Writing Diagrams

One of the reasons I don’t tend to use many diagrams in the OUseful.info blog is that I’ve always been mindful that the diagrams I do draw rarely turn out how I wanted them to (the process of converting a mind’s eye vision to a well executed drawing always fails somewhere along the line, I imagine in part because I’ve never really put the time into practising drawing, even with image editors and drawing packages etc etc.)

Which is one reason why I’m always on the lookout for tools that let me write the diagram (e.g. Scripting Diagrams).

So for example, I’m very fond of Graphviz, which I can use to create network diagrams/graphs from a simple textual description of the graph (or a description of the graph that has been generated algorithmically…).

Out of preference, I tend to use Mac version of Graphviz, although the appearance of a canvas/browser version of graphviz is really appealing… (I did put in a soft request for a Drupal module that would generate a Graphviz plot from a URL that pointed to a dot file, but I’m not sure it went anywhere, and the canvas version looks far more interesting anyway…)

Hmmm – it seems there’s an iPhone/iPod touch Graphviz app too – Instaviz:

Another handy text2image service is the rather wonderful Web sequence diagrams, a service that lets you write out a UML sequence diagram:

There’s an API, too, that lets you write a sequence diagram within a <pre> tag in an HTML page, and a javascript routine will then progressively enhance it and provide you with the diagrammatic version, a bit like MathTran, or the Google Chart API etc etc (RESTful Image Generation – When Text Just Won’t Do).

If graphs or sequence diagrams aren’t your thing, here’s a handy hierarchical mindmap generator: Text2Mindmap:

And finally, if you do have to resort to actually drawing diagrams yourself, there are a few tools out there that look promising: for example, the LucidChart flow chart tool crossed my feedreader the other day. More personally, since Gliffy tried to start charging me at some point during last year, I’ve been using the Project Draw Autodesk online editor on quite a regular basis.

PS Online scripting tool for UML diagrams: YUML

PPS This is neat – a quite general diagramming language for use in eg markdown scripts: pikchr.

New Year, New Job? OU Vacancies Round-Up

Given that OUseful.Info is a personal – rather than a corporate – blog, you may be forgiven for wondering why I post round-ups of OU job ads every so often. The answer is simple – I look at the OU jobs listings (via a public RSS feed) to find out about what projects are actually going on around the OU, and get some idea about where the institution’s current priorities lay, at least in terms of staffing needs. And then I post on details about some of the jobs that I think may be interesting in a OUseful.info context, both as a personal reminder to find out who’s been appointed to the posts but also because there’s an outside chance that a small percentage of the OUseful.info readership might actually be interested in applying…

So without further ado, here’s a quick round-up of posts that are currently being advertised. (Note that the deadline on some of them is – err – today…)

