The all new BBC music site where programmes meet music and the semantic web

We (well Nick, Patrick, Tony, Deanna, Sacha and Guy) have recently been working on a major rewrite of the BBC’s music site [beta] – and since its just gone live as a public beta I thought it would be a good time to explain a bit about what we’ve done and what we hope to do with the site. I would also love to hear what you think about what we’ve done so far – especially as we move from public beta towards a replacement for the current site.

Madonna's artist page on the BBC's new beta music site
Madonna's artist page on the BBC's new beta music site

Our work so far has focused on providing core information for every artist the BBC plays on our daytime radio network shows. That’s shows like Annie Mac and Chris Moyles on Radio 1, or Steve Lamacq on 6Music. We’ve focused on these shows because we’ve integrated the site with the radio playout system VCS dira! which are basically giant iPods in the basement of Broadcasting House. Unfortunately the specialist shows as well as national and local radio shows don’t use these so we haven’t got track listing data in the right format for these programmes. But we have a plan and will be adding more shows in due course.

So what have done so far?

For starters we decided that we wanted to have a single canonical page for every artist. We decided to do this because we want to aggregate everything we know about an artist at a single URL. But this means that we need unique, persistent, unambiguous URLs. Thankfully, as Michael has already discussed, Musicbrainz gives us unique identifiers that allow us to provide just such a set of URLs.

The core of the new site then is built around Musicbrainz. In addition to giving us web scale identifiers Musicbrainz is also being used to give core music metadata e.g. discographies, related artists and related links. Some of those related links are Wikipedia links and we are using those to go and fetch the introductory text for each artist’s biography from Wikipedia.

The approach we’re using to keep the Wikipedia data up to date is, I think, quite neat. Patrick has written a bot to monitor the Wikipedia IRC channel for updates – when it spots an update we fetch the new Wikipedia content. Oh and obviously all this data is rendered dynamically using the same MVC framework we are using for /programmes which means that updates happen almost instantaneously.

This brings me to the next major feature – integration with /programmes. As I’ve said we have integrated with VCS to give us track listing information for our daytime radio shows – we are matching this data with both our internal database of programme metadata and Musicbrainz. This lets us know which radio stations and shows have played which artists.

We also want to make this data available for others to use and so have designed the site to provide a RESTful API, following the principles of Linked Data:

…namely thinking of URIs as more than just locations for documents. Instead using them to identify anything, from a particular person to a particular programme. These resources in-turn have representations, which can be machine-processable (through the use of RDF, Microformats, RDFa, etc.), and these representations can hold links towards further web resources, allowing agents to jump from one data-set to another.

If you would like to have a play with these we have RDF, XML, JSON and YAML representations of the resources – just add .xml .rdf .json or .yaml to the end of the artist url.

Where next?

Nick, Michael and I have previous spoken about our plans for linking programmes, music, events, topics and users. Well this is our first foray into this world. Information about programmes and music is interesting, it’s useful; but it’s not as interesting nor as useful as when the two are intelligently linked. Joining the two worlds means that you can aggregate information about the programmes that have played an artist [as we’ve done], you can put track listings on episode pages, you can have charts of which artists are played most on all BBC Radio programmes, on Radio 1, by Zane Lowe. You can also aggregate all episodes that you can currently listen to that feature a given artist. Or show which programme first played a given artist and how often the BBC has played them since. Basically the interesting stuff happens at the joins between the nodes because that’s where the context lives.

By exposing the information that is created by joining programmes and music we can provide context and serendipity. We can help you find out about the music you’ve just listened to and introduce you to new shows that also features the music you like. So that’s what we’re working on.

We also need to provide more data about each artist – from both inside and outside the BBC. That means bringing the album reviews into the fold, hooking up external news feeds and the like. But whatever we do it’s worth bearing in mind that this is on a much larger scale than the current music site. This new site has in the order of 388,398 artist pages, 157,677 external links and 93,912 artist to artist relationships.

It would be great to hear what you think about what we’ve done and our plans for the future. You are welcome to leave a comment here, or via the Backstage mailing list.

26 responses to “The all new BBC music site where programmes meet music and the semantic web”

  1. […] on from Matthew Shorter’s post, Tom Scott has now posted more details about the new BBC Music beta. It’s available here on Tom’s personal blog derivadow. The approach […]

  2. What about graphs of popularity over time?

    Also, do you include chart data?

  3. […] I do think this is great. And there are blog posts here and here (disclaimer – I edit the Internet […]

  4. Your right, the Wikipedia updating method is pretty neat – but is there any mechanism to stop me editing Wikipedia to say “Madonna Sucks” and having it appear all over the BBC as well?

  5. @Ed – yes we have plans to visualise the number of plays over time. We will also, on /programmes, provide charts (based on play out) by programme brand, network, BBC radio etc.

