Open-source BBC

The other day, I wrote about the idea that the BBC should go open-source and that, as a public trust, it should support rather than compete with media companies, giving them traffic when appropriate and the fruits of their experimentation. Ashley Highfield, director of new media and technology at the BBC, just gave a speech outlining some pieces of its relationship with other companies and more….

I welcomed Graf’s recommendation that we should implement a more systematic and comprehensive approach to linking from to external sites for example.

The power of taking audiences from a programme on BBC ONE to a site on and then out into cyberspace is huge – but I think we could go so much further. And we are trying: 9.5m users in March used BBC content syndicated to third party sites such as AOL and MSN; 23% of those users did not visit at all in March.

So far from being a 800 pound gorilla crushing the green shoots of plucky cyber-sowers, I believe we have the potential to have a significant and positive market impact….

But can we really deliver a genuine win-win-win for audiences, the BBC, and the commercial sector? And if so, how?

Firstly, we at the BBC must recognise that the internet is changing. It is becoming more translucent and porous – less silo’d. It’s becoming less centrally controlled – if it ever was.

Peer to peer and other technologies are shifting the power from the centre to the nodes at the edge of the network: you and me. This is a tough culture shift for an organisation used the certainties of the broadcast world.

Used to the idea of almost total control over what and how you watch, listen and consume, we must now learn to “loosen up and let go” as the Buddhist lama Surya Das puts it….

But we also believe our audience want much more as well. To find our content where they want it, whether within their favourite portal like MSN, their community like YouTube, or their environment like the Second Life virtual world website.

They want to contribute their content – this we know – but not necessarily always on our site, so we absolutely don’t want to become a MySpace or a Flickr or a Friends Reunited, we want to work with these players, to partner our relevant offerings with theirs.

In short we want to shift from being a gateway, to being a conduit, a channel for conveying content, and frequently neither the start nor the end of the journey….

I believe that how we deliver our programmes, the context, will be every bit as important as the content. Success in the web 2.0 world for all of us will come down to ‘discoverability’….

The ultimate aspiration is to bring all of these new initiatives together into a comprehensive re-think of what the BBC’s public service offering on the web should look like….

Not through expansionism but partnership – partnership with commercial companies and with our audience, achieving a balance between the need for some central control and coordination, and ‘letting go’.

By George, they’re getting it.