The web as a CMS

If you run a website you’re going to want to manage your content. You might use an Enterprise CMS, an open source CMS, a blogging platform or a bespoke app, and as you might expect at the BBC the same rules apply. Except some of us have been trying out something a bit different — using the web as a content management system.

Coffee Shop Study by notashamed. Some rights reserved

As anyone that reads this blog will realise I’m a bit of of Linked Data nut. I believe that the future of web design lies not in webpages but in URLs and resources. If you’re not sure what I’m on about then I suggest you read Tim Berners Lee’s article on the Giant Global Graph or Tom Coates’s presentation Native to the Web of Data.

I and the teams working on BBC programmes and music believe that the web is wonderful because of links — because people can go on journeys of discovery, browsing by meaning — by following links to the things that interest them. We also believe that where existing webscale identifiers exist or where existing ontologies, taxonomies and metadata exists we should reuse those and link to them. This focus on URLs and resources, and existing services has meant the services that we’ve been building are a bit different, as we’ve stated previously:

A core feature of the site is the integration with external services – notably MusicBrainz and Wikipedia. We are using these services to provide core information (discographies, biographical information, membership etc) about artists and releases. We are then combining this data with information from within the BBC – including details about which BBC programmes have played that artist.

The use of community, non-BBC, maintained databases obviously means that much of the data the BBC is publishing on comes from external services. But what may not be immediately obvious is that the BBC isn’t forking this data, as others have done. Because that would be silly.


So if we want to create a new artist, or edit any of this content then rather than editing that data via some internal CMS we edit MusicBrainz or Wikipedia. Just like you or anyone else, as Nick puts it:

From now on if I want to indulge my love of Frank Sinatra, I’ll just edit the Wikipedia page, knowing it will turn up on the BBC. Collaboration is the future, and not just in music.

Indeed with MusicBrainz we’ve been actively contributing content since June 2007.

[…] In exchange, MusicBrainz receives a monthly license fee that will allow MetaBrainz to hire some engineering help in the coming months to work on new features and to improve the existing infrastructure. This is quite significant since MusicBrainz has been resource constrained for many months now — having paid people on staff will ensure a more reasonable amount of progress moving forward.

Even cooler, the BBC online music editors will soon participate in the MusicBrainz community contributing their knowledge to MusicBrainz. The goal is to have the BBC /music editorial team round out and add new information to MusicBrainz as they need to use it in their MusicBrainz enabled applications internally.

As of today the BBC music team has contributed over 2,800 edits to MusicBrainz. None of this is to say that we don’t need content management solutions for our own, internal (meta)data we clearly do, but it does means that a significant proportion of these services are drawing on data from elsewhere on the web, and that means that if we want to edit it we edit the web improving those services and those provided by the BBC (including search).

22 responses to “The web as a CMS”

  1. I guess one of the key issues here is interface. Using the web as a cms is great, but it means having to learn and use tons of different interfaces, that might put people off.

    Are you editing all the music data on the MetaBrainz site, or have you looked at building any simple editing interfaces for your staff yet?

  2. @Frankie — it certainly might be a bit of an issue, although I’m not sure I would describe wikipedia and musicbrainz as a ton of different interfaces! And to be honest I think folk often get overly fixated on this — for sure it can be an issue in some instances but often its not. After all we do all use and learn a whole host of different interfaces. Just look at how many desktop apps you use.

    In this instance we’re using the MusicBrainz site.

  3. Michael Smethurst Avatar
    Michael Smethurst

    darn u scotty. was half way thru a post on exactly the same thing ;-)

    one thing i thought hinted at but not made explicit is the editing of links to pull in content. if an artist has a musicbrainz entry and a wikipedia entry but they’re not linked in brainz then bbc staff add/edit this link to pull in the biog to the bbc artist page. it’s not just about editing ‘content’. it’s about editing links. and every corrected link adds to the linked data web and makes the web as a whole greater than the sum of it’s parts.

    @frankie if u could see the miriad interfaces that bbc production staff currently have to fight with ud be able to picture them weeping with joy at these 2

  4. Michael sorry about that I hope you hadn’t spent too long on it. At least it shows that the hive mind is still alive and well. ;)

    You are, as ever, spot on with your comments about adding/ editing links.

