Broadcast Support – Thinking About Virtual Revolution

Watching the OU/BBC co-produced Virtual Revolution programme over the weekend, with Twitter backchannel enabled around the #bbcrevolution hashtag, I started mulling over the support we give to OU/BBC co-produced broadcast material.

Although I went to one of the early planning meetings for the series, where I suggested OU academics participate with elevated rights and credentials on the discussion boards as well as blogging commentary and responses to the production team’s work in progress, I ended up not contributing at all because I took time out for the Arcadia Fellowship; (although I have a scattergun approach to topics I cover, I tend to cover them obsessively – and so didn’t want to risk spending the Arcadia time chasing Virtual Revolution leads!)

Anyway, as I watched the broadcast on Saturday, I started wondering about ‘live annotation’ or enrichment of the material as it was broadcast via the backchannel. Although I hadn’t seen a preview of the programme, I have mulled over quite a few of the topics covered by the programme in previous times, so it was easy enough to drop resources in to the twitter feed. So for example, I tweeted a video link to Hal Varian, Google’s Chief Economist, explaining how Google ad auctions work, a tweet that was picked up by one of the production team who was annotating the programme with tweets in real time:

I’ve also written a few posts about privacy on this blog (e.g. Why Private Browsing Isn’t… and serendipitously earlier that day Just Because You Don’t Give Your Personal Data to Google Doesn’t Mean They Can’t Acquire It) so I shamelessly plugged those as well.

And when mention was made about the AOL release of (anonymised) search data, I dropped in to a post I’d written about that affair at the time, which included links to the original news stories about it (When Your Past Comes to Haunt You). Again, my original tweet got amplified:

It struck me that with an hour or so lead time, I could have written a better summary post about the AOL affair, and also weaved in some discussion about the latest round of deanonymisation fears to do with browser history attacks and social profiling. I still could, of course… and probably should?!;-) That said, within an hour or so of the programme ending, I had popped up a post on Google Economics, but I’d obviously missed the sweet spot of tweeting it at the appropriate point in the programme. (To have got this post to appear on the blog would have taken a couple of days….)

Just as a further aside – I have no evidence that tweeting links is beneficial; it might be seen as a distraction from the programme, for example. The mechanic I imagine is folk see the tweet, open the link, skim it, and then maybe leave it open in a tab for a more detailed read later, after the programme has finished? It’d be good to know if anyone’s looked at this in more detail…?

Now I know that most people who read this blog know how Twitter works, and I also know that the Twitter audience is probably quite a small one; but social viewing in the form of live online communications are still evolving, and I suspect audience involvement with them reflects an elevated level of engagement compared to the person who’s just passively watching. (It may be that discussion was also going on in various Facebook groups, or isolated instant messaging or chat rooms, via SMS, and so on). And that elevated level of active, participatory engagement is one of the things we try to achieve, and capitalise on, with our web support of broadcast programming.

So how best can we engage that audience further? Or how do we make the most of that audience?

One of the tools I’ve been playing with on and off displays a list of people who have been using a hashtag, and their relationship to you (Personal Twitter Networks in Hashtag Communities). These people have demonstrated a high level of engagement with the programme, and to be blunt about it, may represent weakly qualified leads in a marketing sense?

So as the dog looks up at me, hopeful of a walk, I’m going to ponder these two things: 1) how might we engage in realtime backchannel activity around broadcasts in order to maximise reach into an engaged population; and 2) how might that activity, and post hoc analysis of the engaged community, be used to drive sales of OU warez?

PS here’s another interesting possibility – caption based annotations to iPlayer replays of the programme via Twitter Powered Subtitles for BBC iPlayer Content c/o the MASHe Blog (also check out the comments…)

Scheduling Content Round the Edges – Supporting OU/BBC Co-Productions

Following the broadcast of the final episode of The Virtual Revolution, the OU/BBC co-produced history of the web, over the weekend, and the start today of the radio edit on BBC World Service, here are a few thoughts about how we might go about building further attention traps around the programme.

Firstly, additional content via Youtube playlists and a Boxee Channel – how about if we provide additional programming around the edges based on curating 3rd party content (including open educational video resources) as well as OU produced content?

Here’s a quick demo channel I set up, using the DeliTV way of doing things, and a trick I learned from @liamgh (How to build a basic RSS feed application for Boxee):

I opted for splitting up the content by programme:

Whilst the original programme is on iPlayer, we should be able to watch it on Boxee. I also created and bookmarked a Youtube playlist for each episode:

So for example, it’s easy to moderate or curate content that is posted on Youtube via a programme specific playlist.

