Mechanical

What Do I Do At the BBC?

Many folks wonder what exactly I do at the BBC and frankly, this is a tough question. The short answer is "metadata", but that doesn't tell anyone anything. It's much better to show it. So here are the TV listings for BBC One. Pretty boring, eh?

Here are TV listings for BBC Three (requires Flash), powered by the data my team creates. We didn't create the front end, but the richness of our metadata makes a lot of things like this possible. Our data is actually used quite a bit internally, but this is the first public exposure of our data.

Update: Looks like they've taken the Flash version down for a bit, so you can't see what I was referring to right now.

Of course, if you're British, then you probably have heard of iPlayer. That also uses our data, but doesn't expose it.

For our next trick, we'd like to publicly expose all BBC programme data going back to 1936. It's a lot of work and importing the data into our system is tricky. I understand that there's a team of 40 people assigned to cleaning up the data enough so we can import it. We may not be able to make it public for quite a while, but we're looking into that (some of the geekier amongst you may have heard of RDF ontologies). Today I've been creating mocked up data to give us an idea of the impact of the data on our system. We don't even know how much data we'll be importing, but one rough number we've heard is 40 to 50 million broadcasts.

I won't be typing those in by hand.
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Are you the wrong person to bug about the quality of programming on the Beeb then? Thursdays, despite what they say in the ads, are definately NOT funny!
Shaun of the sheep is on! Awesome. What kinda f-ed up program is that? Ha!
Good show, good show, my man... (oh, I kill me) Seriously though, now that I'm starting to get my feet wet I can seriously appreciate that.
Meatdata
Another metadata professional! But I must bow to you, you are actually doing things instead of just talking about how great it would be.

I work at a Logistics company, and we talk about how great it would be, but it has to be so cheap as to be free before the management will commit.

I content myself with making a model or 2 in my spare (rare) time, and occasionally going to conferences.
Ah, that's what you're doing. You're a data import monkey (-:
Ah, nice. I was confused at first, but this really does give metadata the normal tvanytime feed does not. Most of this data is more or less available for many of the bbc stations, but, for example, compare http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0078yvj with http://desert-island.me.uk:8000/~theorb/tvsched/showinfo.pl?crid=crid://bbc.co.uk/285171080. Where it *is* available, getting it into a place where you can actually do anything with it involves running the big "synopsis" fields through a bunch of fiddily regexes and hoping it all works out.

Is this info available via any sort of API?
No, there's no API for it (yet). We'd like to provide one, though. Well, that's not quite true. There's an internal API that iPlayer and others use, but nothing external.

It does frustrate me that we are finally getting rich metadata available but many don't understand what it's for. Recently I went to a BBC induction for new employees and much of the induction was basically repeating the word "metadata" over and over (this is new for the induction), so we're moving forward, but we don't have much for you yet :)
That blog look fascinating, but I can't read it. The links are so damned interesting that I could blow an entire day just following and reading all of them :)

Meeting for a beer would be great!
Awesome. I was interested in going into archives as a career for a while, and digitisation is the current Big Thing in that field. It's nice to hear that the BBC are committing their own little bit of history to the digital domain.
Hi there. I was googling metadata and the BBC and came across this post. Hope you don't mind me adding you. I'm applying to a Junior IA position there, so I'm trying to learn as much as I can. I'm also an American expat.
I don't mind at all. The BBC can be a fascinating place to work. Good luck with it. Metadata is a huge force in the BBC right now and we need all of the good information architects we can get.