In fact, taking an optimistic view of the trends, you might even say this could be THE year where mobile really comes centre stage. In the spirit of these being ‘Fjord Thoughts’ I wanted to share some of my own thoughts, which I’ve gathered under the headlines from the report. Make sure you read the full report and not just my comments – it’s really good stuff!

    App Stores are digital Innovation Bazaars

    The app stores are clearly going to be a crucial access point between consumers and content/services for their devices – there’s no doubting that. However, what I thought was really interesting here was the prediction that “The long tail of the App Store will allow the iPhone to attract great content and emerge as a true mobile gaming platform that puts pressure on the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP.”

    Sure, you’ve been able to download and play games on a range of devices before and sure, many portable games consoles can connect to the internet, but I think this blurring will be particularly interesting. First, interesting to see which devices become prefered/dominant with which types of users but, moreso, from my perspective because its potentially where content and gaming can come much closer. Anyone fancy an alternate reality game that gives you clues in news stories based on where you are and the proximity of other players?

    The Cloud puts digital life at your fingertips

    “The PC is displaced as the hub and takes its place as a powerful but non-mobile client.” When I first read this, all I could think was, “Wow!” and then “But REALLY?” Much as I’d love to believe this and it would be great with relation to what I do for a living, it seemed a little implausible – reading on into the report, this is refined a bit to talk about teens and people in developing countries, and I think this is more likely. We see this happening for a small wedge of UK users – a growing minority – but I don’t see a full reversal of hub/client devices this year for mainstream audiences. Watching the behaviour of those audiences who DO make this switch will be interesting though. My youngest brother and a teenager I work with already can’t see the point of having a laptop (nevermind a desktop) when they can have a Blackberry.

    I think the other interesting thing about how ‘the cloud’ will affect our experiences that will emerge will be around how entertainment and media cross between equally connected clients. With over-the-air downloads from the iTunes store, does the music ‘live’ on your PC or your iPhone? And will this be the year that delivers on the dream of being able to ‘take’ a programme you were watching on TV away on your phone when you leave the house?

    TV finally goes mobile

    I can’t write about this report without being grateful for the praise that Fjord has given the BBC in this section naming us as one of the players who will help drive this trend. Nice. We’re already seeing “mobile couch potato” behaviour growing – peak time for the use of BBC iPlayer on mobile is between 8.00pm and midnight – times when people are relaxing at home (possibly in bed) and using their reliable, fast wifi connections. This is different to what’s seen on the desktop version of BBC iPlayer and later than peak time for traditional TV viewing so very interesting to keep an eye on.

    I recently saw another presentation (by another company) looking at mobile in 2009 that predicted that Mobile TV was dead. At first these seemed contradictory – but actually, they were in agreement. What the other presentation meant was that TV on operator portals was dead; and that its time for other TV/video services to emerge – perhaps like BBC iPlayer on mobile and the others that Fjord are suggesting. Wouldn’t it be cool if we stopped watching video on our mobile screens this year and that its when “video goggles” (aka virtual retinal display) takes off?

    Location becomes the new service bedrock Sure, I buy this. BUT… the editor in me would modify this prediction slightly. I think there’s going to be a proliferation of applications that use location – but I’m not convinced they’ll all be very useful or as easy to develop as some people think. I talk to a lot of people who make the assumption that if something’s near you, it’s automatically relevant – this isn’t always the case, and even if it is, it might not be what you want.

    If I’m searching on my geo-aware device for information about an upcoming business trip or holiday, I definitely DON’T want information about what’s currently nearest to me. I’d probably like to know what hotels people who LIVE near me stayed in when they went to my destination – but I suspect working out these types of subtleties and the user experiences that make them excellent will be a little bit of a way off and that we might see a lot of gimmicks in the meantime (excluding maps, of course). And worse, the top 10 headlines near me, might actually do me a dis-service if it turns out that the raging fire a few towns over is the 11th story, meaning I never get to find out that my home is in danger.

    Heathrow Express using mobile ticketing

    Very nifty use of mobile here. The Heathrow Express is using semacodes (or are the QR codes?) to let users get their ‘tickets’ on their mobiles.

    It’s great for travellers who won’t lose their phones but might just lose another piece of paper while they’re travelling and its good for the environment and good for their bottom line (I suspect) since it uses less paper. Easy and simple.

    Patrick Wolf private gig for Bandstocks investors

    Last week, I wrote about how excited I was that I’d been invited to a see a private gig by Patrick Wolf after investing some money in his forthcoming album Battle on Bandstocks.

    Little did I know what a treat I was in for.  The gig was last night and held at the 1901 Club in Waterloo, London and was like being in someone’s living room/lounge listening to Patrick give a recital for a tiny crowd.