  • Enterprise Content Management Programme Manager: ECM will touch all aspects of our business; from committee minutes, to product catalogue workflows, to learning materials production. This is just not about technology; it is about changing our culture, understanding business processes, and building intelligent workflows.
    You will work with many other parts of the University including Computing Services (who manage the technical developments of ECM), and Learning and Teaching Solutions (LTS), who manage the production of our learning materials.
    Our core tool for ECM is EMC Documentum; released to a number of early adopters we have just upgraded to version 6.5.
  • JISC TELSTAR Project Manager : This is a superb opportunity to join a proactive world class Library service and provide leadership and excellent project management skills for The JISC (Joint Information Services Committee) funded TELSTAR (Technology Enhanced Learning supporting students to achieve Academic Rigour) project. TELSTAR is a collaborative project between the Library, Learning and Teaching Solutions and Proquest and is based at The Open University headquarters in Milton Keynes.
    The project aims to deliver; more integrated systems solutions for managing course and programme related references within web based courseware; an improved personalised student experience for the management of bibliographic references for learning, teaching and research purposes.
  • Research Associate/Assistant: Semantic Web: The Open University’s Knowledge Media Institute has an opening for a Research Associate to participate to the research activities realized within the NeOn EU-funded integrated project on knowledge sharing and ontology publication. This work is part of our ongoing research program on enabling the development of the Semantic Web, and in particular, of the next generation of Semantic Web applications, by providing the necessary foundation for the realization of such applications. More precisely, this work is at the forefront of emerging semantic technologies, combining infrastructure components for Semantic Web search (i.e., the Watson Semantic Web gateway) and peer-to-peer knowledge sharing with principles of social networks for collaborative evaluation and trust management in ontologies. Core to the work is the development of a new ontology sharing and publication system (Cupboard), which addresses the need for an open, distributed ontology repository system for the Semantic Web.
  • Senior Lecturer in Education (‘Educational ICT’ and Professional development): You will lead the development of courses to extend practitioners’ ability to support the effective use of new technologies in both formal and informal educational contexts (e.g. playgroup, school, home, youth club). This will require understanding how ICT can be used as a tool to enhance subject learning and its assessment across the curriculum as well as in informal settings and workplaces. In addition you will provide academic leadership in the use of ICT to enhance course design within the Department. In this respect you will support course teams in using ICT as pedagogic tools in a way that models the practices that students are expected to develop as an outcome of their study. You will be contributing to the development and transaction of a range of courses as well as playing a key role in extending research in the area of ‘educational ICT’ and the future of education.
  • Senior Learning Developer: Are you interested in on-line learning development? Can you help meet the growing demand for professional learning and development? The Centre for Professional Learning and Development (CPLD) is looking for a Senior Learning Developer to join the team. This appointment offers the opportunity to help shape the OU’s Professional Learning and Development provision that is key to diversifying the learning opportunities we provide to current and potential students and alumni and to our commitment to engage with employers’ skill development needs.
  • Producer Sound & Vision: Learning and Teaching Solutions (LTS) is The Open University’s media production centre. We take academic ideas and turn them into multimedia products for the OU’s distance learning courses.
    We are looking for an imaginative producer to work with academics and within media teams to create innovative ways to deliver educational ideas and content.
    What are you like? You are most likely to have started out in television, video, or radio, and will have taken those narrative and storytelling skills into the world of interactive media. You understand the value and uses of video and audio in education and in multimedia products. You will have had experience of overseeing production teams to ensure high quality and on budget deliveries.
  • Internal Communications Manager: We are looking for a top-flight, Internal Communications Manager to help us align our internal communications with our external image. Working within Communications you will play a strong part in developing effective communications systems, including our intranet, with professionals from within the unit and with colleagues throughout the University. You will be a skilled communicator with a strategic approach.
  • Media Relations Officer, Communications: We’re looking for a creative media professional to help us tell the world. The university needs an experienced media officer to join a small team working in a busy and dynamic environment. We are looking for a media professional with proven experience in a press office or journalism. Experience in the corporate sector, TV publicity and social media would be an advantage. You will need to have strong communication, interpersonal and organisational skills to service the needs of internal and external clients, and the drive and enthusiasm to take advantage of an almost inexhaustible source of PR opportunities.
  • Publications Co-ordinator, Marketing and Sales: You will be responsible for project managing the production and delivery of some of our University publications, aimed at both prospective and existing students. This will involve managing the output to print, digital and online formats of all the university prospectuses and subject-specific prospectuses. You will also be responsible for the production project management of the core publication which conveys the OU/BBC partnership and its activities.
  • Information Literacy Specialist: We are looking for an enthusiastic and creative information professional to help us to develop and embed information literacy skills through all areas of the curriculum.
    You will be a superb communicator with experience of developing effective and engaging learning materials and an up to date knowledge of both information and digital literacies.
  • Business Performance and Planning Manager, The Library and Learning Resource Centre: We are seeking an enthusiastic, highly motivated individual with sound experience of managing budgets and working with complex financial information.
    Providing direct support to the Associate Director (Business Performance and Management) you will be ensuring delivery of the business performance and management agenda.

