Leaving the BBC

After almost five years this will be my last month at the BBC.

The BBC has been a great place to work – I’ve worked with some amazing people, helped deliver some of the best work of my career and had the opportunity to speak at conferences around the world, including (amazingly) at the Web’s 20th birthday celebrations in CERN.

The BBC can certainly be a challenging place to work but I’m very grateful to Dan Hill and Matt Wood for offering me a job in the first place. I just hope I’ve not let them down because for every challenge, gripe and frustration there have also been opportunities to learn new things, work with brilliant people and help deliver great stuff that has, I think, had an positive impact on what the BBC does online.

So what have I been up to since I’ve been here?

The first project I worked on was /programmes a site that means that every programme the BBC broadcasts now has a web presence – one that both humans and machines can enjoy. The site is sometimes criticized as being a card catalogue of BBC programme metadata but its worth remembering that until the site launched the vast majority of programmes had no URI, had no webpage of any kind; /programmes changed that at a stroke. It was also the first truly dynamic web site on bbc.co.uk and whatever people might say about the aesthetics the site has the prettiest URIs of any site I know (something to thanks Michael Smethurst for).

The music site was my other project while in the FM&T bit of Audio & Music. Building on Musicbrainz the idea was to create a rich graph, linking music programmes with artist pages (available as HTML and RDF etc.) via ‘clickable tracklistings‘.

After a couple of years I left Audio & Music and joined ‘BBC Vision’ – the bit of the the BBC that does the telly – and took on a project known internally as ‘BBC Earth‘. And pretty much tried to replicate the music work but for natural history content.

I say I tried to replicate the music work that’s not really true, or rather its only true to a point. The core underlying concepts where the same, but the manifestation is quite different. For starters we sought to digitise and make available the TV archive but we also created original content – this broke down into exclusive natural history news stories, stories from TV and Radio production teams on location and, curated video collections.

I wanted the nature site to help people discover, explore and understand the natural world through the BBC’s content, I hope we’ve achieve that to some extent. Personally, and I know I’m biased, I think the site is brilliant and one of the best looking and useful semantic web sites around (we publish the data as RDF).

The credit for the site, however, should go to the team that actually made it. I was lucky, the core of the team has remained on the project throughout its development and I’m indebted to those, more talented than me, for making it what it is.

As I’ve said, I think the site is brilliant and I think the editorial, technical and design knowledge and skills of the team shine through, the site is theirs not mine.

There’s much I could write about this work – but I should really do it a bit more justice than the space available here and so I’ll save what I have to say for another post. Also there’s one last thing to push live on the site, to round off its development and it feels wrong to preempt that.

So what now? Well I’m joining Nature Publishing Group as Head of Platform for nature.com. As a failed scientist I’m very excited by the opportunities – Nature is the leading weekly, international scientific journal with a mission to:

Helping achieve that mission on the Web is a really exciting prospect and I hope the next five years prove as productive as the last. Wish me luck.

18 responses to “Leaving the BBC”

  1. Thank you for Wildlife Finder – I must get round to hacking the RDF soon :) Big congratulations on the new job. Sounds very exciting…best of luck!

  2. Best of luck on your new job. Sounds like you have managed to create a terrific career for yourself.

    You’re not a “failed scientist” — you’re a scientifically literate journalist — which we need many more of! As a career print journo, I’m in awe of those able to explicate complexity as you must.

  3. As long as you keep blogging, I don’t care where you work! ;) Good luck @ Nature!

  4. You represent everything that’s wonderful about the BBC; it’ll be a poorer organisation without you.

    All the very best, though, with what sounds like a really exciting new project.

  5. Hey, congrats on the new gig, Mr Scott. Personally, I think /programmes and Wildlife Finder are the two most impactful things the BBC’s done online other than News and iPlayer, and they are to a large extent a result of your vision and (just as importantly) your patient stamina. It was a pleasure working with you. nature.com are extremely lucky.

  6. Scientific publishing seems ripe for a bit of a web-era shake up. I look forward to seeing what great things you can achieve there! Good luck.

  7. Simon Littlehales Avatar
    Simon Littlehales

    Best of luck in your new post – I’ve enjoyed the work you’ve done at the BBC. Hope you bring some of that to your new position :-)

  8. Well I’ll miss you….
    …but you knew that :-)

    very best of luck. and stay in touch

  9. The teams that have emerged under your considered leadership and brilliantly executed vision are some of the most exciting and dynamic groups of people I’ve ever seen working together and I was lucky enough to experience this first hand. All the best for your new work at Nature, sounds like a perfect fit, hopefully we’ll still get to follow the evolution of your thoughts here ;-)

  10. Matthew Shorter Avatar
    Matthew Shorter

    Congratulations Tom. The BBC’s loss is Nature’s gain. Best of luck in the new venture, and I certainly echo everyone’s plaudits for what you achieved, and helped others achieve, at the BBC.

  11. Thanks everyone :) not sure I deserve it but it makes me happy to hear.

    I’m really looking forward to the new job but I hope I get to work with you again.

  12. BBC’s massive loss is Nature’s monumental gain. Good luck, Tom. It’s been an absolute pleasure to work, if not with you directly, alongside you across projects. You’re a voice of humane wisdom and generous sanity. I’ll miss our conversations immensely.


  13. Wow, the brain drain continues. Working with you and Matthew Shorter on BBC Music was one of the good bits from the last few years at the Beeb, and you taught me loads. Good luck at Nature.com

  14. Tom, it was an absolute pleasure working with you. The BBC certainly has benefit from your vision and I personal learnt a lot from you. And we’re currently making excellent use of the /programmes API on the new Radio Times site. The BBC data is definitely the best programme data around and there’s an awful lot of it. Your legacy will certainly live on. The very best of luck with new gig and looking forward to that beer.

  15. Just adding my two pennies worth here – suffice to say that if it wasn’t for your encouragement (alongside @onpause & @fantasticlife) back in 2007/8, I’d still be floundering around at work, not really knowing what to do next. Just picking out a blog post of mine as ‘something interesting’ was enough to keep me going, and it’s probably not too much to say that if I could achieve half the things you’ve done at the Beeb (or indeed play any part in keeping the flame alive!), I’d be very happy. You’ve pretty much had the role I’ve looked up to and wanted to emulate ever since starting here, and hopefully we’ll be able to work together properly one day soon (rather than you running off to another project/job just as I start one ;-P). Good luck at Nature!

  16. […] Categories BBC 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 […]

  17. Have not been around for a while and unfortunately missed your drinks. Sad to see the BBC is losing you – there goes another person with the vision the BBC needs. I am grateful to you for the opportunity you gave me managing /programmes and all the support that you gave me throughout – best of luck in your exciting new role.


  18. Came by to drop-off the below link to a great plant DB of the US:


    Sorry to hear you’re leaving the Beeb – your work at the BBC will be missed: you brought the site into the 21st century well ahead of the crowd, in so-doing raising standards by using well-chosen standards. Wherever you are going, I wish you the best of luck, and hop you keep in touch.

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