    I won’t gush here about how good the gig was (amaaaaazzzzzzzing) but wanted to post to share some of the videos and pictures I took and because it made me think more about what a good idea Bandstocks is.  No, I’m not being paid by their PR company! 

    One of the things that came across last night was that Patrick really likes talking to and creating music for his fans.  The whole time he was incredibly gratious and humble and genuinely thanking his investors for their support.  Not something you normally get in such a heartfelt way when you go to a gig.

    Direct relationships between artists and fans can only be a good thing and hopefully the way forward.  Cameras were welcomed and so alot of people were snapping/recording away – just another sign that Patrick is exploring a new relationship between fans and music where he (or they) own it and not a big major record label (which generally prevents either the artist or fan from fully enjoying it so that the company can profit) – and knows that letting fans do this is good free publicity and not stealing.

    Anyway, the lighting in the venue was very dim so please forgive the quality of the photos and videos, but here goes.  I hope you enjoy it half as much as I did as it really was a special night.

    “Paris” is my favourite of his songs… glad he played it even if I messed up the camera:

    Photos on Flickr here:

    Design Mind: Mobile industry and creative destruction

    This is an interesting article I just read about the mobile industry written by Design Mind, the in-house magazine at Frog Design – one of the few that backs up and isn’t looking at what’s the next Series 60 handset or guessing at what Palm or iPhone have planned – but actually looking at some of the historical and traditional forces that are facing the industry.

    creative destructionUltimately, it takes a dim view of convergence happening via smartphones – I’m not quite sure I buy it, but its an interesting theory, and certainly possible.  We don’t think about it much but there could be another path to instant communication and access to all the information you need that’s not a PC or a mobile or a hybrid one.  Sure, they’ll both come close – but, the article says, they may never provide the whole solution.  I also liked the importance the article attached to the ‘feeling’ that designed products provide – I think this is far too often overlooked.

    Another point that excited me was that this is the first time I’ve read about Nvidia announcing that Tegra would soon be available and able to make video game-quality graphics available on mobiles.  This is going to allow a huge shift in mobile content and services and bring some great stuff to the small screen.

    And dumbest mobile service of the year goes too… TFL!

    Shame it doesn't work underground

    Shame it doesn't work underground

    In the E for Effort department, I have to say that this service – which I’m sure means well – should get some sort of stupidity alert. Instead of bringing fast relief this poster is only likely to cause already stressed commuters to go into a fit of rage when they see the poster underground and realise they’re trapped and can’t use it. Sure some underground systems have mobile internet/wifi connectivity but London’s ancient and creaking system sure doesn’t.

    Unsurprisingly, it looks like TFL have been planning to install mobile connectivity since 2005 – 4 years later, there’s no sign though.  Slow and crappy as ever.

    I wonder what would have happened if people used it this morning when nearly the whole system was shut for snow…

    Bandstocks: Cool site, cool business and a free Patrick Wolf gig

    A few weeks ago, I discovered Bandstocks via an article about Patrick Wolf releasing his new album, Battle, by using the site.  The basic premise is this: you invest £10 (per share) in a specific artist’s forthcoming album and when it comes out you get a high quality download of the album and share 30% of the receipts shared amongst all of the other investors.  Bottom line – no ‘record company’ to speak of and a much better deal for fans and artists.  I’d have bought the album anyway so figured that for £10 I’d happily pay in advance for the chance to turn a tiny profit if the album does well.bandstocks_web

    Betting or investing?  They’re kinda the same, really, so this was mainly fun for me.  (And it’s FSA regulated so couldn’t be a total scam.)

    THEN… yesterday, I got an email inviting me to a private gig that that Patrick would be playing for his investors next week.  How cool is that?  I’m really excited and definitely feel like I’ve had more than my tenners worth already and I’m very excited about this.  If Bandstocks can forge closer relationships between artists and audiences, it’s going to be a great thing.

    Here’s Patrick talking about Bandstocks on YouTube:

    Proper Messy and Steven Fry: Cool stuff the BBC is doing with mobile messaging

    Happy New Year, gentle readers.

    I wanted to write a quick post to flag up something very cool that another part of the BBC has just launched using mobile messaging (SMS).  Right up front, I should say I had nothing to do with this so can’t take credit for it.

    Mobile Phone Drama

    Mobile Phone Drama

    Proper Messy is a mobile-phone based drama for teenagers, proudced by BBC Switch.  Along with video content, the service lets users get messages from the character of their choice and lets them interact with the plot.  I won’t say too much more since the story is live right now but look out for some cool stuff here. 