Here’s the channel definition code:

<name>Virtual Revolution, Enhanced</name>
<description>Watch items related to the BBC/OU Virtual Revolution.</description>
<copyright>Tony Hirst</copyright>

[This needs to be saved as the file descriptor.xml in a folder named bbcRevolution in the location identified in Liam’s post… alternatively, I guess it should be possible to prescribe the content you want to appear in the channel literally, e.g. as a list of “hard coded” links to video packages? Or a safer middle way might be to host a custom defined and moderated RSS feed on the domain somewhere?]

Anyway, here’s where much of the “programming” of the channel takes place in the DeliTV implementation:

(Note that the Youtube playlist content is curated on the Youtube site using Youtube playlists, partly because there appeared to be a few pipework problems with individual Youtube videos bookmarked to delicious as I was putting the demo together!;-)

Secondly, subtitle based annotations, as demonstrated by Martin Hawksey’s Twitter backchannel as iPlayer subtitles hack. The hack describes how to create an iPlayer subtitle feed (I describe some other ways we might view “timed text” here: Twitter Powered Subtitles for BBC iPlayer Content c/o the MASHe Blog).

With The Virtual Revolution also being broadcast in a radio form on the BBC World Service, it strikes me that it could be interesting to consider how we might use timed text to supplement radio broadcasts as well, with either commentary or links, or as Martin described, using a replay of a backchannel from the original broadcast, maybe using something like a SMILtext player alongside the radio player? (Hmmm, something to try out for the next co-pro of Digital Planet maybe..?;-)

The University Expert Press Room – COP15

Chatting just now to @paulafeery, I learned about something that completely passed me by at the time – the OU COP15 Press Room (as you might expect, the site has disappeared… Internet Archive copy of sorts here).

Built on WordPress (yay!-) using the Studiopress Lifestyle theme, the site provided a single point of access to content and several OU academics with relevant expertise in the area in order to “support” journalists writing around issues raised over the course of the COP15 Climate Talks last year.

The site makes good use of categories to partition content into several areas (each, of course, with its own feed:-) So for example, there are categories for News, Research and Opinion, the latest items from which are also highlighted on the front page:

The site also syndicated a feed from an OU Audioboo site where OU academics were posting audio commentaries on related matters:

I don’t think there was a COP15 channel on the OU Boxee TV channel though, although there was an OU COP15 Youtube playlist:

(It strikes me that it might have been good to put a playlist player in an obvious or obviously linked to place on the COP15 press room front page? I also wonder how we might best guarantee OU exposure from any video material we publish and what sort of form it needs to be in, and under what sort of licensing conditions, in order for news outlets to run with it? e.g. How the Ian Tomlinson G20 video spread The Guardian brand across the media, Video Journalism and Interactive Documentaries and to a lesser extent The OU on iPlayer (Err? Sort of not…).)

Anyway, this thematic press room seems like a great idea to me – though I’d have also liked to see a place for 200-500 word CC (attribution) licensed explanatory posts of the sort that could be used to populate breakout factual explanation boxes (with attribution) in feature articles, for example.

Compared to the traditional press release site (which apparently serves as much as an OU timeline/corporate memory device as anything, something that hadn’t occurred to me before…) this topical press room offers another perspective on the whole “social media press release” thang (e.g. Social Media Releases and the University Press Office).

If you want to look back over the COP15 Press Room, you can find it here: OU COP15 Press Room [on Internet Archive]

PS If I was as diligent as Martin Belam at this sort of critique, I’d have probably have done a comparison of the OU Press Room site and example output as appearing on the Guardian COP15 topic page:

or the BBC COP15 topic page:

in order to see what sorts of content fit there might be going from copy on the OU Press Room to the material that is typically published on news media sites. If the content doesn’t fit, no-one will re-use it, right?

Maybe next time?!;-) (If you know of such a comparative critique, please post a link back to here or add a comment below;-)

[See also: UK Nordic Baltic Summit 2011 discussion site.]

Related: Social Media Releases and the University Press Office

TV Critic/Reviewer, or TV Scheduler?

