On doing two papers at ETech 2005


Hm. The O’Reilly ETech button on the right there doesn’t really look very comfortable on the page, does it? All looks a bit showy and ostentatious. It’s just the wrong width, really. Ah well. Never mind.

I’ve actually been meaning to write about talking at ETech for a while but for a variety of complex logistical reasons, I’ve been kind of leaving it until I felt reasonably confident that it was actually going to happen. I think I can tell it’s going to happen now. After all, if it wasn’t happening, then I wouldn’t have had such an overwhelming freak-out terror fit when I found out that I’d got the date for getting the paper in wrong by a full week and a half. And that I’d told all the people who were co-writing the incorrect date as well. That’s all fixed now, of course, but at least I got scared, and anything real enough to get scared about is – in my humble opinion – probably real enough to write about on my site…

So I’m really excited about the conference for a couple of reasons. And those couple of reasons are the two papers I’m involved in. Firstly there’s a paper on some of the interesting and innovative stuff that Radio and Music Interactive does at the BBC (Reinventing Radio: One-to-Many meets Many-to-Many), which is half done by Hammond/Biddulph and half done by Webb and me. Obviously twenty minutes isn’t really long enough to give thorough coverage about the stuff we’ve been working on at various points over the last 18 months, but it should give us a little time to talk about a couple of projects in a little depth. Here’s a description to whet your appetite:

How could you enhance a one-to-many national radio station by building in the many-to-many-style interactions of Flickr or the weblog community? How might lessons from social software further blur the distinction between listeners and broadcasters by pushing interactivity beyond the phone-in or the online poll?

(1) The “Ten-Hour Takeover” used SMS technology, pattern matching, and statistical analysis to give the British public control of BBC Radio 1’s musical output. For ten hours, there was no planned playlist–every track was chosen by listeners via text messages. We turned these messages into a navigable information space of artists, tracks, and listeners that the DJs could interact with directly. Moreover, the loosely coupled component-based infrastructure has allowed us to deploy new mobile-based products (SMS and MMS) quickly and easily.

(2) A component-based architecture also allows us to hook together SMS, track now-playing, and show scheduling systems with each other and with third-party services. BBC R&Mi are using this as a basis for exploring social software models of interactivity: the potential of Flickr/del.icio.us-style tagging for radio; the possibilities of combining buddy lists with media players; new applications for SMS; and concepts like “100 Composers”–DABJava applications on PDAs that can have data trickled to them over broadcast radio.

The session presents work from BBC Radio & Music Interactive’s Technical Architecture and R&D teams, including demonstrations of existing software and working prototypes of new projects.

The other thing I’m involved in – again with Mr Biddulph, but this time also with Mr Bell – is our presentation on a project called Programme Information Pages (PIPs). Now this paper has the worst name of anything ever written in the world, so I’m just going to link to the description and hope you find your way around it. It’s basically about getting ready for what might happen alongside (and potentially after), broadcast television and radio, and should fit really well with the other papers from Tivo, about television and the discussions that are really likely to appear about the Creative Archive project and the BBC’s role in open data, which really all seem to be around the same kind of areas but from really different perspectives.

That’s the paper that I’m most nervous about – certainly I’ve invested more of myself and my time into the project itself than any other piece of work I’ve done since University. I really hope that comes across in the paper itself and that people get why it’s interesting.

Anyway, so there you go. Two years since my last ETech paper and now two have come along at once! And while I can’t see the fear going anywhere for a while, I’m also really looking forward to being able to talk about all this stuff in the open and the free and clear. See you there?