Some thoughts on rNews

Some thoughts on rNews

IPTC are working an ontology known as rNews which aims to standardise (and encourage the adoption of) RDFa in news articles.

This is a very, very good idea – it should allow for better content discovery, new ways to aggregate news stories about people, places or subjects and generally allow computers to help people process some of the structured information behind a story.

rNews is still in draft. At the time of writing the published spec is at version 0.1, there are clearly ambitions to built out on this work and it will be interesting to see where it goes.

Although I’m sure much of this has been thought about before I thought I would jot down my initial thoughts on this early draft.

More URIs please

The current spec makes extensive use of xsd:string and xsd:double to assign attributes to a class. For example, the Location Class includes attributes for longitude, latitude and altitude but no URIs for places.

Using URIs to name places (and people, subjects, organisations etc.) would allow for much more interesting things to be done with the data.

It would make it easier to aggregate content from more than one news outlet and generally link things together by location, person and area of interest.

There’s obviously an issue here – there needs to be a good source of URI for places – but in reality there are lots of candidates out there from dbpedia to geonames.

Greater reuse of existing vocabularies

There are existing vocabularies that describe the some of the classes described in rNew – notably FOAF and Dublin Core.

I would prefer rNews reusing those vocabularies or at least linking (owl:sameAS) to them.

I’m not a fan of tags

I don’t really like “tagging” it lack semantics and is extremely ambiguous.

If I tag a news story am I claiming it’s primarily about that thing, features that thing, also about that thing, what? And whatever you think it means I guarantee I can find someone else who disagrees!

I would rather see more defined predicates such as primarilyAbout etc. I recognise this would add a bit of complexity but it would also increase the utility of the vocabulary.

If the intention is to aid discoverability through categorisation then use SKOS.

Explicit predicates for source materials

I think it’s really important to explicitly link to source material, especially for science and medicine (it’s why Nature News and has always done so).

A simple set of predicates for the DOI, abstract URI, scientist/researcher of the original research and/or a URI for the raw data should suffice.

Again, it would also help if there was a handy source of URIs for scientists.

Should the story be at the heart of the ontology?

I’ve always thought of news stories as metadata about real world events.

If you reframe the problem in this way then what you really want are predicates to describe the relationship of the story (article, photo, video) to the event. You also then want links between people & places and those events (which could be inferred through the various news stories).

Building the ontology this way round would allow for some very powerful analysis and discovery of stories.

Anyway – I’ll be really interested to see how the ontology develops and how widely it gets adopted.

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.

Leaving the BBC

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 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 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.