TV on the radio

Not the most original title for a blog post but hey. As Yasser posted on the Radio Labs blog, this morning we launched a new visual radio player running alongside the Chris Moyles show this week and Annie and Nick on Sunday. This is the first stage trial in a new project and we are keen to find out what the audience thinks of it.

Visual radio player

The pop-up player presents a webcam feed of the studio so you can see Chris and the team as well as hear them alongside which we display images, now playing track information and incoming SMS messages. In addition to this you will also see barcharts and swingometers representing a public vote or poll.

I joined the project to develop the front-end which is an AS3 flash application built in Flex Builder 3. The components are made up of individual SWFs loaded as necessary and the client is driven through messages sent over the same infrastructure which powers the live text widgets on network pages and the Radio 1 tag cloud.

Early comments on the Radio Labs post and elsewhere have been really encouraging.

Radio Pop: social radio listening from BBC Radio Labs

Radio Pop homepage

Today we launched Radio Pop, a social network around BBC radio. Its a project which has been around for over a year now and its great to finally get it out for people to start playing with. Listening to BBC radio through Radio Pop gives you some (hopefully) interesting information and what you’ve been listening to and what your friends have been listening to. When you hear something you really like you can ‘pop’ it – that’s Radio Pop vernacular for bookmark ;)

The Radio Pop site is about displaying your listening, your friends’ listening and everyone’s listening. Your profile displays your recent activity along side your favourite stations and programmes (or brands to be more specific). Here’s my profile:

Radio Pop profile

It also displays what you’re currently listening to so anyone visiting the site can see what you’re up to.

Radio Pop listening to

At the moment, we’re not doing all that much with all this listening data but in the future we are looking to provide recommendations and personalisation (no self-respecting web app can be without them!) and perhaps more integration with other BBC services. In fact its a good point to make that Radio Pop would not be the service it is without our excellent BBC programmes catelogue which provides us with schedule data and unique IDs for every programme, series and brand. While we’re not using the data in interesting ways as yet, we set out to make Radio Pop accessible and extensible so you can use your data for your own apps and mash ups.

For example, here’s my profile (including what I’m currently listening to): http://www.radiopop.co.uk/users/fridayforward.xml.
And here’s my recent listening:
http://www.radiopop.co.uk/users/fridayforward/listens.xml.
Its also available as an RSS feed.

I built an example app using user profile data so you can tell your blog readers what you’re listening to:

Check out the API documentation for more information on our feeds. The blog badge is available from the extras page where you can find an OS X widget which allows you to listen to BBC radio through Radio Pop from the comfort of your desktop.

Radio Pop desktop widget

So that’s Radio Pop. But how does it all work?

Radio Pop is a Ruby on Rails application (because that’s where our experience lies) which runs on nginx with the fair proxy balancer module and memcached caching (because its needs to handle a large number of requests). We support OpenID for login (along side a standard username and password) as well as OAuth for communication between Radio Pop and any clients which post data to it (including the desktop widget). This means we have an input API as well as an output API, should you want to build an on-demand Radio Pop player… ;)

Tracking your listening is done quite simply, through a ‘pulse’ sent every 60 seconds. When you change the station you are listening to or listen over a programme boundary, the pulses are combined into a single ‘listen event’. Once this happens it will appear on the graphs on your profile and in your listening history. When you stop listening (and therefore stop sending pulses) a listen event is created after 5 minutes of inactivity.

I should point out that a lot of the initial development for this version of Radio Pop was done by Mint Digital, who worked from our initial internal prototype. Thomas from Mint also advanced my Rails and nginx knowledge ten-fold. At least.

Please check it out, sign up and start listening.