Please note, that (as ever) I have nothing to do with any of the posts mentioned above – though if you do apply for one, and get called to interview or even take up a post, feel free to ping me for a coffee sometime ;-)

Tinkering With Time

A few weeks ago now, I was looking for a context within which I could have a play with the deprecated BBC Web API. Now this isn’t the most useful of APIs, as far as I’m concerned, because rather than speaking in the language of iPLayer programme identifiers it users a different set of programme IDs (and I haven’t yet found a way of mapping the one onto the other). But as I’d found the API, I wanted to try to do something with it, and this is what I came up with: a service you can tweet to that will tell you what’s on a specified BBC TV or radio channel now (or sometime in the recent past).

Now I didn’t actually get round to building the tweetbot, and the time handling is a little ropey, but if I write it up it make spark some more ideas. So here goes…

The first part of the pipe parses a message of the form “#remindme BBCChannel time statement”. The BBCChannel needs to be in the correct format (e.g. BBCOne, BBCRFour) and only certain time constructs work (now, two hours ago, 3 hours later all seem to work).

The natural language-ish time expression time gets converted to an actual time by the Date Builder block, and is then written into a string format that the BBC Web API requires:

Then we construct the URI that references the BBC Web API, grab the data back from that URI and do a tiny bit of tidying up:

If you run the pipe, you get something like this:

Time expressions such as “last Friday” seem to calculate the correct date and use the current time of day. So you could use this service to remind yourself what was on at the current time last week, for example.

A second pipe grabs the programme data from the programme ID, by constructing the web service call:

then grabbing the programme data and constructing a description based on it:

It’s then easy enough to call this description getting pipe at the end of the original pipe, remembering to call the pipe with the appropriate programme ID:

So now we get the description too:

To see what’s on (or what was on) between two times, we need to to construct a URI to call the BBC Web API with the appropriate time arguments, suitably encoded:

and then call the web service with that URI.

It’s easy enough to embed this pipe in a variant of the original pipe that generates the two appropriately encoded time strings from two natural language time strings:

If we add the programme details fetching pipe to the end of the pipe, we can grab the details for each programme and get this sort of output from the whole pipeline:

All Set for a Year of Internet Appliances?

Towards the end of last year, my better half rediscovered the joys of radio… Around the same time, James Cridland wrote a post extolling the virtues of the Pure Evoke Flow wifi radio (Pure Evoke Flow – what it means for radio, or see this video walkthrough), so that was that Christmas present sorted…

As JC pointed out in his post, gadgets like the Evoke Flow could indeed be a game changer. On Christmas Day, we were wifi-less, which meant that the first experience of the radio was as a DAB radio. A quick self-tune on start-up, and a good selection of DAB channels were available. Getting back home meant we could get the wifi channels too – configuring the radio with a wifi key went smoothly enough, and getting an account with the online Lounge service provided a key to register the radio with lots of online goodness.

Wifi radio channels can be favourited online, along with podcast subscriptions, and stored in separate folders; the favourites are then also available on the radio itself. Radio stations can also be browsed and favourited on the radio itself – favouriting them also adds them to a particular folder in your online account.

So here are a few of my immediate impressions:

  • being able to just switch the radio on and tune into a wifi radio or podcast station is really attractive; no need for the radio to receive content via an intermediary PC – it gets its network connection directly from your wifi router;
  • within a few minutes of being connected for the first time, the appliance found a software update and offered to install it – a process which was achieved quickly and efficiently; in an age where automatic software updates are increasingly possible, what does this mean for built-in/planned obsolence?
  • the integration between the appliance itself and the online account means that the radio has a full web browser interface and management tools, if required. (I’d quite like an iPhone interface too;-) I’ve written about “dual view” working before (Dual View Media Channels) – here’s an example of it in action with an interface for one device being provided through another.
  • the appliance makes good use of soft/programmable buttons – a bit like a mobile phone, the functionality of the “buttons” is context dependent; the “undo” (or “go back” a step) button is incredibly useful, too.

I haven’t tried streaming music to the appliance from another computer, but that facility is also available.

From even just a couple of days playing with the Pure Evoke Flow, I’m sold on it – and the idea of streaming, dedicated internet appliances in general. So the idea of the BBC/ITV set-top box – Project Canvas – really appeals… (e.g. Canvas and the connected home and Partners to bring broadband to the TV; looking forward, this is also relevant: IMDA – Internet Media Device Alliance, a trade alliance for agreeing on protocols and formats for streaming digital media).

