Sunday 5 November 2006

Innovating our way around the country

I'm lucky enough to be involved with the BBC Innovation Labs, run by Matt Locke and the BBC Creative R&D team (er I think they're still called that?)

The Labs are basically a way to involve the new media "indie" community in developing new ideas that meet various strategic goals of the BBC (eg how to reach an under-served audience, or how to exploit a particular type of content we own, etc), giving them a bit of cash to sit with us for five days and work through an idea, to which we get first rights but non-exclusive access.

Along with Mark, Ian and Matt, I've been asked to come along to the intro sessions to talk about the BBC's web infrastructure. The idea is that agencies will have an idea of how their pitches will run on our architecture and what they will have to integrate with. Going by some of the demos we've seen recently, a lot of agencies don't seem to think they would have to integrate with anything, so getting the word out has to be a good thing.

It also helps that we can talk about what will be coming in the next year or so as the "BBC 2.0" project kicks off... we will have a nice scalable service-oriented architecture for people to build upon. Well, that's the plan anyway.

It raises a few interesting points:

  • Where are the techy agencies?
    It seems that most of the people pitching to us have been "new meedja" agencies in the sense that they are used to building corporate web sites for corporates, with minimal technical input. But if we want some solid recommendation software either built or integrated, or a message queuing system integrated and supported, where do we go? We've got the money to spend... (well, we will have soon, if all goes to plan..!)

  • How to make it worth an agency's while to build for our architecture?
    We want people to build tools that will integrate with our single sign-on, ratings systems, file stores, social networking / friends systems, etc etc... but if they build exclusively for our needs, they won't be able to re-sell their products to others. So either (a) that's fine but we have to pay more for the work, or (b) we have to come up with a compelling offer to these guys. One way might be to create open source implementations of each of our components, and make them all freely available to be integrated into other products (under, say, the Apache license). But as at least part-funders of these products, wouldn't licence fee payers expect to see a share in any future proceeds of products built on our shared infrastructure?

    Another way would be to exclusively use shared standards and make sure an open source product already exists for every component we use. That might be fine for SSO (using, say, JAAS) but I can't see it working for some of our more obscure components.

Lots of food for thought... which is after all what the innovation labs days are all about.