Having a tinker with a couple of Yahoo Pipes that pull down RDF and XML versions of BBC series and programme pages for programmes that the OU had a hand in co-producing, an earlier post on Some Thoughts on My Changing TV Habits came to mind, and in particular the thought that:

a lot of TV related PR activity (which we go in for at the OU because of our co-pro arrangement with the BBC) is aimed at getting previews of programmes into the press. But from my own viewing habits, a large part of my viewing (particularly over iPlayer content) is guided by post hoc reviews appearing in the weekend press of programmes broadcast over the previous seven days, as well as “last week’s” Radio Times, and (occasionally) social media comments from people I follow relating to programmes they have recently watched themselves. From a PR point of view, there may be an increasing benefit in considering “after-TX” PR opportunities to exploit the fact that content remains viewable over a 7 or 28 day period (or even longer for series linked content or content that is rebroadcast on other BBC channels).

In particular, as more and more content is available on a catchup basis, might we see media players who publish television review columns, and particularly those who do so on a weekly basis in the weekend papers, publishing “easy viewing” tools that make it easy to watch in one go the programmes reviewed in that week’s review column?

That is, might we see reviewers reviewing programmes from throughout the previous week becoming de facto schedulers of content for readers to watch one evening later in the next week? Read the review, then watch for yourself..

(Thinking back, maybe that thought was also influenced by this post on YouTube Leanback Brings Personalized Channels To Your TV, which I remember reading earlier today; in particular the “notion of leaning back and just watching is something that will take some getting used to. That said, YouTube reports that Leanback users are consuming 30 minutes at a time — twice as much as they do using the normal site — so obviously it’s working for some people.”)

PS as to that pipework:

BBC/OU co-pro programmes currently available on iPLayer
clips from OU/BBC co-pro programmes currently available on iPlayer

PPS I also did a cutdown demo pipe, especially for Liam… episodes of Coast currently available on iPlayer

Educative Media?

Another interesting looking job ad from the OU, this time for a Web Assistant Producer with Open Learn (Explore) in the OBU (Open Broadcasting Unit).

Here’s how it reads:

Earlier this year the OU launched an updated public facing, topical news and media driven site. The site bridges the gap between BBC TV viewing and OU services and functions as the new ‘front door’ to Open Learn and all of the Open University’s open, public content. We are looking for a Web Assistant Producer with web production/editing skills.

You will work closely with a Producer, 2 Web Assistant Producers, the Head of Online Commissioning and many others in the Open University, as well as the BBC.

You need to demonstrate a real interest in finding and building links between popular media/news stories, OU curriculum content, research and more. You must have experience of producing online educational material including: Researching online content, writing articles; sourcing images or other assets and/or placing and managing content text, FLASH and video/audio content within a Content Management System.

(I have to say, I’m quite tempted by the idea of this role…)

One of the things I wonder about is the extent to which “news” editorial guidelines will apply? When the OU ran the website (now replaced by the revamped OpenLearn) content was nominally managed under BBC editorial guidelines, though I have to say I never read them… Nor did I realise how comprehensive they appear to be: BBC Editorial Guidelines. (Does the OU have an equivalent for teaching materials, I wonder?!)

As a publisher of informal, academic educational content, to what extent might editorial guidelines originating from a news and public service broadcaster be appropriate, and in what ways, if any, might they be inappropriate? (I think I need to try out a mapping from the BBC guidelines into an educational/educative context, if one hasn’t been done already…?)

Anyway, for a long time I’ve thought that we could be trying to make increased mileage of news stories in terms of providing deeper analysis and wider contextualisation/explanation that the news media can offer. (In this respect, I just spotted something – now a couple of days old: oops! – in my mailbox along exactly these lines. I’m working towards inbox zero and a shift to a new email client in the new year, so fingers crossed visiting my email inbox won’t be so offputting in future!) So it’s great to see that the new OpenLearn appears to be developing along exactly those lines.

A complementary thing (at least in the secondary sense of OpenLearn as open courseware and open educational resources) is to find a way of accrediting folk who have participated in open online courses and who want to be accredited against that participation in some way … and it just so happens that’s something I’m working on at the moment and hoping to pitch within the OU in the new year…

PS in passing, as the HE funding debate and demos rage on, anyone else think the OU should be license fee funded as a public service educator?!;-)

Augmenting OU/BBC Co-Pro Programme Data With Semantic Tags

For what it’s worth, I’ve been looking over some of the programmes that the OU co-produces with the BBC to see what sorts of things we might be able to do in Linked Data space to make appropriate resources usefully discoverable for our students and alumni.

With a flurry of recent activity appearing on the wires relating to the OU Business School Alumni group on LinkedIn, the OU’s involvement with business related programming seemed an appropriate place to start: the repeating Radio 4 series The Bottom Line has a comprehensive archive of previous programmes available via iPlayer, and every so often a Money Programme special turns up on BBC2. Though not an OU/BBC co-pro, In Business also has a comprehensive online archive; this may contain the odd case study nugget that could be useful to an MBA student, so provides a handy way of contrasting how we might reuse “pure” BBC resources compared to the OU/BBC co-pros such as The Bottom Line.