    @Ollie – We can pull stop publishing wikipedia content if we need to. But Wikipedia have pretty efficient mechanisms to prevent vandalism.

  6. […] Matthew Shorter explains on his BBC blog, you can track the total plays since September 2007 (excluding specialist shows) for any artist: 1. visit 2. enter artist name in the “artist” […]

  7. […] a bit more of a techie look behind the scenes, you might try Tom Scott’s post. Tom’s a great member of my team, in spite of his apparent inability to do himself a favicon, […]

  8. […] what the Audio and Music team have achieved with the music artist beta pages. You can read posts byTom Scott and Matthew Shorter for more […]

  9. Looking good!

    I guess this can then feed into personalisation by allowing users to track their favourite artists – perhaps even including BBC news articles about the bands (or grab from NME etc.)

    Not sure about the ‘Appears On’, ‘Related Artists’ sections – for Bloc Party, the latter was just the individual members of the band, rather than ‘if you like them, you’ll like this..’ type thing.

    Perhaps their should be a ‘band members’ section which would be where the individual autobiographical sections would stand – and then the ‘related artists’ can concentrate on recommendations, or, if a band member has released solo work, they’ll have a page as well.

    I guess ‘Appears On’ would cover if a band (and/or band member?) has collaborated on another artist’s track (e.g. Sting on Dire Straits’ ‘Money For Nothing’)


    Anyway, good work, looking forward to how it develops!

  10. Nice.

    I don’t like the URLs though. Having musicbrainz IDs is nice, but is it neccessary?

    Maybe you could add human-friendly aliases for most popular artists?


  11. @Paul : Yes that’s the join to users on the graph – the idea is to allow people to become a fan of an artist etc.

    The label for the “Related Artists” section is tricky. For Bloc Party because they haven’t collaborated with anyone the only relationship is with the members. But if you have a look at say Elton John then you get collaborations and personal relationships. And if band members have a separate solo career then there are already pages e.g. Chris Martin

    We also have plans to recommend ‘similar’ artists.

    @KL : we think it is necessary yes – the short answer is that artist names aren’t unambiguous. For example just look at how many ‘Mono’ there are For a longer answer have a read of Michael’s recent post on the Radio Labs blog :

  12. […] publishing information about the artists broadcast on the BBC. You can read more about the site on Tom Scott’s blog and BBC Radio […]

  13. Looks like you’re laying the foundations of something brillliant. Any plans for integration?

  14. […] now you may well have found the new BBC Music beta site – Matthew Shorter and Tom Scott have both blogged about it, and it’s shown up on TechCrunch. If you haven’t seen it yet, I strongly […]

  15. […] pages beta. [If you’re not already up to speed, you can start with Matthew Shorter’s post below, Tom Scott’s post on his personal blog and more hardcore detail at Radio Labs from Guy […]

  16. […] to use. At the time we didn’t have the RDF views launched – since then we’ve launched RDF for the new artist pages and today for […]

  17. […] you also provide those resources in machine readable formats (as we have done with programmes and music) then you provide a platform that allows others to reuse your […]

  18. […] project last month I discovered the beta version of the BBC Music page, on these two blog posts 1, 2. Not only after the blog post very interesting but they also go into some detail about the […]

  19. […] advocates at the BBC are busy building quite deep links into Wikipedia at the API level (see this fascinating post by Tom Scott about the way the BBC’s /music pages now make use of open content from Wikipedia […]

  20. I have been trying to get my music accepted for programming for many years but because of the “closed shop” existence it is an impossible task. I gave up my efforts four years ago but I’m back! I write themes and advertising material. Some themes can be listened to by following the link: I can supply MP3’s upon request.

    Alan Parkes

  21. […] the same time, the BBC radio playout system (reportedly giant iPods in the basement of Broadcasting House) update the playlist information on the right of the […]

  22. […] the same time, the BBC radio playout system (reportedly giant iPods in the basement of Broadcasting House) update the playlist information on the right of the […]

  23. […] if you didn’t do what Patrick Sinclair did and written a bot to monitor Wikipedia changes (details), then you might have simply grabbed the Wikipedia page at the wrong time, and that vandalised […]

  24. I saw one thing as well about th is on different blog web page.Extremely, your linear perspective on it is diametrically opposite to what I study before. I am nevertheless attempting to figure out through the opposite points of view, but I?m tipped strongly toward your stage of view. And regardless, that is certainly what is so terrific about contemporary democracy and also the marketplace of ideas onthe internet.

  25. […] are no doubt aware, the BBC is no stranger to semantic technologies. Their music pages are stuffed full of semantic goodness, and trust Musicbrainz and Wikipedia to supply them with artist information. Their natural history […]

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