    With SMS being such a pervasive and natural medium for teenagers, it seems like this could be a big hit.   The messages I’ve seen thus far have me hooked – I’m dying to know who was involved with the fire…


    In more news of things I can’t take credit for, Stephen Fry (a famous BBC presenter) has been Twittering away on his journey leading up to his next series, Last Chance to See.  Which is about his quest to see endangered sepcies for, perhaps, the last time before they become extinct (or not).  Last week he  linked one of his Tweets to the official BBC Mobile site for Last Chance to See and sent a load of traffic our way (thanks, Stephen!).  Here, he talks about why he enjoys Twittering so much.  He’s got 50,000 followers already – Lily Allen, eat your heart out (she’s only got 648 followers).

    And speaking of BBC talent on Twitter, here’s links to Steven’s page as well as the one from BBC bad-boy, Jonathan Ross.

    That said, Twitter isn’t all fun and games – the BBC used it for its news coverage on US Election night by having members of the BBC bureau in Washington, DC using it.  We also used it during the Mumbai attacks – here’s two links to posts about it from editors here, including one about where it might not have gone so well.

    Twitter and a classic picture by Rory Cellan-Jones

    Mumbai, Twitter and Live Updates by Steve Herrmann

    BBC Mobile wins in 2008 .Net magazine awards

    BBC Mobile (which I’m the managing editor of) has been lucky to get alot of recognition over the last few weeks. Sure, I’m bragging – the stuff we do is great – and its great to see everyone who I work with getting some recognition for the work we all do everyday.

    .net award

    .net award - click to enlarge

    We won the Mobile Site of the Year award where the judges said: “BBC Mobile is an attempt to squeeze Britain’s biggest website onto some of the smallest screens around. The incredible thing about it is: it works’. “  Here’s a screen grab since the awards themselves aren’t posted on the website.

    However, in some ways it was more interesting to me to see another award the BBC won in these awards.

    The BBC iPlayer also won the Web Application of the Year Award. More great news for the Beeb, of course. I worked on the very first BBC iPlayer team many years ago and seeing it live and winning awards has been great.

    The really interesting this about this award though is that the photo in the foreground is of BBC iPlayer on mobile. Awesome stuff and I think this just shows how in the last year the boundaries between web content on mobile and web conent made for desktop PCs is blurring. I think it sets us up for a really exciting year where the wealth of content and services available on mobiles will increase dramatically, as will usage. I also think it could be one of the drivers for making mobile AV go mainstream – and I certainly hope so.

    .net award - click to enlarge

    .net award - click to enlarge

    An ‘interesting’ use of 3G video – Video Hookers

    One of the dirty secrets of the new media industry is that a lot of major technical advances that have been made (especially with regard to digital video distribution and billing) have been developed largely to fuel the online adult content market.

    Now, I’m not naive enough to not know there was plenty of porn for mobiles out there. But, I have to say I was pretty darn surprised the other night to see this new service – PlayDate – advertised above a urinal (sorry ladies – they really do put ads at eye level above urinals):

    Video escorts

    Video escorts

    It’s not just video porn for mobiles, it’s actually a way you can preview an escort before you meet her.  Could this really be legal?

    I can’t say I approve (though I have to send kudos to whoever did the copywriting on the poster) – but it does lead me to think whatever will these wacky kids thing up next?

    I guess, as they say in Avenue Q, it’s true, “the internet is for porn.” is Rude – and so is their Customer Service

    This morning I got really, really annoyed with

    I know its not their fault but, I really really wanted to listen to a particular song over and over while I had my coffee (as I’m occassionally known to do – this morning it was Human by The Killers).  Obsessive yes, but darn it, it’s a catchy tune.  I don’t actually own the song so just thought I’d listen on

    Annoyingly, after listening 3 times, told me I couldn’t listen anymore because I’d reached my limit!  Now, if was a free service, I might understand this but, I’m one of their paying customers.  I’ve been subscribing for years to get access to all of their functionality – I thought.

    Now, I know the real reason underlying this is music rights agreements – record labels just hate the idea of us listening to their music without buying a CD – but, common, I’ve already PAID for a subscription to this site (and have done for years).  Why can’t I just use all the features?  So I emailed them hoping to get an answer and provide them with ‘valueable user feedback.’

    I can see no reason why I can’t listen to a streamed song over and over – even in the restrictive world of music rights.  I can watch the video over and over (via legit and illegit copies) on YouTube and other services, so I suspect this is mainly reserving the right to commercialise on this at some point and not completely rights related.

