Archive for the 'Web/Tech' Category

4oD (Catchup) on a mac – epilogue.

Launched waaaaaay back in Novemeber 2006, 4oD (well the catchup service at least) is now finally available for Macs. All mac users now see the ‘sorry’ ad pre-roll above and let’s hope the apology is excepted ;-). Some stats from Pipes show that 6.7% of viewers were Mac users in the past weeks, and my posts on 4oD (here and here) are some of the most read on this blog.

The online video world has changed much since 4oD came to life on that dark autumnal night. The quick replacement of the desktop client option with the streamed-in-a-browser version of both the iPlayer and 4oD Catch-up has been interesting, i doubt anyone saw that being popular.  From my own point of view I’ve never watched a downloaded programme using the iPlayer mac client, I downloaded a handful, but kept forgetting to watch them and they all expired.

So what about the future? Well, it seems we’ve not got a new and interesting distribution model, now all we need is to change the programme format. In this on-demand streaming age, why stick to 6x30mins?

Flash web based iPlayer launched.

Ashley Highfield seems to be a man of his word having told me back in July that iPlayer on a mac via streaming would happen ‘by the end of the year’. And here it is.  Seems a little buggy though, I’ve had two streams drop out on me.  Still, much easier to use and ‘get’ than the app.

Flash web based iPlayer

The new BBC homepage
Lots of this about the internet up your ego , keith , and martin B. But now it’s officially visible and I’ve had a play with it, here’s my thoughts, God it’s weird to experience this from the outside.

• I like the bigger promos, the mixture of picture promo (are they still called that?) and traditional.

• In many ways it reminds me of a fancy version of Gateway – the BBC’s Intranet – which also had fold up/down sections.

• I’m not sure about the all page colour change – but at least it gets away from that f**king cyan/blue

• I like the ‘display options’ thingy, High viz, comfort, increase text size, fully customisable – content and layout are separate.

• I’m glad the hideous logo’s gone, after 4 years! That was some of the worst designing I’ve ever seen (I’m looking at you Fitch!) and I hated it from the moment I saw it. At the time anyone who objected to it was taken outside by Marketing stormtroopers and shot through the head.

• The Sin Bin has gone, the daft double search has gone, the contains-no-tools toolbar has gone. Hell it’s all gone, Finally. I love it because it’s a clean break, it’s all new. It seems to be based on functionality and users needs rather than empire building, marketing and which petal head has the biggest genital organ. Maybe this is because dept heads aren’t there anymore, are they? Isn’t it all ‘Vision’ now?

And now to my only real criticism, and it’s this. The BBC could, and should, have done this two years ago. I also wonder what this project was like to work on? Was it fun? Were their tears? Did the opinions of tech, editorial or design fall on deaf ears or were they headed? Was it run like the iPlayer project by external powerdroids or was it a small agile team of talented people and Sven style light touch management? I want answers Beeb people!

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D-Construct 2007

D-Construct 2007

Friday saw me hop down to Brighton for the D-Construct User Expeience conference. The day got off to a bad start when I didn’t get my morning coffee until 10am. Then it got worst… Jared Spool was the first speaker. On he comes… loud… talking about MP3 players. He then goes on for 20 mins about the iPod. . . about how easy it is to use, about what a great experience it is. I look around at all the attendee’s and over 80% are typing what he’s saying on Apple Macs. Listening to him go through the numbers of how many iPods have been sold since 2001 is possible the dullest thing I think I’ve ever seen at a conference ever.

He then goes on to talk about Netflix vs Blockbusters DVD postal rental service. fails to mention or any UK version. He says two things towards the end that I bother to write down. 1. ‘You’ve got to know what you’re doing’ and 2. ‘Don’t underestimate the cultural differences’. I think he failed on both those points. After eating into the first coffee break time with a stupid magic trick I meet some of the other delegates outside for a quick chat. A girl from is equally livid. ‘that’ she says ‘was Conference spam’. I’m incline to agree. I’d never been to a Mac Keynote… until today, I’ve never wanted to heckle and a geek conference, until today. I meet Matt Jones who’s a little nicer, he says ‘that’s the presentation he gives to CEO of large multi-nationals’. Personally I think he’s totally mis-judged the audience.

