Category BBC

Our development manifesto

Manifesto’s are quite popular in the tech community — obviously there’s the agile manifesto and I’ve written before about the kaizen manifesto and then there’s the Manifesto for Software Craftsmanship. They all try to put forward a way of working, a way of raising professionalism and a way of improving the quality of what you do and build.

If at first you don't succeed - call an airstrike.

Banksy by rocor, some rights reserved.

Anyway when we started work on on the BBC’s Nature site we set out our development manifesto. I thought you might be interested in it:

  1. Peristence — only mint a new URIs if one doesn’t already exist: once minted, never delete it
  2. Linked open data — data and documents describe the real world; things in the real world are identified via HTTP URIs; links describe how those things are related to each other.
  3. The website is the API
  4. RESTful — the Web is stateless, work with this architecture, not against it.
  5. One Web – one canonical URI for each resource (thing), dereferenced to the appropriate representation (HTML, JSON, RDF, etc.).
  6. Fix the data don’t hack the code
  7. Books have pages, the web has links
  8. Do it right or don’t do it at all — don’t hack in quick fixes or ‘tactical solutions’ they are bad for users and bad for the code.
  9. Release early, release often — small, incremental changes are easy to test and proof.

It’s worth noting that we didn’t always live up to these standards — but at least when we broke our rules we did so knowingly and had a chance of fixing them at a later date.

What I wish I had made at bbc.co.uk if I stayed

In many ways I’ve been very lucky at the BBC I’ve helped make some cool stuff – well stuff I’m proud of. But since I’ve decided to leave I’ve started to wonder what else I would have like to have made, if I had stayed at the BBC.

There’s a bit of a health warning however, these are just ideas. I’ve no real idea if they are that practical and they almost certainly don’t fit into the current strategy.

Get Excited and make things

Get Excited and make things

My ideas…

Lab UK meets so you want to be a scientist

Lab UK is the part of the BBC’s website where you can participate in scientific experiments. They’ve done some cool stuff – including Brain Test Britain which had 67,000 people sign up and resulted in a paper in Nature [pdf].

The various experiments are tied into TV programmes and this is really important because it helps generate interest and get the number of participants required to make the experiment work. However, it also means that the experiments are designed in advance, by the scientists, and the public’s role is one of test subject.

The experiments do help build knowledge but they probably don’t help people understand science.

So here’s the idea – a bit like Radio 4’s “So You Want To Be A Scientist” the process would start with people suggesting ideas, questions they would like answering, the site would need to provide sufficient support to help people refine their ideas. It might even use material from the BBC archive to help explain some of the basics but at it’s heart it would be a collaborative process.

The ideas would then be voted on and the most popular would then be taken forward. With the help of scientists the experiment would be designed and build and carried out on the Lab UK platform, giving these amateur experiments potential access to a huge audience.

The process would be a rolling series of experiments designed and carried out by the public.

History through the eyes of the BBC

The BBC makes a lot of programmes about history – but much more significantly it has been part of or at least recorded a lot of our more recent history.

So rather than making a history site about the Romans, the Victorians or whatever I would use the BBC archive to tell the history of the world as seen through the eyes of the BBC.

Combining news stories, clips from programmes (broadcast or not), music and photographs the site would tell the story of the world since 18 October 1922.

The site would chart the major political, scientific, sporting, cultural and technological events since 1922 but also the minor events – the ones that remind us of our own past.

The site would provide a page for every day, month, year and decade since the BBC came into existence as well as pages for the people, organisations and events the BBC has featured in that time.

Basically a URI for everything the BBC has recorded in the last 90 odd years.

The site would also allow members of the public to add their thoughts and memories (shared under whatever licensing terms they wish) to enrich it further to create a digital public space for the UK.

One BBC nature

A few weeks ago we merged Wildlife Finder into the nature site and launched a new blog – and today we’ve taken the final step and brought Earth News into the fold to create a consolidated BBC nature site.

From a certain perspective this doesn’t represent a big change – after all we’re still publishing exclusive natural history news stories, video collections and video clips and information about: animals, plants, habitats (and the ancient earth’s habitats, such as Snowball Earth), adaptations & behaviours, places and ecozones, the geological time periods when they lived, the major mass extinction events, including the one that killed the dinosaurs, in fact lots of information on the history of life on earth and the fossil record. We even have a page about fish – and they don’t really exist!

However, from another perspective this is a really big change. It’s a big change because we’ve (hopefully) made everything so much simpler.

Screen grab of the new BBC nature site - features section

We’ve made it simpler by bringing everything together into one site and removed the various sub brands – if you love nature and natural history everything is now in one place: news stories, video clips from the archive, opinion pieces and more.

Bringing everything together has also allowed us to make a few additional changes which should help us more easily publish the content.

In addition to natural history news we have a features section where we can bring together articles and photo galleries (like this one) and a new blog Wonder Monkey written by Matt Walker. Matt has written a few posts so far including this one on the oddball midge that shouldn’t exist.

I really hope you like it. It represents the culmination of two years of work, during which time we launched and evolved both the site itself and the editorial proposition – there now are c.3,000 clips available online (many of which are available worldwide) about almost 900 animals (both prehistoric and living), 50 plants etc.

And of course wildlife data is for machines too.

However, after two years of development this represents the last major release, for a while at least. The site will continue to grow because we are continuing to create great new content as well as digging out the best bits from the archive – like this video collection looking back at David Attenborough’s Madagascar (starting with Zoo Quest 50 years ago). But there won’t be any major new features for a while, not that that’s a major problem – the site should offer a rich experience with amazing content.

As I said yesterday, I’m very proud of what we’ve produced and if I can marshal my thoughts I’ll try and write a post or two about how we went about building the site and the lessons I learnt on the way, until then enjoy the site.

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