Blogging was where we began, and how we built our company so we have preserved this archive to show how our thinking developed over a decade of developing the use of social technology inside organisations

BBC Backstage prototype: social tagging


Latest project newsThanks to the wonderful BBC Backstage initiative, we can now talk about some rather exciting prototype work we did recently for the BBC that looked at how social tagging might work on BBC News to drive both social bookmarking and user-driven related stories. Details of the project are here on Backstage
You can access the prototype and play with it here (click through to any story to start tagging; use the login ‘guest’/’guest’ or use the signup link to create your own account) or have a look at this example story about Gorgeous George that has been tagged already:


The protoype uses XML-HttpRequest to allow users to add tags without leaving the news story they are looking at, and it also updates the related stories box based on applied tags so that users can see what others are doing in almost real time. Users have their own tags page to aggregate bookmarked stories, and they can also view a global tags page showing the most popular and recent tags used by all users. There is also a tag search facility across a users’ tags or the whole tag space. For each ‘tag’, users can see their own stories and other peoples’ stories that have been associated with a term, plus there are feeds from, Technorati and Flickr that pull in content with similar tags
Aside from the implementation, the interesting bits for us are:

  1. How can users bookmark BBC News stories and organise them using their own categories?
  2. Can we offer related story links based on social tagging rather than dictated by editorial? (as per Tom Loosemore’s earlier question)
  3. Is it a good idea to link outwards from user tags to see related content from blogs, social bookmarks and photos, or would this ‘dilute’ the BBC’s wonderful ‘content’?

Congratulations to the Headshift team who built this is a short space of time. We would appreciate any feedback, either here or on Backstage, about the idea or its implementation. Please bear in mind it is just a prototype – it might yet fall over!So, what about BBC Backstage? It is a project led by Tom Loosemore, Ben Metcalfe, and James Boardwell that will provide an API, encouragement and some support to people both inside and outside the BBC who have good ideas for re-using BBC content or building shiny new things with it

“ attempts to encourage and support those who have provided most of the innovation on the inernet – the passionate, highly-skilled & public-spirited developers and designers many of whom volunteer their time and effort.”

This is such a good idea and will, I hope, cement the BBC’s leading role in innovating for public good within the mainstream media. It is the latest in a long line of developments that illustrate how the BBC has become a safe harbour for some clever people who are committed to building public value through online media. It also proves, I think, how the internet has revitalised the BBC’s public service remit, which was previously becoming a bit lost amidst the management debates, multi-skilling and the growing obsession with competing with lower forms of commercial media
Ben Hammersley, who was among the first to herald its coming, thinks backstage is so revolutionary it can induce bowel movements

It’s actually a symbol of something much much bigger: it’s laying down the gauntlet for the rest of the world. It highlights the point that on the internet, hiding your content is suicide. It says that you can either open up, and we can all flourish together; or you can remain closed, and die alone.

The Guardian is also excited, but their Head of Development, Lloyd Shepherd, points out that companies cannot make hay with this BBC content in quite the way Ben suggests. Plus, he reminds us that

You can’t redistribute BBC content; only the BBC can do that … [and] the BBC is not distributing full-text content by RSS; only headlines and snippets (this is even true of Backstage’s own RSS feeds). As the BBC itself has said, it expects 10 per cent of its website traffic to be coming from RSS by the end of this year. In other words, RSS is just another effective way of building audience and traffic…

The point about commercial exploitation, I think, is not the most important issue here. The BBC needs some time and space to work out the sometimes complex relationships it has with the commercial sector. Over the long term, I think backstage will play the same enabler role for a marketplace of small innovative developers that Channel 4’s formation played in the independent TV production sector in the 1980’s
But what really matters is that we continue to enjoy the benefits of a world-class public sector broadcaster that remains focused on its important role in society, education and democracy, and I hope BBC Backstage is another step forward for that mission. It is not easy to start opening up such a large and multi-faceted organisation as the BBC, so Auntie deserves much respect for giving people like Tom, James and Ben (and the many other great people in the corporation) the chance to lead the old lady forward, step by step.

What if you could re-organise BBC News?
A social tagging experiment using BBC News content

10 Responses to BBC Backstage prototype: social tagging

  1. By Stéphane LEE on May 14, 2005 at 6:11 pm

    Hi Lee,
    We met at Les Blogs Paris.
    Maybe the BBC and you could find useful to link your tags to my tag aggregator – dubbed “Guten Tag” –
    For example, let’s see what people say about BBC –>
    What about Headshift ? –>
    Much better yet to come.
    Please feel free to contact me if necessary.

  2. By karl long on June 7, 2005 at 7:02 pm

    Great stuff, initiatives like this are going to continue to change the way people related to organizations. These tools that enable customers to actually be part of an organizations value network are so powerful that many traditional companies are going to get severely sideswiped. I’m also super impressed that the beeb open sourced its content.
    So was headshift actually involved in getting the BBC to start backstage?

  3. By Lee Bryant on June 8, 2005 at 11:38 am

    Thanks Stephane and Karl.
    Stephane: will take a look.
    Karl: We too are impressed by the BBC’s attitude towards innovation and dedlivering public value, but Backstage was a purely internal initiative – we can’t take credit for that!

  4. By Seb's Open Research on June 19, 2005 at 7:17 am

    Top Three Links I Always Wanted to Blog (But Somehow Couldn’t)

    OK, let’s face it, for far too long I’ve not been mindful of lesson 1 of blogging : Do not put off the important posts.

  5. By Tom Morris on July 1, 2005 at 3:01 pm

    Neat idea. Why not make import tags in to the BBC articles?

  6. By luisdans's WebLog on August 31, 2005 at 2:44 am

    Agosto 30, 2005. Madurez de diversas tecnologías emergentes: Maquinas virtuales personales, holografía, etc…

    Seguridad: Varias pepitas de oro este mes, como la presentación de Cesar Cerrudo en Seguridad…

  7. By Ton's Interdependent Thoughts on October 12, 2005 at 9:07 am

    BBC goes Slashdot

    Ben Metcalfe reports BBC going Slashdot. After already experimenting with tagging (as Lee showed us in Copenhagen, and which you can testdrive at Headshift’s BBC mock-up here) the BBC is now opening up their Have Your Say section to a…

  8. By Ton's Interdependent Thoughts on October 12, 2005 at 9:14 am

    BBC goes Slashdot

    Ben Metcalfe reports BBC going Slashdot. After already experimenting with tagging (as Lee showed us in Copenhagen, and which you can testdrive at Headshift’s BBC mock-up here) the BBC is now opening up their Have Your Say section to a…

  9. By Confluence: Project News on March 31, 2006 at 1:28 pm

    BBC Backstage

    BBC Backstage news Site:

  10. By jeremy hight on September 30, 2006 at 3:00 am

    an amazing idea here….one that needs to be implemented…..I love how the bbc is open to such experimentation…..I first came here because my work “floating points, locative media and the iss” is one of the links here.
    I think this is a brilliant taste of the future (hopefully near future) and I applaud headshift and the bbc for this and what I am sure will be its non beta form soon.