While on the topic of internet TV (sort of!), I noticed an advert last night on ITV for the ITV player… which is something I’d missed… Assuming that this revamp would be of yet another Windows only player, I was pleasantly surprised:

So if, as with me, the announcement passed you by, here’s a catch-up: in early December, 2008, ITV rebranded its online catchup TV service as ITV Player.

(Sky also launched a (subscription based) online TV play, called – can you guess? – Sky Player (e.g. as reported here: Sky and ITV launch new Silverlight online video players). Channel 4’s watch again service is still tethered to Windows, although some Channel 4 content – such as Shameless – is available via the Flash powered Joost.)

Unlike the Adobe Flash’n’Air approach taken for the BBC iPlayer, ITV and Sky have both opted for Microsoft’s Silverlight (as described in ITV’s case here: Silverlight on the ITV Player).

PS I’m not sure what this means, if anything, but both Apple and Intel have been buying into Imagination technologies, the parent company of Pure (Intel ups stake in Imagination following Apple’s buy-in). Imagination own the IP to the semiconductor cores used in a wide range of digital appliances, so tracking their news releases and OEM relationships over the next year or two could prove interesting…

PPS the consequences of this imagined phrase kept me awake a couple nights ago: “Pure Camvine Flow“. If Project Canvas resulted in an Imagination core capable of streaming BBC and ITV content, what would it mean if those cores were integrated within Camvine “digital signage” screens, so you could just plug your screen in, connect it to your home network, and start streaming watch again and catch-up content? (Ideally, of course, there’d be an iPlayer desktop like facility too…:-)

PPPS Here’s an interesting interview with Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix (via GigaOM: Here Come Broadband TVs). The topic of internet TVs is discussed from about 1m15s in…

Vodpod videos no longer available.

So What Else Are You Doing At The Moment?

I was intending not to write any more posts this year, but this post struck a nerve – What’s Competing for Internet Users’ Attention? (via Stephen’s Lighthouse) – so here’s a quick “note to self” about something to think about during my holiday dog walks…:

What else are out students doing whilst “studying” their course materials?

Here’s what some US respondents declared when surveyed about what else they were doing whilst on the internet:

A potentially more interesting thing to think about though is a variation of this:

In particular, the question: what other media do you consume whilst you are using OU course materials?

And then – thinking on from this – do we really think – really – that contemporary course materials should be like books? Even text books? Even tutorial-in-print, SAQ filled books?

Newspapers are realising that newsprint in a broadsheet format is not necessarily the best way to physically package content any more (and I have a gut feeling that the physical packaging does have some influence on the structure, form and layout of the content you deliver). Tabloid and Berliner formats now dominate the physical aspect of newspaper production, and online plays are increasingly important.

OU study guides tend to come either as large format books or A4 soft cover bindings with large internal margins for note taking. Now this might be optimal for study, but the style is one that was adopted in part because of financial concerns, as well as pedagogical ones, several decades ago.

“what arrived in the post today” – Johnson Cameraface

As far as I know, the OU don’t yet do study guides as print-on-demand editions (at least, not as a rule, except when we get students to print out PDF copies of course materials;-). Print runs are large, batch job affairs that create stock that needs warehousing for several years of course delivery.

So I wonder – if we took the decision today about how to deliver print material, would the ongoing evolution of the trad-format be what we’d suggest? Or do we need an extinction event? The above image shows an example of a recent generation of print materials – which represents an evolution of trad-OU study guides. But if we were starting now, is this where we’d choose to start from? (It might be that it is – I’m just asking…;-)

One other trad-OU approach to course design was typically to try to minimise the need for students to go outside the course materials (one of the personas we consider taking each course is always a submariner, who only has access to their OU course materials) but I’m not sure how well this sits any more.

Now I can’t remember the last time I read a newspaper whilst at home and didn’t go online at least once whilst doing so, either to follow a link or check something related, and I can’t remember the last non-fiction book I read that didn’t also act as a jumping off point – often “at the point of reading” – for several online checks and queries.