Top tip [via Tom Scott/@derivadow]: do you know about hack where by []/programmes/$string searches programme titles for $string?

So what to do? Here’s a starter for ten: each radio programme page on BBC /programmes seems to have a long, medium and short synposis of the programme as structure data (simply add .json to the end of programme URL to see the JSON representation of the data, .xml for the XML, etc.).

For example, maps on to and

Looking through the programme descriptions for The Bottom Line, they all seem to mention the names and corporate affiliations of that week’s panel members, along with occasional references to other companies. As the list of company names is to all intents and purposes a controlled vocabulary, and given that personal names are often identifiable from their syntactic structure, it’s no surprise that one of the best developed fields for automated term extraction and semantic tagging is business related literature. Which means that there are services out there that should be good at finessing/extracting high quality metadata from things like the programme descriptions for The Bottom Line

The one I opted for was Reuters OpenCalais, simply because I’ve been meaning to play with this service for ages. To get a feel for what it can do, try pasting a block of text into this OpenCalais playground: OpenCalais Viewer demo

If you look at the extracted tags in the left hand sidebar, you’ll see personal names and company names have been extracted, as well as the names of people and their corporate position.

Here’s a quick script to grab the data from Open Calais (free API key required) using the Python-Calais library:

from calais import Calais
import simplejson
import urllib
from xml.dom import minidom

calais = Calais(calaisKey, submitter="python-calais ouseful")



print desc

result = calais.analyze(desc)


print result.entities
print result.simplified_response

(I really need to find a better way of parsing XML in Python…what should I be using..? Or I guess I could have just grabbed the JSON version of the BBC programme page?!)

That’s step one, then: grabbing a long synopsis from a BBC radio programme /programmes page, and running it through the OpenCalais tagging service. The next step is to run all the programmes through the tagger, and then have a play. A couple of things come to mind for starters – building a navigation scheme that lets you discover programmes by company name, or sector; and a network map looking at the co-occurrence of companies on different programmes just because…;-)

See also: Linked Data Without the SPARQL – OU/BBC Programmes on iPlayer

Visualising OU Academic Participation with the BBC’s “In Our Time”

Although not an OU/BBC co-pro, the “get some academics in to chat to Melvyn” format of BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time means that the OU has, over the years, had a handful of academics appearing on the programme. I’ve been mulling over opportunities for playing with the BBC programmes linked data (no RDF required) I wondered how easy it would be to grab the programmes that OU academics have appeared on. For example, it’s increasingly possible to see programmes associated with particular places (h/t to @gothwin for that; see his post on A Crude BBC Places Linked Data mashup for an application of that data) although the organisations listing is still a bit sparse.

Looking through the programme data, the participants in a programme are listed separately, but not their affiliations. However, in the free text that is used in the long synopsis of the programme, a convention exists to identify the guests, with affiliation or short bio, who appeared on that particular programme:

In the post Augmenting OU/BBC Co-Pro Programme Data With Semantic Tags, I described how the Thomson Reuters’ OpenCalais entity extraction/semantic tagging service could be used to augment the BBC programme data with additional data fields based on analysis of the supplied text. One of the extraction services identifies a set of related fields termed PersonCareer, which detail (where possible) the name of a person, their role, and the organisation they work for. The convention used to list the guests on each programme is appropriate for the extraction of PersonCareer data, at least in some cases.

Rather more reliable is the extraction of University names as Facility data types. What this means is that we can tag each programme with a list of Facilities relating to the universities represented by guests on the programme, and then – where a PersonCareer is extracted, attempt to text match the PersonCareer/Organization name with the extracted Facility name. (Sample code is available here. I had “issues” with character encodings, so there is an element if hackery involved:-( In order to aggregate data from across programmes in the series, I built up a network of programmes and participating institutions using a NetworkX representation, which then gets dumped to output files in a variety of graph formats.)

Here’s an example of the output, filtered to show programmes and programme tags (from the BBC data, rather than Calais extracted tags) that had some sort of association with the Open University:

The above diagram is actually a filtered view over the whole programme’n’university representation network using the Gephi ego network filter:

Node sizing is related to degree in this sub-network, and nodes are coloured according to node type (person, institution, tag, programme.) The graph shows programmes that an OU academic appeared on, and (where possible) which OU academic, by name. Programme tags from the BBC programme data are also shown, as are other institutions that appeared on the same programmes as the OU.

