Auntie says: Go outside and play

Shane Richmond blogs a visit from the BBC and the advice of Tom Loosemore, one of the unsung thought-leaders in media online.

We talked about participation online and Tom and Pete [Clifton] had words of warning for us. At a time when most newspapers, including this one, are trying to encourage user participation and comments on their sites, the BBC is questioning the need to host those conversations.

Instead they’re linking their content out to the likes of YouTube, Flickr, Technorati and Encourage the conversation but let it happen elsewhere.

The burden of moderation is simply too great. Like us, the BBC moderates comments received from readers, mostly for legal reasons, but as Tom pointed out: “What we call moderation, readers call censorship.”

The more successful you are at attracting reader responses, he explained, the bigger the problem gets.

At this point I put my fingers in my ears and started singing loudly.

Got a good chortle from his punchline. I had an earlier version of this conversation with Tom on an earlier visit to London when this notion was bubbling up in his thinking. Like Shane, I was the guy pushing forums and conversation on newspaper sites. But like Tom, I believe that one of the dividends of thinking like a network instead of portal/product is that you aren’t responsible for the cleaning up the world. That is, instead of concentrating on the bad — wacking the moles of forum bozos — it’s your job to find the good stuff out there. But I’m afraid you need both. I write about other blogs with links that enable the conversation in posts just like this but I also leave comments on blogs when I want to ask, answer, or say something there or join in the conversation there. The way USA Today is dealing with that is killing their forums and instead enabling comments on their articles. That smacks of ‘enough about you, what do you think of us?’ but it’s quite analogous to the interactivity of a blog: comment on this post or link to it and I, in turn, will comment in your space or link to it.

On another topic, Shane reports:

One of the things Tom is trying to do is to encourage the BBC to do less but do it better. Pete gave an example from the news website. One week in November last year, the BBC news site published around 500 pieces of video.

Analysing the traffic for those clips later, they found that just 30 of them accounted for about half the traffic. They have learned some lessons about what type of video clips work online but mostly they learned to focus on doing less better.

Tom wants the BBC’s web offering from now on to focus on “need not genre”. News, Tom explained, is a need but history is a genre.

Again, I’ll play both sides of that tennis game. For the expensive things the BBC makes, I think Tom has a point. but the risk there is that they return to big-media think: only the big is worthwhile. In the mass of niches, we’re all small.

But this, too, feeds Tom’s point about a new relationship with the BBC’s public. Maybe some of those niches are handled by our videos or our remixes and edits of their video. Imagine, for example, if a fan could edit highlights from a cricket game (which would take, oh, 8 or 10 hours).

Shane also linked to the Powerpoint bullets from principles Tom delivered to the AOP last year. It’s an excellent list to develop by.