So here’s a niggle that I’m going to try to pin down over the holidays. To what extent should our course materials be open ended and uncourse like, compared to tighly scoped with a single, strong and unwavering narrative that reflects the academic author’s teaching line through a set of materials?

The “this is how it is”, single linear narrative model is easier for the old guard to teach, easier to assess, and arguably easier to follow as a student. It’s tried, trusted, and well proven.

The uncourse is all over the place, designed in part to be sympathetic to study moments in daily rituals (e.g. feed reading) or interstitial time (see Interstitial Publishing: A New Market from Wasted Time for more on this idea). The uncourse is ideally invisible, integrated into life.

The trad. OU course is a traditional board game, neatly packaged, well-defined, self-contained. The uncourse is an Alternate Reality Game.

(Did you see what I just did, there?;-)

And as each day goes by, I appreciate a little more that I don’t think the traditional game is a good one to be in, any more… Because the point about teaching is to help people become independent learners. And for all the good things about books (and I have thousands of them), developing skills for bookish learning is not necessarily life-empowering any more…

[Gulp… where did that come from?!]

CBeebies iPlayer, and Why I Think an OU iPlayer Presence Would be a “Good Thing”

Last week it was a present for the beta junkies (“BBC iPlayer Desktop Application“), this week Auntie Beeb has a present for the kids: CBBC iPlayer (announced here: CBBC iPlayer press release; a good discussion about the rationale for why there is a need for such a thing can be found here: New CBBC iPlayer designed just for kids).

The CBBC iPlayer offers a a great window onto BBC “pre-watershed” content and appears to be targeted at the under 12s. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out over the coming weeks, particularly insofar as the sort of “advertising” that gets pushed to the kiddies (such as the interactive/gaming content).

(I also wonder if a CBBC iPlayer desktop is on the cards? And what would it mean for the BBC to effectively have a downloader application – for games as well as broadcast content? – on a kid’s PC?)

Of course, I couldn’t but tweet about where an OU iPlayer might be, provoking a couple of reactions:

So in what may be my last post of the year, and what may be my last rambling thoughts on iPlayer (depending on how the triage I’m going to have do on my interests in the New Year goes) here’s a quick core dump of some of my OU iPlayer related thoughts (which are all my own opinion, do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer or even myself, etc etc):

  • as well as recently broadcast, 7 day watch again content, we have access to good quality video material (in production terms, as well as in an editorial sense) that has already been rights cleared (e.g. on iTunes, YouTube, the OU podcast site, etc etc);
  • the OU has been co-producing content with the BBC for many years; much of the recent output has been prime-time or early evening content on BBC1 and BBC2; that is, it’s quite watchable, general interest programming:-) If the BBC sorts out making archive content available via iPlayer, then we’ll have a reasonable amount of back catalogue material across science and technology, the arts, health and so on that could be used to populate an OU iPlayer channel.
  • OU/BBC rights is one of the many sub-areas of rights clearance I don’t understand. What we can use seems to depend, at least in part, on some or all of the following: how we make content available (public website, course website (password protected, registered students only), course DVD, streamed from course website, download from course website); what content we make available (full programme, fragments of programme (and then it goes into things like: no package longer than x mins duration, total duration of separate packages not to exceed y% of a z minute long programme)), what programmes we actually want to show students (OU fully funded BBC programmes, partially funded, etc etc); what territories the course is sold into; etc etc; or maybe it doesn’t, maybe it’s simpler than that and i just not keep hearing the heuristic I keep being told!

    BBC iPlayer has got DRM sorted (e.g. as discussed by Anthony Rose in Introducing BBC iPlayer Desktop for Mac, Linux and PC), which goes someway to making it easier to use the content becauase the technology can handle who sees what, when and where… (i.e. let the technology handle some of the issues).