    All I can say is that Karen Groenink’s point that ‘Digital Products are Rude‘ applies here as much to the product as to’s customer service.  Their response to me didn’t appolgise for my unhappiness or potential misunderstanding but gave me a snippy, legalistic response.  When I replied saying I was annoyed becuase it just appeared that they changed the terms of what their subscription was AFTER I’d subscribed, they just suggested I cancel.  Nice customer service.

    Thoughts on MobiThinking’s ‘Best of the Mobile Web’

    It was great to get some more recognition for what the team I work in is doing here:

    Of course, we normally promote our services as – but, MobiThinking are advocates of the .mobi domain, so not really surprising they called us  Anyway, praise is always welcome.

    Here’s some more information about it (and an interview with the boss!).

    Other than being appreciative for the praise they’ve given the site I work on, this report is interesting because because it names great examples and poor examples on the mobile web. So, I decided to take a look at what they thought was some of the best of the rest to see what I thought and look for some inspiration.  I haven’t gone through all of them here – there are alot – but these were some that I really admired and that gave me something to think about.

    ‘Make Sure It Actually Works’: Winner: ESPN:

    Sport is one of the most popular things the BBC does on mobile and I think we’re lucky we’re not in direct competition with ESPN’s site on this front.  The site is incredibly user friendly AND its content is increidbly deep – not an easy balance to get right on mobile.  There’s an incredible amount of linking throuhout the content, which makes player profiles, stats of all sorts, etc easy to access.

    ‘Solve a Real Problem’: Winners: and (maps)

    Simplicity, and doing something useful is key on the mobile web  – users tend to be incredibly task oriented and don’t want much interuption and both of these do this.  NWA’s site (for an american airline – not the band NWA!) is deceptively simple and straightforward looking considering how much fucntionality it provides.

    ‘Maintain Laser Focus’: Winner: and

    When I first saw this category name, I thought I’d missed the boat on the memo about how to turn your mobile into a laser gun.  While the little boy inside me was disappointed, I was happy to see that it was talking about highly targetted services with one mission at their heart.

    I talk to alot of web producers who are used to working to create deep, rich experiences on the web, with an unlimited canvas to work on, where users have the luxury of time and space and the comfort of their home or office to explore sites.  The opposite is true on mobile – when you’re standing in the rain (hey, this IS London) trying to find that one tiny piece of information you need, the last thing you want to do is explore or browse one page more than you need to.  Fidelity clearly provides this for its busy banker target audience.  ‘Do one thing and do it well.  Don’t try to do everything you can do on the ‘full-fat’ web.’ is something I tell people frequently.

    Content is King… but in small bites : Winner:

    I’ve always loved The New York Times and just about everything about it and their mobile site is no exception.  Simple and elegant, its got some great features others should envy.  Pagination that works really well for mobile users, send to another mobile feature (US only, sadly),  resized graphics and photos (which most sites strip out), and some podcasts that really serve mobile user needs.  Some of their navigation is clunky, but the site is so slick it hardly matters.

    BBC Mobile – #1 in the UK (again)

    Good news circulated amongst my team this morning – our mobile site has been ranked #1 in the UK (again) and the market for what we do is growing tremendously.  Sure Google are close on our tail, but I’m hoping we can keep our competitive edge with some of the plans we’ve got up our sleeve.

    This new marketing trail for our News service has just launched, hopefully raising awareness and usage of our service.  I think it’s great and am hoping it will be successful.

    I think the growth in usage is the most exciting part of this morning’s news though.  Christmas is coming and with new devices sure to be under alot of Christmas trees, I don’t think this is the last time that we’ll see this type of growth.  iPhones, G1s, Blackberry Storms, etc are out there and are finally devices that are ready to take mobile web browsing mainstream.

    Bongo – Creepy Service or Just Creepy Marketing?

    “Freaky” and “creepy” are two words being used to describe Bongo – a new SMS-based information service that’s been launched in the UK and being heavily promoted at the moment.  I have to say I had the same initial thoughts when I heard it being advertised on the radio with a proposition along the lines of “Text us the name and town of anyone in the UK to find out what Bongo knows about them.”

    Of course, I couldn’t help trying it (surrendering £1.50 in the process) and this is what I got back:

    Bongo knows a Jason DaPonte who works 4 the bbc in london & he organised a fund raisin (sic) for his triathlon earlier in the summer for a charity close to his heart

    All true.  And nothing salacious.  Not that I’d have expected that, of course.

    Fortunately, this is all information which is publicly on the internet about me and nothing “creepy” or “freaky” came back.  But what if it had?