Up next, is Peter Merholz who starts brightly looking at the early history of Kodak (which I knew all ready) but then throws up a slide about products being ‘cool’ and my blood chills. And sure enough he’s off talking about the iPod. He then talks about Tivo, another product/service which we’re all familiar with and yet isn’t available in the UK. My brain switches off till lunch.

Leisa Reichelt takes the stage and talks about hwo to organise projects, it’s all the standard things ‘small groups’, ‘quick iterations’ ‘washing machines are good’, etc. Only as well all know projects just don’t happen like that, do they BBC iPlayer folks? Anyway, I quick like her hand-drawn post-it note slides.

A swift pint and a sandwich at the Pub next door and I’m expecting much better stuff from the afternoon. Up comes Cameron Moll, interaction design from the LDS Church (Mormon) in Salt Lake City – where’s this going I wonder? Alas he also mentions the iPod, but at least finds time to look at a Dyson advert as another example of ‘good design’.

It’s not until after 3pm that anyone British takes the stage. George and Denise do a nice relaxed sofa chat about the early histories of B3ta and Flickr. Denise has a nice phrase of turn ‘we did what’s now called viral marketing but back then was just called fucking about’. Neither of them mention the iPod.

Quick break and I’m expecting great things from ex-beebers Matt Webb, up next, and Tom Coats. Matt runs through the A-Z of the experience stack, though I’ve seen his ‘ windows 3.1 buttons / antelope’s belly’ story back in 2005 when I was at the BBC. But he’s delivering good ideas statements and observations in quick and relevant matter.

Tom Coats takes the stage, and declares his talk to be 100% iPod free, and is his usual animated self, his main thesis is ‘you’re product is not your website. It’s everywhere it touches the network’. Which is true.

Then it’s to pub, where I’m in the food queue next to one of the organisers who asks me what I thought of it.

Far too much focus on the iPod as the only example of good design which is too lazy, there’s like a billion others, the wheel, the brick, the bic biro, and I say this as a ipod and MBP user. Difference in style: the American’s gave us preeesentations the Brits either chatted or gave us a lecture. By that I mean that I found the American’s to slow and lacking substance, that room was full of the UK’s Alpha geeks, folks who can absorb information at quite a high bit rate. I wanted zipped-up concentrated information I’ll still be thinking about days later, that’s what conferences are, some of the speakers were operating on 56k. Mid way through Jared’s talk I wanted to shout out ‘please tell me something I don’t know!’. And it’s not like I’m a tech conference whore too, I don’t eTech or Future of Web App’s, I maybe take in a couple a year.

Finally he asked me if ‘had I paid for it myself (£100) would I be disappointed?’ And I’m afraid I answered ‘yes, slightly’. Still, rather that just moan about it on here, I said I’d be delighted to feed into next years conference. We shall see.

Note: I rather liked Brighton, 50 mins to Victoria… living by the sea. tempting. loses it’s edge?

There was a post on (wholly owned and operated by James Slattery-Kavanagh) the other day entitled ‘has the forum lost its edge?’. Well I think it has, and here’s why. First off, the reason I’m posting this here and not there is…

1. I’ve reached 200 posts and now have to pay £10 to continue – err, no thanks – you know your content, I helped created that. James gives the reason of costs, and how he barely breaks even – yes I’m sure it’s tough – But we’re talking text here. TEXT! It’s 2007! Jeez, his bandwidth can’t be that much can it? ALso by making people pay you’re naturally going to kill off a percentage of ‘elders’ in the group, people who have contributed the most. Mobile phone companies call this ‘churn’.

2. Over moderation/admin is another charge levelled at James. Natural flow of conversations is cut off with ‘no off topic’ remarks. James and the Mods fuss and fawn over every topic/issue post. Hypocrisy seems rife with some topics being allowed to drift and not others. You know what you’d never see on VN nowadays? Someone announcing something about their life… ‘I just passed my driving test’ or ‘I’ve had a baby boy’. All posts have to be about ‘community’ issues specifically to do with the Upper Norwood environment. People feel scared to post life trivia and it’s this that’s the oil in the community machine.