    So anyway, anyway, it seems to me that having an OU iPlayer would let us test different things:

    • streaming content of OU rights held BBC content (fully funded content) as well as partially funded content and all other BBC content;
    • streaming content of OU rights cleared video assets produced by other means (e.g. content that now appears on Youtube etc.); the common pipeline could just use iPlayer as another output channel; (i.e. testing partnership distribution models);
    • streaming content on public websites (e.g. Platform), public open licensed sites (e.g. OpenLearn), public OU/BBC sites (e.g. Open2, which runs under a BBC editorial policy), and reasonably strongly authenticated sites: OU staff intranet, OU registered students, OU students registered on a particular course); bear in minds we have rights to use BBC content with our students under certain conditions anyway; so we can test some of the techie stuff knowing that other agreements are in place regarding some of the rights issues.

    An outcome I’d be keen to see from this would be a no-brainer way of looking up a programme on the BBC programme catalogue and having a little pop-up tell me exactly how I could use the content in an OU context.

  • iPlayer has the iPlayer desktop – i.e. a download client; and the ability to embed the player in third party sites (though this is only enabled for some content); hmm – so embedding is controllable – which is also a Good Thing?!;-)
  • the recent PSB review suggested that the BBC was considering how partners could get involved in the whole iPlayer thang: “iPlayer: the initial phase of this partnership would be with the PSBs. However, the partnership could well open out to other public service bodies with access to audiovisual content (e.g. the Tate, British Film Institute, British Library etc.). An open attitude to content syndication both to and from the service would also spread benefits more broadly across the industry” Public service partnerships: Helping sustain UK PSB, page 18). Who’s missing from that list? After all, if the Tate state “broadcasting” through iPlayer, then, err, why can’t the OU?
  • if this is true – BBC pilots iPlayer content sharing with Telegraph Media Group – I find it amusing that people would be able to see clips of OU/BBC fully funded content (that is, content that the OU paid for and owns the rights to) on the telegraph.co.uk domain (as well as on the BBC Youtube site!) whereas we appear to struggle to show the same content on the OU public domain or the public open2.net site (which is run according to BBC editorial guidelines).
  • Enough…

Personal rant over… The above is all probably terribly naive (my understanding of what DRM can manage for us in a techie way), and maybe completely wrong (particularly on OU rights to reuse of BBC content), but anway… it’s MHO…

And now? I’ve nowt more t’say on’t matter…

What Happens If Yahoo! Pipes Dies?

News appeared recently that Yahoo’s video editing site Jumpcut has stopped accepting new uploads, and users are being encouraged to move over to flickr. (On the odd occasion I’ve played with online video suites, I’ve tended to use Jumpcut, so I’m not overjoyed about this. Just FYI, Jaycut or Photobucket (which uses Adobe Premiere Express) are my fallback positions…)

This news got me thinking – again – about what my fallback position would be if Yahoo! Pipes disappeared. (Regular readers – and anyone who’s seen me give a mashup related presentation lately – will know I’m a bit of a pipes junkie;-)

So here’s what I’ve been saying I’m going to do for a long time – and maybe by posting it I’ll provoke myself into doing something about it next year…

  1. Set up a wiki… Yahoo Pipes Code Bindings, or similar;
  2. for each block in Yahoo! Pipes, post the following:
    • an image of the block;
    • a code equivalent for that block; (e.g. a fragment of Python, PHP, Javascript or Google Mashup Editor code that is functionally equivalent to the block);
  3. that’s it… or maybe show a minimal example pipe using the block, and an equivalent, working, PHP, Python, Javascript or Google Mashup Editor programme;

What this would mean is that a screenshot of a Yahoo pipe could act as a specification for a a feed processing programme, and the bindings from blocks to code would allow a translation from the visual pipe description to some actual (working) code.

That would be okay for starters, and would at least mean I’d be able to ‘rescue’ large amounts of the functionality of pipes I’ve blogged about without having to rethink all the algorithms, or work out too much (if any) of the code. Cut and paste job from the code equivalents on the wiki… (err…?!)

As well as rescuing the functionality of the pipe, this approach also has the advantage of making Yahoo pipes acceptable as a rapid prototyping code for a list a quick rush of code that can be run on a server elsewhere.

How could the process be improved? Well, taking a cue from the AWSZone Sctarchpads (which, err, appear to be down at the moment?), it’d be nice to be able to just generate the code from the actual pipe.