  5. […] The web as a CMS Kevin: Tom Scott at the BBC says: "If you run a website you’re going to want to manage your content. You might use an Enterprise CMS, an open source CMS, a blogging platform or a bespoke app, and as you might expect at the BBC the same rules apply. Except some of us have been trying out something a bit different — using the web as a content management system." There is something simple and yet very, very powerful here. (tags: BBC web CMS tagging data) […]

  6. I am so chuffed that you guys are finally making this kind of thing happen.

  7. Thanks Kim I’m glad you approve.

  8. Lovely. As you know, I’ve been going on about this sort of thing over at Common Platform. My angle is that a parallel effort ought to be made to encourage individuals and teams at the BBC (outside of projects like yours) to contribute directly to OLD resources and to Wikipedia in particular. I think the dividend from the application of the huge intellectual resource represented by BBC experts and enthusiasts will be substantial – and a really responsible application of the licence fee in a way that produces PUBLIC VALUE. Public value that just happens to exist on servers outside the domain.

  9. @Steve I obviously think it’s a very good idea for BBC folk to contribute to wikipedia, musicbrainz and the like in those situations where it’s mutually beneficial for both the BBC and wikipedia etc.

    But I’m not convinced that BBC staff should contribute to wikipedia outside of such projects.

    It seems to me that such endeavors work best when there’s a clear benefit to both the individual, the community and the company. Contribution to Wikipedia outside of a project is unlikely to achieve this.

    That said if other areas of the BBC adopted a similar approach to the new music site then it wouldn’t matter too much anyway since you would end up with BBC staff contribution to wikipedia, improving, creating links between resources.

  10. @Tom @Michael – thanks both! I guess you’re right that MusicBrainz & Wikipedia don’t add a huge interface burden (at least no more than everything else). I guess I was thinking further forward in terms of ending up using 5-10 different data sources, each with their own interface.

    Using APIs to publish changes back to these sources from your own interfaces is one obvious solution, but then we have to juggle this against the benefits you get from encouraging staff to better understand the communities that produce this data through using their own interfaces.

    Finally – have you comes up against the notability problem with using Wikipedia yet? ie one of the reasons that decided to implement their own wiki-style biogs for music artists was that lots of their artists weren’t notable enough to meet Wikipedia’s criteria – in effect they’re too far down the long tail. I suppose the BBC music site is going to concentrate on the more well-known artists rather than those without record deals, but still…

  11. @Frankie — You’re right that if it got to the point where any one person needed to edit 10 different data sources to update something then that would be a problem. But I suspect that in reality even if the BBC had this many (web) data sources to worry about then it’s very unlikely that any individual would.

    But should it arise then updating via an API is one solution. However, there are problems with this — firstly as you say it distances people from the community, but it also creates a burden on the development team to keep our UI in sync with the API (assuming there is one).

    Re the notability problem — it is a risk (and something that was clocked early on in the project). But there are a couple of ‘solutions’ firstly this is only likely to be a problem either for artists that don’t get played on the BBC or are only played once or twice. You then need to question whether not having a biog matters. But if it does then we can provide some text from our own CMS until the artist is notable enough to have a Wikipedia entry.

  12. […] The web as a CMS « (tags: webb cms framtiden inspiration attläsa) […]

  13. […] Because we’re now thinking on a webscale we’ve started to think about the web as a CMS. […]

  14. I found your blog by chance . but i have to say that it’s great blog very useful information and very interesting subjects just greetings and good luck
    i’m not going i will be always checking for updates.I’m very interested in CMS and all its related subjects.

  15. From a usability standpoint I found it shockingly annoying to read your article with all of its links. It’s very choppy with so many different things. Maybe it’s just this article cause your trying to make a point with it.

    1. Perhaps you could try printing it off – that way the links won’t distract you?

  16. […] Scott wrote one year ago a great post about using the web as a CMS at the BBC, in which he describes how BBC editors contribute to websites like Musicbrainz and […]

  17. Hi – am late to the party, it seems. If you’re still answering this, have you thoughts/ideas about the implications of open-editing? I’m an MLIS and working ontologist, and I am (in theory) a big proponent of Linked Data and semweb, but the librarian part of me cringes when I think about just anyone being able to edit something that will end up on a supposedly authoritative site. Wikipedia was meant for community, so I expect a degree of error, but what about authority sites? It would be like going to Amazon music and understanding that their track listings may or may not be right. Are some BBC sites meant to be less exact than others? How do you ensure quality content?

    1. So implicit in your concern is the belief that the BBC is able to ensure higher degrees of accuracy than say Wikipedia, or musicbrainz. For some subjects this may well be true but for others probably not. There are obviously numerous reasons for this, including the publication of new research, failure to identify the appropriate research etc. etc.

      These sources of error are true for both the BBC and e.g. Wikipedia but Wikipedia has many more people, often more expert in the subject editing and reviewing a document. In other words often the error rate is less than in e.g. the BBC. This of course won’t always be true.

      The other advantage Wikipedia has is that it is much better at citing sources than media companies and as such it is easier to check the quoted data.

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