This is the blog of Ant Miller, senior research manager and dilettante geek at large at the BBC.
I wail moan and cuss about the challenges and fun to be found here.
These are my personal opinions, and not those of my employer. Or anyone else here for that matter.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

A fun post (at last!)

So what's JJ Abram's working on now?

Great trailer though- I mean, completely excellent as an ultra short film/ short story in it's own right.


Play large as you can.


After the music stops....

So earlier this week, Monday in fact (I know I know, slack blogging) we convened the last steering board of a govt sponsored industry/academia group. We all sat round, reviewed the performance against the targets, looked at how we'd spent the tax payers £50k over three years, looked at the resulting projects and knowledge, and one and all agreed it was brilliant, wasn't it, and we should definitely keep doing this.

Then we tried to work out how.

It's very difficult sometimes to take the great efforts you've made and the brilliant results you have achieved out of a project or a short term funded network and turn them into something useful and permanent, and even with the best will n the world, I can see us not managing it in this case, maybe. And for what? £20k per anum! We could tuck that away in the miscellaneous accounts of some projects!

The network with modest funding allowed several innovative SMEs to remain engaged in large scale fund research efforts, by underwriting the costs of the proposals- these costs are very substantial- ironically, it takes 18 months to get an innovation project proposal through. You have to be VERY innovative in order to avoid being obsolete by the time the funding comes through. Looking that far ahead is a risk, plus, not every proposal gets funding, making engagement in this sort of thing a pretty dodgy proposition for a lot of smaller companies.

The proposals for continuation look like they'd be unable to manage that sort of effort though- as a purely commercial network there simply wouldn't be the motivation to bank roll such work, however modest the requests for funding. Hopefully we'll find a way to keep going with a drip feed of public funds. I know a lot of people have a real dislike for subsidised research, especially if it's someone else and not you getting the subsidy, but remember what this enables- real ground breaking research- risk taking stuff, stuff that if we didn't get a bit of seed funding to do, just wouldn't happen! Perhaps, as Michael Arrington suggested earlier this year the BBC is stifling start ups and entreprenurialism. It's bigger than the BBC though- it's the European way- we share risk, socially. All I'm saying is we can and do and have funded this research publicly, and to change horses now will definitely put us back a few years. So lets keep on with the model our society/culture/govt. has got and try and do the best work we can. All this fannying around trying to be nice to competitors in the open market is frankly absurd, and does them no good at all I'm sure- the independent web educational content provider market has hardly exploded since Jam imploded has it? or have I missed something?

Bugger, that one turned into a rant as well didn't it. Tsk.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Critical Mass, Almost

Yesterday to KW for an inter-corporate meet. It was good and interesting, and well worth setting up, but I can't help feeling we didn't quite reach the dizzy heights of synergy that we might all have wanted. This is a shame, but I need to think abut why it happened this way this time, how we ought to take this connection forward, and see if there are any lessons to learn so we can 'spark up' quicker.

Now, I'm not going to say what the other agencies were- wouldn't be fair, and whilst my employers very generously tolerate this published info, there's no saying how it would go down with less, um, well, with others.

What ended up happening was a very loosely structured talk, with various eminently qualified and experienced people (and me) piping up in turn and holding forth on their own areas of interest, and most of the rest of us sitting, nodding, and wondering what on earth we could do about it. There were three organisations represented there, but in essence there were perhaps rather more, because the 'we' in this were coming from perhaps three separate areas of the beeb. Sometimes this is fine- in fact meetings outside the beeb are sometimes the most effective way to meet people around this place who are working on similar themes to yourself, but in other divisions or areas.

In this case though, I think it actually counted against us. On the one hand we saw a very interesting exchange of ideas, but on the other we didn't see a well presented cogent presentation of what we, the BBC had to offer. We had info around DAB radio, DAB+, data feeds, video analysis (though perhaps we ought to have had more), EU and DTI projects and engagement programs like Backstage . However, I don't really think we really put over a great, compelling offering.

Similarly, I wonder if we really got a grip on what the other agencies were offering, how they wanted and were mandated to engage with their public or what they really wanted from us.

Perhaps, if we are going to do this sort of thing again we should take a little time to organise the engagements- to build a good idea of who would offer what, and to present a more cogent offering. We need to have a better approach to presenting 'works in progress' too. It is a difficult thing to do- give guidance as to the direction you expect new radical approaches to delivering content to go- but I think we can do better.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Outside the box. A long way outside the box

This post has an ethical dimension, and I strongly defend my position, but feel free to have a pop. Last Wednesday I and a number of colleagues attended a show called 'Soldier Tech 2007'. It was as you might expect from the title, an exhibition and conference covering all the latest the a soldier my desire. It was very VERY interesting, and well worth attending as an innovator in broadcast technology.

The following day I presented an idea that had come from the inspiration of that show, and it appears not everyone thought it was quite as focused on the needs of broadcast as it ought to have been. Without going into the detail (it was a proposal to look at the dangers faced by journalists and technical crews in news gathering and see if we could help develop better protective gear for them- niche, but important) I strongly feel that an important point needs to be made here, and made very clearly:

To innovate means many things, including creating new ideas and developing them in new ways. It also means taking an idea from place and applying it in a new way. The Broadcast world is actually very small, I've been in it for perhaps five years now, two and a bit at the R&D end, and though I meet new people all the time, I do already recognise a 'horizon' to this world. Go to broadcast tech show after broadcast tech show, tv conference after conference, and you will soon see the same old stands, technologies, lectures one after another. Sure there will be announcements, new demos etc. but they will ave been leaks, murmurs before, and the application will already be sewn up, and the world keeps ticking on all the same. Groundhog innovation. Something of a non-sequiteur don't you think.

To any and all technologists and innovators out there- at least once this year, go to a show about which you no NOTHING- nada, didly squat- abut the application area. Two things will happen- you will learn new things and have new ideas, and so will the people there. It's a win win, and frankly if any of us are going to make any difference in our jobs, we have GOT to get out of our comfort zones. Swords do beget plough shares, but not by us hiding from them.

Harrumph, thas bedder.