    At first I was nervous but after some reflection I realised this is really just a VERY expensive way of doing a search on Google mobile and putting an editorialised twist on the results.  It’s really not that different to what Textperts or AQA are doing (pulling intelligence out of search, sometimes using humans) – it just has a slightly stranger marketing campaign attached to it.  Not surprising when you discover that in Australia, where I think they launched, they actually promote themselves as the “The Bongo Virus“…

    Strange as this all sounds, I think its another pointer towards a trend whereby mobile search via SMS will be big.  Being simple, human and to the point is what all of these services are about and that’s not something you can get when scrolling through pages of search results, hoping to get to some mobile-enabled content.

    Meeting Karen Groenink from Google Mobile

    A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting Karen Groenink a user experience designer from Google Mobile where I hosted her presenting and answering questions for us at the BBC.  Thanks to BBC Training and Development for organising it!

    Karen has worked on a number of different products in the Google family as a mobile expert and it was great to hear the way she’s tackling problems that my team are facing as well.  Some of her presentation was even spookily like one I give on mobile (coincidence, not stealing) – for example we both have slides proclaiming “Mobile is Different!”

    The best thing I took away from her presentation was a catch phrase I’m going to keep in the back of my head as much as possible:

    “Digital products are rude.”

    Easy, simple and true.  How many times have you had a warning message that won’t stop popping up that you don’t understand?  That’s a rude error message – not incorrect, but actually so annoying its rude.

    She also talked alot about general principals for user-centred design warning about both trying to “design a car for everyone” as well as “designing for edge cases” – both of which can bring about the death of a piece of work.

    Excitingly, she alluded to the fact that Google are looking at doing something with voice-activated serach – which could be really cool if it works.  I’m somewhat skeptical of voice-activated services because I’ve used them before with limited success. Voice dialling never got it quite right (and is a bit wierd socially when you have to say “Call Mom” out loud on a bus) and Spinvox, while generally good, transcribes my name as “Satan” instead of “Jason” which resulted in my old boss getting messages like “Hi, It’s Satan.  Are you coming to this meeting?”  All that said, mobiles started out as phones and few services take advantage of that, so its interesting to see that a bright spark I work with dug up this announcement of an iPhone app that does voice search today.  It looks its the beginning of what Karen talked about: .

    If you get to try it, I’d love to know what you think.  I used to work on the BBC’s search products and know that accuracy is everything and I’m curious to see whether or not the voice recognition can be accurate enough to make sure you get the search results you want.

    Update 20 Nov: Voice recognition doesn’t seem to work if you’ve got a UK accent –

    This has me thinking (again) about the potential of SMS-based searching.  As I mentioned in a previous post, this has been successful for Minfo in China and I think its another opportunity to take advantage of a behaviour that users are doing on mobile and find easy already.

    Election Day Creative Commons Awesomeness

    Now THIS is what I’m talkin’ ’bout – I just found out that a photo I took a few years ago and put onto Flickr under a Creative Commons license (so that anyone else can use it as long as they attribute appropriately, etc) has been used in a GREAT Election Day video.

    Full details here.

    It’s the beauty of Creative Commons – someone, doing something creative and for good with work they never could have had access to under traditional copyright rules.

    I’m not saying that I’m opposed to Copyright, just that this great creativity that doesn’t damage my intellectual property is something great that Creative Commons enables.

    Now GET OUT AND VOTE (if you’re American that is)!

    Shoot the Summer

    Last night I (also) attended a screening of Shoot the Summer (or on your mobile) – a film made by some of my colleagues (Hugh Garry and Jo Bellingham) in BBC Audio & Music.

    What a blast it was – and a great example of how mobiles can be used to capture stories from users that we’d never get to see or cover otherwise.  The basic premise was that Hugh and Jo provided loads of punters, radio talent and bands at summer festivals with mobiles to film whatever they wanted and then pieced it together to document last summer’s festival scene.

    Afterwards I was asked if I thought my colleagues in BBC Vision (the telly-and-video-making bit) or BBC Journalism (the news, sport, weather bit) should be doing this.  And, while of course they could, I left Shoot the Summer feeling like this was the perfect thing to be coming out of one of our radio-based areas.  The texture of it just felt like radio to me.  Audiences voices mixed with radio talent and bands, first hand experiences and – of course – music.  Sure it didn’t have all the polish that a TV production on summer festivals would have had – but it had something more intimate than what you’d capture otherwise.  Having been to ALOT of the festivals in my day, I definitely felt like it capture the feel of festival going far better than the professionally-produced Glastonbury: the Movie did.

    Watching it also backed up another hunch I’ve always had – that while musicians are great on stage, they’re not nearly as interesting as crowd members when you meet them.  The only parts of the film that left me fidgiting and not laughing or enjoying myself were the ones where the bands were on as opposed to the punters.

