Good old Kingswood Warren

We’re a lucky bunch at the BBC. At least I always think so whenever I explain to friends and associates outside the corporation about how BBC Redux works. “It’s like iPlayer but without the seven day time limit. It’s got an amazing back catalogue of programmes radio and TV” I beam with a predictable air of smugness.

The people I tell always gasp in amazement. “The disk space must be massive. How big is it ? Oh and .. can I get a login to use it?”

The answer to the latter question is no. It’s a BBC only thing – or at least as far as I am aware it is. The former question however, is accurately responded to in Brandon Butterworth’s BBC Internet Blog posting.

Butterworth is King Technologist down in leafy Kingswood Warren and is something of a hero even if he’s not aware of it. When I started working at Red Bee Media as a webmaster I sat next to what was then considered to be the oldest webmaster in the world, a man called George. Approaching retirement, the lovely George would frequently go on flights of fancy talking about how the BBC homepage used to look when he started working on the web. These recollections would always end up with a reference to Brandon Butterworth and how the domain registration for was kicked off. How it was Brandon Butterworth’s name on the form – apparently. 

George would speak in such glowing terms about this relatively recent BBC online history that my simple heart would translate the recollections as something of a quaint memory and turn Mr Butterworth into something of a legend. Ridiculous, I know. I am a sentimental old queen at heart.

I’ve never been to Kingswood Warren but always hear people speak highly of it. In my imagination it’s the kind of place where all the important and ultimately vital research necessary for broadcasting developments is carried out. There are no bells and whistles, no designers sticking their oar in about guidelines and pixels and fitting to the grid. It’s just good, honest research which delivers what it says on the tin.

Of course, all of this may need to be hastily rewritten if I ever actually venture down there on a visit. (There was a departmental away day based there a few months ago dedicated to staff bonding – I declined it, convinced I was sociable enough in the workplace without having to go somewhere else to bond with colleagues).

I use Redux nearly every day in my work. It’s reliable. It’s thorough. It’s simple. And, most important of all, it’s interface belies what I perceive to be the complex processes and systems required to deliver such an invaluable resource. Those of us who scan the BBC’s output looking for ideas and checking to see which of those ideas have already been executed rely on a resource such as this.  It’s the kind of thing – especially the interface – which is so utterly perfect (for me, at least) that I don’t want anyone to tinker with it.

In short, BBC Redux is VERY BBC.

We like.

Me, Rory Cellan-Jones & Blogging

Some people outside the BBC may be surprised to learn that even though I work at the BBC I don’t have access to the BBC newsroom.

There is a good reason for this. If I did have access I suspect there would be an outcry. I’d be creating havoc wherever I went. I’d inadvertently antagonise busy journalists. “Get him out of here!” they’d cry. Who knows, they might even stage a walkout.
As of 7.15am this morning however (when I read Rory Cellan-Jones’ blog posing the question ‘Is blogging dead?‘) I suspect there could be another reason I can’t get into the newsroom. If I did and I saw Rory Cellan-Jones I think we’d have to have a bit of a fight.

Obviously, Mr Cellan-Jones can’t be thinking blogging is dead otherwise he wouldn’t be writing about it. But still posing the question leaves me seething.

It’s true the blogosphere is now overrun with voices. Someone in the media was saying that to me two years ago. I took it badly then. It can only be a whole lot worse now.

Blogging works for news and it works for opinion. It also works for those of us who like to write (even if we’re pretty certain only a handful of people actually read it).

But as someone who feels as though he’s come to the party relatively late, I can’t help feeling a little irritated by how the amateur, small-time bloggers have been eclipsed by “the big boys” hijacking attention.

But even though my irritation with “the big boys” masks nothing but deep-seated jealousy when I look at my own blog statistics, I have to admit that I do rather rely on blogs. They feed inspiration as well as provide an outlet.

It’s a delicate ecosystem. If blogging is about conversation then bloggers need other bloggers. Bloggers also need other bloggers in relatively high places whose words can provide inspiration for their own relentless waffle. We all need sources of information and targets. Writing is about tension. Without tension there’d be precious little to write about.

We all need each other, you see. Which is why reading the seeing the question being posed “Is Blogging Dead?” would make any first meeting I might stumble on with Mr Cellan-Jones quite a fraught affair.

If we were to fight, I suspect Mr Cellan-Jones would have the upper-hand. After all, he has considerable more journalistic experience, does considerably more research than I do and, quite justifiably, has considerably more fans than I do. This combined with the fact that I bite my nails would mean that us scratching each other’s eyes out could result in me being the miserable loser.