How might we be able to do that? I’m not sure, but I’d like to think the following would be possible:

  1. using a browser extension, or Greasemonkey script, capture a Javascript object representation of a pipe from the Edit view of that pipe;
  2. parse the Javascript representation of the pipe and translate each Pipe block to the appropriate code binding;

So the vision here is you could edit a pipe, click a button, and generate the code equivalent of the pipe. (Of course, it’d be really nice if Pipes offered an “export pipe as code” option natively;-)

(After all, Zoho Creator Deploys to Google App Engine: “When you open an application in Zoho Creator in edit mode, you’ll see a new option ‘Deploy in App Engine’ under ‘More Actions’ menu (on the top). This option will let you generate and download the Python code (App Engine supports deployment of Python only apps) of your Zoho Creator application which you can then deploy to Google App Engine. … Zoho Creator essentially acts as an IDE for Google App Engine.” So why shouldn’t Pipes pipelines also deploy elsewhere too? Why shouldn’t “Yahoo pipes essentially act as an IDE for feed-powered pipelines in Python, PHP, Javascript and the Google Mashup Editor”?)

PS If anyone wants to create a wiki and start this process off, please be my guest (I’ll be largely offline over the Christmas period, so won’t be able to run with this idea until the New Year, if then…)

BBC iPlayer Desktop Application

So with iPlayer hitting 1 year old last week “iPlayer Day: A year under the hood”), it’s great to see that there is now a cross-platform iPlayer downloader available (albeit as a beta) from the BBC iPlayer Labs (download the BBC iPlayer Desktop here) – a BBC news story about the release is available atBBC iPlayer now available on Mac .

According to Andrew Shorten, an Adobe Air evangelist: “The application was built using the Flex 3 framework, runs on top of AIR 1.5 and makes use of the Flash Media Rights Management Server (FMRMS) to DRM-protect content which is downloaded to the user’s desktop.”

So what?

So because it’s an Adobe Air app, it runs on Macs, Windows and Linux boxes…

If you’ve signed up for the BBC Labs experimental services:

(hmm – programme recommendations…)

…you’ll that some iPlayer programmes now have a download link… :-)

Here are a couple more screenshots – downloading:

The “General Settings” panel allows you, among other things, to set a limit on the amount of space that can be used for storing downloaded programmes. The original limit is set quite sparingly, at 0GB… I downloaded an episode of Dr Who (or as it is know in BBC speak, Doctor Who), at 200MB (0.2GB) without issue but trying to download another programme met with an error until more memory space was allocated. (So if iPlayer desktop refuses to download a programme, check you have enough free allocated space as far as iPlayer is concerned…)

You can also specify a download location (or opt for the sensible default). If you’re on an eee PC with a limited memory allocation, plugging in a USB memory stick and using that as the target destination seems to work fine (hat tip, Liam;-). It so

(“Allow BBC iPlayer Desktop to send usage statistics to the BBC” – that’ll tie in with the programme recommendation engine, possibly, and maybe also some future social features around the iPlayer itself? See also iPlayer 3: New Social Functions Outlined For Q1-Q2 2009. It’s worth bearing in mind that iPlayer programmes typically come with a “SHARE” link already, and some of them are even available with an embed code: Embedding BBC iPlayer Music Videos – Foals. A lot of the content on the Britain from the Air website is embeddable in your own pages – and I guess also in Google Earth, if this example is anything to go by: BBC Class Clips Video – in Google Earth.)

“Parental Guidance” controls:

iplayer desktop parental guidance

And finally, downloaded content menu:

Also on the iPlayer front, it looks like next year could be an exciting year. A BBC review document published last week opened up the possibility that the iPlayer platform might be offered to other public service broadcasters, and potentially other agencies too (the OU was noticeably not mentioned anywhere in the report though…): “BBC’s iPlayer ‘could be shared’ “ (read the full report here: “Public service partnerships: Helping sustain UK PSB”).

Also announced last week was the poosibility of an iPlayer hosting broadband set-top box, code named “Canvas” (Count them – three IPTV Platforms, BBC, ITV and BT plan broadband Freeview service).