    I really hope I see more of this type of work coming out of the BBC in the future.

    NESTA: ARGs: Entertainment 2.0

    Last night I attended a sesion at NESTA about Alternate Reality Games (ARGs).  The session was primarily a talk by Six To Start an agency that produces these types of games.

    The speakers took us through a number of case studies where they’d done interactive storytelling in different ways – all of which were interesting – but some of which have been done before.  I particularly liked The 21 Steps on We Tell Stories, a story which was written to be told using Google Maps.

    Dan Hon, CEO of Six to Start, made some really insightful comments into what ARGs are and why they’re valuable/interesting.  He explained simply that the platform for ARGs is ‘the whole world.’  Great.  But unfortunately the examples they showed (and many of the other things I’ve seen touted as ARGs) dont’ really do this.  The examples all showed work that was primarily PC based or based around activity that occured mainly in the home.

    I was hoping to see examples of work that really too the user into ‘the whole world’ and moved them away from their PC to do things in physical environments, potentially interacting with each other.  I think there’s great potential for mobiles to be a part of helping audiences/players do this and am hoping to get to work on some projects that do this in the coming year.

    Another really good point that was made during the night was that too many companies were trying to do ‘live’ ARGs where you had to join at the start and play all the way through, making it impossible (or nearly impossible) for players to fall into the game and play if they aren’t aware of it from the start which makes it impossible to maximise audiences.  I think this might be a trap that the BBC’s game around Torchwood fell into (as I talked about in my post on Beeb Camp’s ‘How Not To run an ARG’ session).

    Mobile Design UK meetings

    Looks like a good proposal for meetings of people working in designing for mobile and a potentially good blog too.  Good luck to Bryan.

    BeeB Camp (aka BBC Camp)

    The BBC camp?  Never.  This was BeeBCamp.

    Today I attended a really interesting event (‘unconference‘) with various other ‘digital types’ from around the BBC to discuss, well anything we wanted.  I attended a number of self-organising sessions, and here’s some of my notes and thoughts:

    Session 1: The BBC’s first MMOG (massively multiplayer online game)

    This session was run by Dave Anderson from BBC Worldwide (the commercial arm of the BBC) and he talked about a MMOG called Tronji that they’ve co-developed with BBC Children’s.  It was very interesting to learn about how this has been developed as its getting close to going into beta about how they’re hoping to build critical mass.

    The big challenge for Dave seemd to be reconciling how his part of the BBC could find a business model and tech to support it that would allow them to commercialise the world they’ve built for non-UK users while making sure that license fee payers get a great free experience.  He’s not the only one thinking about this.  It’s come up in a number of projects I’ve worked on over the years and is always tricky and is a particularly live issue on one of the projects I’m working on now.

    IP detection seems to work to an extent for us – but it’s not perfect and is far less perfect on mobile than it is for fixed-line broadband.  Issues like Opera Mini routing all its users through Norway and Blackberry using strange international proxy servers means that determining which country a mobile user is in is far more complicated than it is for a fixed-line broadband user.  I guess by the very nature of mobiles being, er, mobile, they’re harder to track.  There’s also the issue of what happens when a user with a UK sim card and subscription roams out of the UK and the issues of when a non-UK user roams into the UK.  (Nevermind my friend who’s phone picked up Orange France while he was standing in Dover recently…)

    Session 2: What is the Common Platform?

    Steve Bowbrick (who it turns out I worked with on a project called way back in 1997 and haven’t seen since) is the BBC’s new ‘Blogger in Residence’ – but he’s not just blogging.  He’s advocating something he calls (somewhat clunkily in my humble opinion) the Common Platform.  He described himself as being a ‘critical friend’ – one who can be friends with everyone around but who won’t go native while he’s here – I liked this way of describing what he’s doing.

    So what is it?

    It seems to be a vision he’s creating for what the BBC could be and how it could provide value after the ‘broadcast era’ that’s centred around ‘openness.’  He said it should involve 5 things: Creation, Enterprise, Learning, Participation and Communication.  I can’t argue the BBC shouldn’t do those things but, I want to know more about what he’s got in mind – I’m sure alot of other people in the room have had those thoughts.

    When pushed on the details of how exactly he imagined his vision manifesting itself, Steve elaborated that he thought it was like an ‘added layer’ on top of what’s already there on the Internet.  Interesting, but some would argue the Internet already exists and no one needs the BBC trying to control it and that as an organic network it will improve itself to meet the needs of its users.  I pressed him about whether he thinks the layer is something that the BBC should build or if its something that we can encourage the growth of by building our stuff in certain ways and he didn’t seem convinced either way.  Personally, I think there’s a greater case for building public value (did I just use that phrase?!) by building things well and setting examples that will build up better semantic relationships rather than trying to create some monster application that will try to ‘control’ a medium that clearly isn’t controllable.  Granted, the control Steve is talking about is enhancements that make it all better but I can’t help but be wary.