Here’s a snapshot of the full graph – you’ll notice there is some mismatch* in references between the universities mentioned that could possibly be reconciled using a string similarity technique or maybe running the data through Google Refine and using one or more of its string similarity/reconciliation tools.

* things are actually even more pathological: in some cases, I think that Oxbridge Colleges may be identified in PersonCareer metadata as the career organisation, rather than the university affiliation, which may well have been recognised as a Facility. If an organisation identified in a PersonCareer is not one of the Facilities added that has been identified and added to the graph, the organisation is also added. The question we’re left with is: do the errors such as they are make this graph, such as it is, completely use less, or is it better than nothing and something we can work with and improve incrementally as and how we can. [UPDATE: related maybe? Making Linked Data work isn’t the problem]

I’m not sure what the next step should be, but linking the OU ego-graph into the OU Linked Data would be one way forward. For example, displaying papers in ORO authored by appearing academics, or trying to relate programmes to related courses on the OU course catalogue (or even though not indexed in the OU Linked Data store, courses on OpenLearn). A big problem with brokering the Linked Data connections is that I’d have to do free text/regular expression searches on the OU Linked Data store using terms from the BBC/OpenCalais data. THat is, there are no common unique identifier/URIs that can be used as “proper” linking terms:-(

Openness on Digital Planet…

What makes for an open platform, and how can you apparently shut part of the internet down – such as Egypt, for example – without breaking it for everyone?

These were two issues that came up in this week’s episode of Digital Planet, from the BBC World Service. As we’ve done a couple of times before, the Open University has joined with forces with the BBC World Service to co-produce another six episodes of the weekly technology magazine programme Digital Planet (/programme page) over the next six months around the general theme of openness.

We’ve got all sorts of things we’d like to try out over the next six months. perhaps even a Digital Planet android app to go with the Digital Planet ringtone we released in an episode from a previous run, the next best font after Comic Sans, Gareth New Roman or the Digital Planet Listeners’ Map (have you added yourself yet?)!

We also intend to support the programme with regular blog posts around the stories that we’ve featured on Digital Planet, as well as ideas for future stories. To start the ball rolling, have you ever wondered What makes for an open platform? (Did you know that IBM originally intended to keep control over the IBM PC platform, and one trick they used was to make the bit they wanted to keep under control public?!)

We also hope to get a few OU voices on the programme… Despite regularly blogging and tweeting, as well as speaking at conferences and workshops, I’ve never really been one for speaking “on-the record”, partly out of fear that I have a face for radio and a voice for mime; but as needs must, I took a speaking role on the first episode in the series and was thankful it wasn’t as terrifying as I’d expected! (Brian Kelly’s notes on ‘how to cope a radio interview’ served me well, I think, as did the friendly faces of presenter Gareth Mitchell, producer Cathy Edwards and OU colleague David Chapman!) The programme will stay “live” on the Digital Planet podcast feed for another three or four days (I think the run of radio broadcasts has finished now?) if you haven’t subscribed yet;-)

You can also listen again to a recording of the whole programme here: Digital Planet/OU special – Introducing Openness

Opening Up Digital Planet…

The second in the OU’s co-produced season of programmes with the BBC World Service Digital Planet radio programme is now available on the Digital Planet podcast feed, this week covering the topic of “Ownership and Openness” and featuring OU Senior Lecturer (and intellectual property geek;-) Ray Corrigan.

In the spirit of openness, wherever possible we’re trying to open up access to full length versions of the interviews used in the programme on the OpenLearn website. So for example, if you want to hear fuller length interviews recorded from Brazil’s Campus Party, as covered in the opening episode of the openness series, you can find them here: Campus Party Brasil 2011 – The Digital Planet Interviews.

Interviewees include Jon “Maddog” Hall on Free as in Freedom, not as in price and Sir Tim Berners Lee on net neutrality, opening up data, why open data is important and on WIkileaks.

The OpenLearn site also hosts a recording of Al Gore’s Campus Party 2011 Keynote which I don’t think received an airing on either Digital Planet, or Digital Planet’s sister World Service TV programme, Click?

And as if that’s not enough, the audio clips have been made available as MP3 files, which means you can download them to your own device, or embed them in your own web pages… Like this:

Sir Tim Berners Lee on why open data is important:

If you can think of any other ways we can open up the programmes, please let us know:-)

To keep up-to-date with the OU Digital Planet extras, keep your eye on the OpenLearn Digital Planet profile page, or even better, subscribe to the OpenLearn/Digital Planet RSS feed:-)