A couple of years ago I had the idea to chart the history of the BBC’s first twenty years online as a research project. Why? A couple of approaches to me since leaving the BBC in 2008 and as Professor of Digital Media and Innovation at WMG made me think. First could I answer a few questions to help a then PHD candidate at Kings College London Department with some background for his research on Blogging and War reporting and the BBC? I gladly helped out and it was fascinating to see how contemporary history is codified. It’s somehow different when its your own history that is being laid down however. It compelled me to turn to my own archives of how we set up the Blogging Platform at the BBC , who came to me first with the idea and what the confluence of influences were that brought the platform out into the open. I shall write about that separately another day.
The second approach was from Tim Jones, an Innovation Expert and practitioner whom we had worked with at the BBC but who ran an Innovation practise and who was working on a group of people writing a book called Growth Champions: the Battle for Sustained Innovation Leadership. Someone had got sick or left the project and I was asked to co-write a chapter at very short notice in the summer of 2011. My chapter was about Apple and Lego subtitled “Bringing Magic to the Everyday” the book looked at how companies kept sustaining their innovation leadership. It was a great time to look at Apple rising as high as it gets. I had a problem though. They don’t grant interviews. They didn’t even reply to my email request which is a bit of a first in my experience. To cut a long story short I turned to desk research to start out. And what did I find? Only people who loved Steve Jobs, or people who did not love Steve Jobs – hagiography and its opposite. Then thankfully I found an open archive in Stanford containing Engineers memos and then I found Folklore.org. Far from ideal not being able to get new material but it taught me a big lesson and raised a few questions. How is the story of digital change being told? Is it only CEOs who get to publish their autobiographies, or have their biographies written? In the age of the computer where is the history kept? On hard drives? But the stories prior to blogging where are they? Don’t suppose many people are writing memoirs or keeping diaries in the digital age, or are they just taking other forms?
Anyway it got me thinking about the BBC, how it tells its own story and how others tell it. I worked there from 1993 to 2008 and witnessed and took part in a very exciting period of organisational transformation. I felt sure that a lot would have been kept visible via the website from 1997 , in the written archives , perhaps in the oral history archive, and importantly in staff memories and experiences published on their own blogs or on BBC blogs. I took my idea to Roly Keating, then Head of the BBC’s archive and Online Editor and now Director of the British Library and we talked it through.
Many moons later I have now started the project with the BBC History Unit and the BBC’s oral history archive and many of my assumptions have been squashed as I explain on the BBC’s About the BBC blog and develop further here. Before April comes around again there should be a web page up with some excerpts of the oral history interviews we have conducted so far. The first step to creating a time line that I had supposed would exist somewhere on paper!
I am definately going to have to take an interest in this. It’s gone live today and was brought into being by the Hansard Society. Things definately seem to be moving on. It’s desribed as a “meeting room without walls”
This is what they have to say:
“Apparently we are going live today. So far, our blog confessions have had a very limited audience, but now anyone may see what we have been doing.
Not that I have anything to hide. Indeed, I suspect that most members of the Lords would be only too happy if the public could and did take more notice of what we do on their behalf. Some of us spent a lengthy afternoon last Thursday debating the best way to get more people – and especially young people – interested in the way Parliament deals with their concerns, hopes and fears.”
In the interests of full disclosure: must see if my other half is going to blog here or how many will join in…. . He is no longer in the Government, hence the speeches are going down in number, but a blog might be just the ticket.
Just a reminder. All the views I express on this blog are personal, and not the official view of the BBC!
What a week to miss back at base – check out the new bbc homepage beta version here.
The thing that leapt out at me was the prominence given to our blogs – and how you can customise which feeds you want to see right up on the front page. This is a bit of a landmark as I instigated the project in 2004, then a research project, to get the BBC into the blogosphere. We got our framework together in 2005, started the trial in 2006 and have just come to the end of an 18 month trial – you can see written about here and here. Martin Belam has been writing about the early days – but I really want to pay tribute to two or three key people. First I really have to thank Julie Adair , now Head of New Media in BBC Scotland soon to leave the BBC to work with Disney. It was Julie who pushed me hard to send her off to BlogerCon but also importantly to get some new development work commissioned for Scotblog and Island Blogging in Scotland. Julie is very persuasive (in this case though she was pushing at an open door) and she also went on relentlessly (as I recall) to push me to organise a pan-BBC blog event internally to push everyone forward a year before we did it. I also want to thank Richard Sambrook (the first BBC divisional boss to start blogging inside the BBC firewall) for agreeing to be the internal Champion for the project that launched the Blog Network. Kevin Anderson was lured over from the US by Nic Newman to help encourage BBC News to take the plunge, Ben Metcalfe (an actual blogger at the time…) helped advise – and even the people who argued vehemently that it was not the route for the BBC to go down helped us all move forward. Six divisions agreed to go forward for a trial and happily Jem Stone had some money to pay. We modelled ourselves on the BBC Podcast and Download Trial (now a service) and set out to try a few different things. I am sure there is more to be said about the research commissioned to look at the trial so far. What interests me is some of the softer metrics, harder to measure. How blogging has or hasn’t affected correspondent’s TV or radio styles? How examples of things tried with the audience on one blog may be transferring to other blogs or programmes. How the experience of blogging may be changing how we speak to our audiences and, indeed, each other?
Note to self: must go and thank Richard Titus for the icing on the cake!