Mark Friend, Controller A&Mi

posted by Steve Bowbrick

In a really interesting hour with Mark last week we covered a lot of ground but two really important issues, both of which I think are pretty newsworthy: access to attention data and the BBC’s speech radio archive.

Attention data

The BBC is a lot like Tesco: continually accumulating useful data about you and your habits. And, like Tesco, the amount of data gathered can only increase, especially as bbc.co.uk moves to a sensible unified login scheme and adds personalisation to the site (the BBC equivalent of your Tesco Club Card).

Data captured from anonymous users is of limited value: once they’ve been persuaded to log in their data takes on a different character: data from different sites and services can be blended to form a much more complete picture. The various stations, sites and services Mark manages have the potential to capture, organise and store huge amounts of personal data:

  • Tracks and artists you listen to
  • Stations and programmes you like
  • Genres and labels you prefer
  • Comments and forum posts you’ve left
  • Groups you’ve joined and created
  • Annotations and metadata produced

This is the kind of stuff they call attention data. If you’ve used Last.FM you’ll understand what I mean: it’s the stuff they use to refine the selection of sounds you hear when you click play. The BBC’s attention data, though, has the potential to be much richer and more useful, since you’re likely to consume a much wider range of content via the various BBC outlets.

This data, though produced by you at your expense, is not currently yours. You can’t use it and you can’t delete it. You can’t even see it. Mark wants to change that. His vision is for a system that permits users of the BBC’s audio & music properties to get access to their own attention data and to put it to use. Mark wants a system that packages user data and presents it back to its owner in a form that can be used elsewhere: at Last.FM or iTunes for instance, or for use in a blog or as a kind of signature for social networking sites like Facebook and Bebo.

What’s powerful about all this, of course, is that we can’t now imagine the uses that this data will be put to. We’ll just have to wait for the media and tech startups, the geeks and the musos to get hold of it and start to build applications around it.

I like this. This is how enlightened organisations will deal with customer data, especially this kind of behaviour data: information about how you use the systems you interact with. It’s an example of the BBC exposing the data it creates and making it available to users without making assumptions about what they’ll do with it.

User data is a valuable asset but it’s one that belongs to its subject – that’s you. Without wishing to wander too far off topic, Mark’s plan also hooks in nicely with the wider trend away from old-fashioned CRM (‘Customer Relationship Management’) to its much groovier, network-native successor VRM (‘Vendor Relationship Management’). In a VRM world your personal data is your own and you share it only with those you trust: VRM systems will allow you to rent your data to businesses who want to sell you stuff and withdraw it whenever you feel like it. It’s appropriate for the BBC to build a user-centric, VRM-style data infrastructure.

Speech radio archive

Mark also told me about his vision for the speech radio archive: for the enormous bank of great speech radio that goes out mainly on Radio 4 but also in other corners of the BBC, including local radio. He sees this archive as one of the glories of the Corporation and wants to see it made more widely available to licence fee-payers without the arbitrary restriction of the seven-day window.

There are significant barriers to achieving a universal speech radio archive: not least the multiple, overlapping rights of programme creators and BBC Worldwide’s interest in the more commercial output – which is mostly comedy, spoken word and drama. Mark sees these as significant but surmountable and points to the deals that have been done in other parts of the Corporation to secure blanket clearance from rights owners (BBC News has such an arrangement with contributors to news output).

In any case, I think the most likely outcome of a concerted effort to open up BBC speech radio is a sort of patchwork audio archive with some items ‘greyed out’ and only available commercially but the majority available for playback in perpetuity: the kind of pragmatic arrangement that only a free content zealot could object to. Bring it on.


Comments so far.

  1. Posted by kyb on Tuesday 28th October

    It annoys me enormously that I can’t get access to my tesco data. Just think of the fantastic uses I could make if my home server was able to keep track of what I was buying, when it was likely to go off, what I was likely to need, what I could have saved money on etc.

    I’m glad that there’s talk of the BBC approaching this correctly.

    Of course, data is so easy to copy, rental of personal data will never work without legislation making sure that companies comply.

  2. Posted by ed on Thursday 30th October

    kyb: You’re right, and it might even make you shop at Tecos more reliably, if they were the only shop to provide you with that data…

  3. Posted by Adriana Lukas on Monday 10th November

    I am one of the geeks who have been trying to address the issue of owning my data as well as managing it, analysing it myself and sharing it on my own terms. More here: http://www.mediainfluencer.net/2008/05/i-haz-a-mine-let-me-show-you-it/

    It’s a slow process but it makes sense. I also believe that the drive will come from the user side. Companies will be last to share or give us back data, and that will happen only after the recognition that their customers and potential customers are doing it. Even then it’ll be a struggle. Think of how long it’s taken businesses to get the web, blogs, social web etc etc and there is a long way to go still.

    That is why my approach to VRM has ben to equip individuals with tools that are independent of vendors/platforms/businesses.

    It is commendable that the BBC is thinking of giving me back my data, at least some ‘vendor’ to work with when we start using the tools that give us our data back.

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