On the other hand, I would use strength of personality and what ever quick-witted retorts I could find from a Google search before I delivered my final, much-hyped death blow:

“Rory – dahling, sweety – I know you have to ask difficult questions, that’s what journalists do. That’s what they should be encouraged to do. This is the BBC after all.

But Rory – dahling, sweety – please don’t ask questions like “is blogging dead?”
You know what will happen. People will just read the title, skim read your perfectly crafted words, pour over the responses and then jump to the inevitable conclusions and us struggling creatives will be completely and utterly doomed.

The one thing I don’t want to see happening is for people to be put off from consuming blogs, especially mine.”

At some point during this self-indulgent diatribe I anticipate that Mr Cellan-Jones will either have walked off and called security, or he’ll have started editing me or pointing where I might use basic grammar to help reduce verbosity. In short, I don’t think I’d win the fight.

But the point still stands. You might think the blog is dead, but it isn’t. And if you are someone who does think it’s dead, would you be good enough to keep that thought to yourself until such time as I’ve found a different creative outlet?

Christmas: Research

Baking, originally uploaded by Thoroughly Good.

Since returning from holiday, I’ve set my sights on one very important goal.

It may seem to early to be thinking about it, but as much as people want to deny it Christmas is coming.

With such an important celebration coming up, some individuals find shameless self-gratification in the creation of a whole variety of foodstuffs we wouldn’t otherwise eat ourselves or offer up as gifts to friends of family.

Those same people suddenly start poring over recipe books in a bid to find the formula for the perfect Christmas. If we can only find the perfect recipe we could, potentially, give the perfect gift.

According to Delia Smith, I should technically be starting the prep for the stalwart Christmas cake on Thursday night. Brilliant. I rub my hands together with glee. I get to start the cooking process on Thursday night. I can’t wait.

Then there’s the preserves (apparently, again according to Delia, these have to be left in a cupboard for three months before consumption) and sundry sweet titbits.

All of this adds up hours of baking joy to be had in the run up to the main event.

Normally I’m foaming at the mouth when I clap eyes on wrapping paper or gift catalogues or big expensive gifts showcased in high street stores and internet websites. But where food is concerned, forward planning is not only fun and acceptable but advisable to.

Such a shame that work is getting in the way.

The BBC and Yammer

Lucy Hooberman writes about the BBC’s new use of messaging/micro-blogging platform Yammer to improve communication across the organisation outside of email.

She’s absolutely right. It is very useful. It appeals to my inner-Utopian view of the BBC: All BBC staff are equal; you never know who could be the next radio/TV/web producer.

Those of us in need of radio/TV/web producers rely on such social networking tools. We are shameless. We leave no stone unturned and insodoing annoy all and sundry in pursuit of our dreams.

Given that reasonably mediocre confession, it should come as no surprise that whenever I interact with Yammer on the BBC network I’m nearly always convinced that I’ve missed the point of it.

I use it to shamelessly pedal my poor attempt at fluff and so-called wit in the hope that people across the organisation might feasibly see a potential use for my skills.

There’s a simple analogy: throw as much paint at the wall and you’re sure to see that some of it sticks.

Only last week, a copy of BBC rag Ariel in my hands, chortling uncontrollably to myself, I penned a posting for my BBC network blog dedicated to gently ridiculing an associate who had appeared in the publication talking through his favourite wardrobe.

Typically smug at the resulting how-ever-many-hundred-words which shared my recent successes in finding the best supporting underwear I’ve worn in a long time, I immediately went to Yammer and fired off a smarmy “call-to-action” *.

“Who wants to read about my pants?” was the submission. I was certain people would flock to the resulting missive as a result.

Feedback was mixed, all of it concise.

The subject of the ridiculing blog post (not left as a comment, I hasten to add) was flattering: “I *really* enjoyed that blog posting”, he messaged me.

The online editor of said BBC rag was predictable after which came an anonymous posting: “Why do we have to waste our time reading this?” **

If ever there was a timely reminder about the BBC it’s how the Corporation is embracing it’s new communication tool.

Don’t get me wrong. Yammer is a very useful tool. It brings people together in a way which can only be to the benefit of the various different disciplines who adopt it.

But like any playground or pub or trendy wine bar, there are rules of engagement. Advice is simple: Be sure to familiarise yourself with them before you jump in without a care. Don’t do what I always do and assume that the way to people’s hearts is to make them snigger. It’s a sure fire way of guaranteeing a frosty response.

* That’s what they’re called in the multiplatform business.

** Or words to that effect.