3. During Sainsbury’s take over in 2006 VN was the place to get all the latest gossip, the conversation flowed at breakneck speed and I for one logged in a couple of times a day. Now its people posting about the colour of paint of the shop next to Paddy Power – yawn – or its people moaning or complaining about things, it’s become very negative, curtain twitching and off putting.

4. Dilution of the Brand. By banning talk on crime on VN and moving it elsewhere, as well as trying to get his wiki project off the ground James is sending too many people to different places. It’s hard to get people to interact and contribute to things. People don’t want to help him build a New Jerusalem; they just want to chat about lots of stuff in one place, which leads us to…

5. The rise of Facebook et al. Does everything VN does but it’s free and integrates with the rest of your life, and these days we’re all lazy as hell right?! It may be the internet data Black hole. It also uses REAL NAMES and user photos so less libelling and fighting and a sense that you know who’s talking. You can also swear, go off topic, rant, rave and no one cares. People can vote with their feet, don’t like the way the group is going? Set your own up! And you can add images, video, apps in a second

I used to really like VN, and the people on it, but the people I liked don’t post anymore. Consequently I feel it’s just become stale. It feels like a family party that’s gone on too long, like the plot of EastEnders it’s lost its way… So I’ll not be paying a tenner; I’ll also not be creating a new account under a different user name and email, as that’s just rude. So some of us have moved on to an un-moderated Facebook groups, here, here and here to get our shits and giggles.

James and VNers, if you’re reading this, I hope you can see that the above are intended as constructive comments about VN and not a personal attack on any one person.


BBC iPlayer launch: The first 14 days (and Mac Support)

BBC iPlayer launch: The first 14 days – currybetdotnet – 17 July, 2007

Martin’s tongue-in-cheek take on the first 14 days of the BBC great hope, the iPlayer. Bits on BBC News here, message boards aflame, particularly with regard to mac support. I was at Andy Grumbridge’s leaving drinks the other day when in walked Ashley Highfield, Director of Future Media. Paul, the 4oD editor (and also ex-flextech employee) and I got chatting with Ashley about 4oD and launch of the iPlayer.

Here’s what he had to say, on the record. Mac support, by the end of the year. Happening in one of two ways. option a: Streaming. Like the ITV model and like other BBC clips and news offerings, the content will be streamed (he didn’t say what protocol this would be done with). Option b: Working with Flip4mac to add MS DRM to that product.

Stay tuned… And then there’s always Kangaroo!

Restaurant websites often undercooked

152 Aldeburgh – Tel: 01728 454594

Why sub-editing or (even a spell-checker!) is important… I hope their cooking is better than their spelling (and it’s good according to this). The missing hyphen is forgivable*, but a restaurant that can’t spell restaurant! First impressions and all that…

Also the wines page could do with a spruce-up, as it currently says ‘Andrew recommends…… House wines.”

It’s a shame that after almost 10 years of the ‘digital age’ in the UK most small businesses still suffer from poor web presence. That’s fine when you run a hardware store or MOT garage where people just need your name, location, opening hours, and a phone number, but restaurants should make a little more effort. After all, they’re selling an emotional experience and the promise of a good time. Small places like this are often labours of love with a single owner – what Americans would call ‘Mom and Pop’ places. If you go in most nights you’ll see the owners working there. It’s this personality that more smaller operators should make more of, I think, even if it’s a big cheesy grin photo and some nice welcoming words.

Here’s the website for the Hungry Monk in Jevington, Sussex. Whilst it’s not going to win any design award and hardly uses cutting-edge web tech, it does have all you need to get a sense of the place. Address, directions, reviews, menus, prices, and some images of where you’ll be eating.

For bigger, more urban places, there’s other things you can do to capture web users. Restaurant Magazine had an article on restaurant podcasts and blogs the other month – even if it’s your head chef chatting about what’s in season, or taking a delivery from a supplier, or the head waiter talking about a visit from a celeb. Yes, it’s a lot more effort than having a continuing ad in the local rag… but those days are gone.

*A friend once saw ‘Hand cut skin on chips’ on a menu, all without hyphens.

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These are my personal views and not those of Channel 4 or the BBC
February 2020
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