    Session 3: How NOT to run an Alternate Reality Game

    This session was really interesting – I didn’t even know the BBC had attempted an ARG before today – but it also annoyed me.  The speakers told us about how they had run an ARG around the programme Torchwood and about the lessons they learned.  They were (not direct quotes):

    • Don’t make any assumptions about your reality or the alternate one you’re creating – check everything;
    • Don’t underestimate how much work it will take;
    • Be prepared for there to be a change in the real world (say current events) that require you to change your alternate reality.

    All very sensible from what I could see – and great to get these tips ‘from the horses mouth.’

    That said, the speaker didn’t feel the work had been worth the effort (despite others in the conversation being fairly impressed with the stats!) and seemed to be advocating that the BBC not try an ARG again.  (He did suggest that we might do less elaborate “brand extensions” so wasn’t completely negative on the idea.)

    Now, from my perspective, not getting something QUITE right doesn’t mean never do it again.  It certainly didn’t sound like a failure and I’d rather see us try to do better next time.

    The game, as it was described to me, ran exactly alongside episodes – so was in some ways still essentially linear and only had the length of the series to attract an audience from TV.  I’d like to see one where the story is less linear and that can last over a longer period of time to catch on virally.  The game also sounded very PC-based (though there were clearly links into the real world) and I’d like to experiment more with what we can do with mobile and out-of-home content to see if we can create ARGs that manifest in the real world away from the PC.  I think there’s a connection to be made with geocaching here too… somehow.

    I’d love to know about any great examples of mobile ARGs that people have seen!

    Session 4: Does the BBC need a games strategy?

    Really interesting conversation here.  The general consensus here was that yes, we do need one.  The audience are crying out for them and will abandon us if we don’t engage with gaming.  But, more interestingly, we discussed the fact that even amongst the people around the table, everyone was talking about something different when they talked about a ‘game’.  Console games, mobile games, virtual world games, ARGs, playground games, board games, web-based games, puzzles, the list goes on.  It wasn’t until the end of the conversation when I mentioned Celebdaq that anyone really discussed the fact that this is probably the most successful game the BBC has done to date.

    I think a great outcome of this would be for someone to put the type of games into some sort of simple framework and then say what our business strategy for each type is.  One serious fly in the ointment was the that the BBC is in a tricky space from a regulatory perspective when it comes to games but, interestingly, the ways of working in this space that we talked about almost all included collaboration with the games (or other) industries, which I think show how we could create beneficial partnerships across the range of games and I think that if this was mapped against the framework for the types of games we could produce it could be a powerful way forward in a space that’s traditionally been very difficult.

    There’s probably already a bright spark someplace in the BBC that’s already done this so if you’re out there, please, come out, come out wherever you are…

    Which reminds me – if nothing else – today was a great day for meeting and connecting with alot of smart folk from around the business I work in.  The type of day that makes me really happy to work for the Beeb.

    Session 4: My session! – Should We Bother With Bluetooth?

    I lead a conversation with a few other people about whether or not we should try to use Bluetooth as a distribution mechanism.  The conversation basically centred around the fact that Bluetooth is widely used by teens and a free technology which makes it even more attractive to them.  In fact, one report I read said that UK teens and young people use Bluetooth more than their peers in any other country.  All that said, when we’ve tried to do projects using Bluecasting, the results have been underwhelming.

    Bluecasting and users Bluetoothing content to each other are clearly two different ways of communicating and what I took away from the session is that we should move our Bluetooth efforts towards trying to fit with the natural behaviour that teens have – sending stuff between themselves – rather than trying to be a, errrr, broadcaster pushing content over-the-air to them in a linear fashion (Bluecasting).  We talked about trying to create a non-linear narrative that was distributed this way and how you might be able to use it in conjunction with a ‘hidden camera’ or game show…  If anyone has any ideas, please shout!

    A few thoughts on how the day was shaped

    It was great that people took the time out to organise the day and, as I said above, it was a really good one that made me happy to be working at the BBC.  But I thought I’d share a few thoughts on the format since creative facilitation is one of my interests.

    The day was billed as an ‘unconference’ that was self organising.  The ‘un organisers’ put a grid of times and tables on the board and asked people to talk about something or pose a question for people to join them to talk about.  It reminded me of the ‘Open Space’ methodology which I’ve seen used other places with slightly different executions.

