Tuesday 6 July 2004

Graf review on content management

The Graf review on the BBC's online offering was finally released today, after 18 months of development.

So what does it have to say about content management at the BBC? Some interesting points...

(Just notes-to-self for now, I'll come back and write about individual points later)

Page 20 of the main review: "The BBC has also employed a number of technical solutions to enable them to deliver news and information content quickly and effectively, over a number of platforms. The development of the News and Sport Content Production System (CPS) represents a signi´Čücant investment in such technical solutions, with total costs amounting to £3.8m in 2003"

A constant theme is value for money, which resonate's well with Mark Thompson's recent prouncements to make all BBC services pass a "public value test". The term "cost per unique user", "CPUU" is referred throughout, obviously meaning the cost of content production divided by number of unique users. It will be interesting to see this statistic for a lot of our content. According to page 21, CPUU for weather is 1.8 pence and Nations and Regions (excluding Northern Ireland) is 20.5 pence. It will be interesting to see if this figure changes after our CMS has finished rolling out to the English Regions sites...

Page 21 again, "the BBC is currently developing the technology to track traffic exclusively to external sites." Well I thought the /go/ system would do that, but if you say so... anyway in the CMS, adapting our external weblinks to use a system like this (or to move from one such system to another) will take about 20 seconds of XSLT coding.

And more on page 21, "links from sites or pages are not... measured across the site." Another easy peasy thing for us to do with the CMS...

Page 22, "The total costs of the launch of the
search engine (worldwide and BBC site) were £414,268, and the current running costs of the
BBC Online search tool are £476,000."

Documentum specifically gets a mention on page 24!

Page 27, "Applications developed by the BBC, such as DNA have also enabled user-generated content to
be more stimulating for the user and more efficiently managed. The current growth in web log usage also allows users to contribute richer content (e.g. to news stories) in the form of text, pictures, and audio and video clips."

Page 32: "BBC Online’s ambition to syndicate online content to other providers (for example, free and non-exclusive arrangements for commercial websites such as www.streetmap.co.uk to carry BBC news headlines), and to other devices (for example, free and non-exclusive arrangements with mobile providers to ensure position of BBC Online on WAP versions), is again, a means to drive towards 100% reach. Reach is a key means to ensure that increasing numbers of licence fee payers can derive some value from the BBC’s online services. This strategic goal does, however, risk the BBC being perceived by commercial operators as an aggressive, and unfairly advantaged competitive force. Submitters to the review also argued that the BBC’s current
inconsistent approach to linking, the prominence of BBC Online results in its search engine, and the low level of joint venture or externally commissioned projects have compounded this

Page 35 has a graph of BBC Online Expenditure, charted over the years... the division with the most expenditure is of course News with 15.5m in 2003/04, second is Nations & Regions with 11.6m and third is Factual and Learning with 10.1m.

That'll do for now, more on the technology assessment appendix tomorrow :-)

Sunday 4 July 2004


Hello and welcome to what is currently called "Brendan's Braindump" -- Brendan Quinn's thoughts about the world of content management systems, the techniques of teasing these systems into doing something that's actually useful to human beings, and generally the practice of managing content in enterprises large and small.

Basically I figured after more than ten years on the web, it was about time I got myself a blog.

Hopefully this one will be updated more frequently than my horrendous efforts on Advogato (wow! over three years of inactivity, is that a record?) and one on livejournal I think I created once but can't remember for the life of me... and for that matter my own website which is lucky to see an update every six months.

So why did I never update my blog/s before? I know exactly why. It's simple really. I never thought I had anything interesting enough to say.

I'm not like a lot of bloggers out there who seem to have the web equivalent of verbal diahrroea, enjoying the sound of their own voice (or is it the glow of their own pixels? or something like that).

I suffer from indecision -- or is it insecurity? From the paralysing thought that what I am now writing might be proven wrong tomorrow, derided in other blogs, laughed at by posterity. No matter what I write, I know that unless I believe in it unequivocally I will never be happy with it. And being a scientifically-minded sceptic, it takes a *lot* for me to believe in something unequivocally.

The other reason, which in a way is the same reason I guess, is that I am far too much of a perfectionist. I will spend way too long going back and editing everything I said, trying to make it read more fluently, grimacing at my woeful use of what is after all the only language I speak, trying to cram way too many ideas into way too few lines, and becoming even more obsessed with spelling and punctuation. I know blogs are supposed to be free form, conversational, and mostly unedited, but that's just not my way. I like structure, I like correctness, and I take the time to make sure things are right. Already I've lost count of the number of times I've deleted chunks of this post and re-typed them (including this very sentence).

So it's really taken me ten years to realise that these qualities can be seen as virtues, and if nothing else they make me different from most other bloggers out there. Hopefully it will at least end up that I say things with meaning, things worth reading. (Not so far, I'll admit.)

It's taken me ten years to realise that I actually have things to say, but they are still swishing around my brain, waiting to be released in a more permanent, more structured way. And the only way to get them out is to start writing about them. And a blog is as good a way to do that as any.

In a way I've been forced into doing this, because my job is now requiring me to think some more, and write some more, about what content management means and where it will be in a few years' time... Where will the world of web services, rich metadata, and peer-to-peer applications leave the still fairly push-centric world of digital publishing? What lessons can the relatively established practice of web content management teach the "serious" media and broadcasting companies that are finally waking up to truly converged, truly digital audio and video production? What new standards will emerge to guide us through this difficult process of making so many different systems, processes and people work together?

Of course you would think that being a full-time, self-employed content management consultant for a year during all of 2001 and part of 2002 would have forced me into thinking about what I stood for, and what content management really meant, but at the time it was revolutionary enough just to be someone who asked the right questions.

Now I want to start thinking about some answers.