How to help the network effect

Following my recent post considering BBC public value in the online world I was asked to write a piece for the BBC’s internal staff paper ariel. Here it is:

Front cover of ariel
Front cover of ariel

IF YOU READ the BBC’s internet blog you will know that we are considering the use of OpenID, an interesting though widely misunderstood, technology that could benefit everyone using the web by extending the generative nature of the web.

Technologies such as OpenID and it’s sister technology OAuth and, techniques such as Linked Data provide benefits that the BBC should be helping the web at large to adopt.

It might seem a bit geeky and not something that most people get right now, but then almost nobody gets Transport Layer Security either but I’m pleased that hasn’t stopped my bank implementing it; most people don’t understand HTTP but we all use it. The BBC, could help foster the adoption of these technologies for the benefit of the web at large by adopting them, by promoting best practice and by actively engaging in their development.

Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the web, has proposed a set of simple rules ‘to do the web right’ to achieve a semantically interlinked web of resources, accessible to man and machine. These rules are know as Linked Data.

But how does following these principles help the BBC? And how does that help the web at large? How does it add public value? The short answer is it provides a platform that allows others to build upon and provides our audience with a more coherent user experience.

If data is unconnected (as most of is) it is likely that those websites and the journeys across them will be incoherent. The web’s power comes from being interconnected. The value of any piece of content online is greatly enhanced if it is interconnected. This is due to the network effect, the classic example being the telephone. The more people who own a telephone, the more valuable each telephone becomes. Adding a telephone to a network makes every other telephone more useful. Adding semantically meaningful links to the web adds context and allows others to discover more information.

For example, by building and in this fashion the new artist pages will become more useful by being joined to programmes – directly linking artist pages to those episodes that feature that artist. And the network effect goes both ways. Linking artists to programmes makes the programme pages more valuable – because there is more context, more discovery and more serendipity. The network effect really explodes once programmes and music are joined to the rest of the web.

The BBC has a role beyond its business needs because it can help create public value around useful technologies – and around its content for others to benefit.

6 responses to “How to help the network effect”

  1. I am no expert, but there have been a number of comments in the forums lately complaining that OpenID is no longer working and others suggesting that it may not get fixed. So, probably, not the best time for the BBC to implement it.

    Also, since I’m here and this is a hobbyhorse of mine, is there any chance that the navigability of the BBC iPlayer could be returned to what it was when only radio was played? I loved the feature that allowed you to click through not only to similar programmes, but also to the whole of, say, Radio 4’s output. When I’ve listened to one programme, I often don’t want one of the handful of options that the ‘More Like This’ feature suggests. So now I have to close the iPlayer, trawl through the website and open up the iPlayer again. I’d be very happy, actually, if the radio and TV players were separated completely.

    Sorry. Probably this is something you have no input into or control over, but I just couldn’t resist the chance to rant. ;)

  2. OpenID isn’t like Google or other central thing which people use. It’s a common way of doing something like HTTP. So even if is having problems with its implementation (although I have to say I’ve never has any problems) that doesn’t mean OpenID is broken.

    Not sure I’m going to be able to help much with your iPlayer wishes – it’s not one of my projects. But I might have an alternative for you. Try this:

    It’s not quite what you’re after since it lists programme brands that are available to listen to on Radio 4. But we’re adding a view which will list individual episodes you can listen to.

  3. I thought OpenID was a centrally organised thing which different websites then signed up to. Isn’t that the point – that your information is held in just one place which then confirms your identity to all the different places you might want to log in? Or have I misunderstood it completely?

    Thanks for the link. It’s not quite what I was looking for – I liked being able to easily switch between channels and genres as well. Oh well.

  4. Not quite. The idea is that your information is held in one place, yes; but you get to decide where that one place is. For example, Yahoo!, AOL and myOpenID can all provide you with an OpenID.

    Other services can then decide to use OpenID to let you sign into their site rather than asking for a username and password. For example Dopplr and Plaxo both let you use your OpenID to log in to their sites.

    Finally if you own a domain (e.g. you can can change your OpenID provider without having to reregister all the sites you sign in with.

    Think of OpenID as a mechanism by which you can prove (to a computer) that you own a URL.

    Sorry the link wasn’t quite what you were after – I feared it wouldn’t be. Hopefully the list of episodes available to listen to might be closer.

  5. I (think I) see. So is the BBC planning to be both a provider and a user of openID?

  6. I think the BBC should be both a provider and user or provider and relying party in OpenID vernacular (for the reasons I outlined here). But that’s not my decision :)

    More info here:

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