    Open Space aims to be light touch and when you have a bunch of like-minded and engaged people in a room works well but, there’s a few things that still could have gone better:

    Ground rules.  You gotta have em.  I know that no one likes them and thinks they know them, but there were a few times today when I thought it would have been good to remind people that in this type of setting ‘no idea is a bad idea’, etc.  We were told ‘No Powerpoint’ upfront – which was a godsend.  I also felt like it would have been helpful to have a few neutral facilitators around to help slow conversations build up momentum – or even just some pointers about unconference techniques that work well, for people who felt ‘stuck’ during their conversations.

    Also, moving on from these types of events is always hard.  We talked about this a little bit at the end, but a mechanism to help people try to take something concrete away might have strengthened it.  In any training on how to run these types of things, one of the thing you learn is that you should ‘record everything’ and I really agree with that.  Lots of people were making notes today – and I’m sure I’m not the only one blogging by any stretch of the imagination – but I still feel like some great stuff might get lost – purely because there was just SO much good stuff!

    BBC iPlayer on Nokia N96

    The team I work with has just launched the BBC’s on-demand player on Nokia’s new phone – the N96 – and I have to say I think its super cool.  I was really excited when I saw this outdoor marketing for it last night while I was cycling home.  When you work with lots of digital content and services, its nice to see something physical, in the real world recognising what you do.

    The BBC iPlayer has been available on the iPhone for a while now but this is the “next step” (as my boss says) for what we’re doing in this space.  Stay tuned.

    BBC iPlayer on N96

    BBC iPlayer on N96

    BBC iPlayer on N96

    News Film Online launched

    Yesterday I attended the launch of News Film Online – a site that makes huge amounts of the ITN/Reuters archive available for educational purposes.

    From what I’ve seen the site is great – giving learners and educators a variety of ways of accessing and using the materials.  Its a shame, of course, that you have to be part of an educational institution to use it, but this still feels like a great step forward for making previously archived content available online.

    Interesting stuff from Korea

    At the conferences I attended in Seoul, I came across a number of things that were worth a mention on here that I wanted to do a roundup of.  Sadly, there’s little information available for alot of them in English but they’re still good ideas and hopefully you can get a taste of them from this.

    – Minfo:

    Not alot to see here if your device can’t render Chinese and you’re not searching for Chinese content but these guys are big time leaders in the mobile search field, a space where I think we can’t assume any one incumbant company is going to win.  Minfo have a service that can be accessed via browser, text, donwloadable client, and IM and are innovating around the way search-based ads are being delivered in this space.  This is their English-language informational site.


    – Bicon:

    This was a cool content-neutral portal for dragging and dropping widgets onto and off of your mobile.  There were a few of these types of thing on show and looked like they could really make for a smoother user-experience for users if they became widespread.

    – Fantalog IB:

    Internet broswer for mobile that claims to handle ‘full-fat’ web pages more smoothly than others and with a better user interface.  There are quite a few mobile web browsers around (which I find exciting – like the early days of the desktop web!) and I think it will be interesting to see how long it is before they handle ‘mobile web’ and ‘desktop web’ pages in a way that’s seamless and invisible to the users.

    – Phonetoshop:

    I couldn’t find an English-language site for this software but it was a client that allowed users to do basic video editing right on their phones.  Its probably not ready for primetime yet, but shows that its only a matter of time before people start not only capturing media on the move but also doing more serious production with it.  Interesting to me both from the point of view for using it to allow journalists and professional producers to produce stuff in the field really easily as much as it from a user-generated-content point of view.  I saw users using DVRs on their mobiles to record mobile TV and then send it to their friends so the ability to take video, mash it up, edit it, etc and share it couldn’t be far off.


    – HOVR –

    These guys are using social-networking business models to create a better experience for accessing mobile games – namely that they’re free.


    – Phone Braver (Keitai Sousakan) 7:

    I nearly exploded when I first found out about this – only to find out it wasn’t QUITE as real as I’d initially imagined.  I thought it was a mobile, meets action figure/robot, meets cross-platform content.  From what I could understand this was a mobile that was marketed as a Transformer-like character that had a TV show.  Turns out it was just a toy and not a real mobile, but still a great idea (like so many – if they were real).

    The toy:

    Clip of the programme:

    And another with very surreal adult themes/political quotes and a talking cardboard dog – provided purely because it was so wierd:


    – UFOTown –

    I wasn’t able to figure out exactly what this was but its designed to be a portal that allows celebrities and fans a means of texting each via a mobile/web portal.  Neat way of using mobile messaging to create hype around talent, if I understand it correctly.