  • 10:10 am, 19th April 2008
  • bbc
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Links and things

Links and things

  • AS3 coding conventions
    Worth a read. Some stuff in there I haven’t been doing :/ [via BIT-101]
  • BBC Sound Index
    Marketed under the BBC Switch banner, Sound Index attempts to build charts of the most popular artists using social networking sites. The idea has been kicking around for a while and under the primary-coloured exterior there lies a lot of data which will hopefully be opened up. Its in beta at the moment so will be interesting to see how it develops.
  • 1:37 pm, 6th April 2008
  • bbc, events
  • No Comments

BBC Innovation Labs

Every time I start to contemplate leaving the BBC (its 5 and a half years and counting) I get the opportunity to participate in something which I I probably wouldn’t get the chance to elsewhere. In the past it has been an inspiring conference and last week it was representing BBC Audio & Music Interactive as commissioner at the Innovation Labs in the North West of England.

Lake Windermere sunset

Having shortlisted 10 proposals pitched across Future Media & Technology and Vision disciplines, the teams of ‘professional creative technologists’ (as the Labs’ about page describe them) spent a week developing their idea and their presentation techniques. Half-way through the week we, the commissioners, joined them and helped them to focus their pitch before presenting them on Friday morning.

While only a few of the proposals were commissioned on Friday, both the independent companies and the BBC gain a great deal from the process. It was a great opportunity to meet people from across BBC Future Media & Technology and Vision (it is a big place after all) and discuss problems and ideas with creative people from the commercial sector. The teams themselves gained as much from each other as they did from the organisers and leave (at the very least) with a small pile of business cards in their back pockets.

Scrobble your BBC Radio listening

Last year I wrote a Yahoo Widget which allows you to listen to BBC Radio and scrobble the tracks to your Last.fm profile.

BBC Radio Last.fm scrobbler

The Last.fm profiles for Radio 1, Radio 2, 6 Music and 1 Xtra are now public (they were originally created under pseudonyms), so I thought I should update my widget and also write a version for OS X Dashboard. So I did.

You can read more about them on the BBC Radio Labs blog which accompanies our new Radio Labs site.

Or you can download them here:

Download for OS X
Download for Yahoo! Widgets (version 4.5 or higher required)

These are still in beta (and may never be otherwise) so please let me know if/when you find any glaring bugs!

  • 3:59 am, 23rd October 2007
  • bbc, web
  • No Comments

BBC Web API: Officially the 18th best API in the world

According to the latest issue of .Net magazine at least. That’s a whole place higher than Twitter! Naturally Google Maps and Flickr take the top spots, but 18th place for our back-of-an-envelope prototype is something I’m immensely proud of.

Radio Pop, Olinda prototypes… its all connected

A few months ago, BBC Audio & Music interactive commissioned a project investigating future forms of physical radio devices. The successful company was Shulze & Webb and now they have finished the feasibility study of their proposal, Matt has posted some information on the project.

The prototype, codenamed Olinda, is essentially a very simple, very social radio; simple in interaction, modular in design. Through the inclusion of a hardware API and additional module, S&W propose to allow users to connect with their friends as they listen to the radio.

You tap pulse buzz

To fully achieve this, Olinda requires a web site to connect friends and devices. This is where a once-separate prototype comes in. Radio Pop.

Radio Pop

Radio Pop is the result of our latest six week semi-rapid prototyping project in the R&D team. At its core is a database which stores radio listening, upon which we can build various views. By introducing friends lists, schedule information and the ability to simply bookmark, or ‘pop’, a particular point in time, Radio Pop generates a great deal of information about listening habits. We purposefully kept the database very simple and specified an input and output API so that the repository could be accessed using web and desktop widgets as well as through the Radio Pop web site.

This is only my second Ruby on Rails application (my first will be going live in a couple of weeks for a trial, more on that very soon) and as such it is a little slow. However, the flash graphs we created demonstrate the sort of information a service like this could provide, both historical and live, as demonstrated by my Radio Pop live blog badge:

It is this ability to get live listening information which makes Radio Pop a perfect extension of the Olinda prototype (and vice versa). Olinda will provide a very simple way of listening to what your friends are listening to using Radio Pop as the method of communication. While you listen (using Olinda, through a desktop widgets or through Radio Player), a pulse event is sent to Radio Pop every minute, discretely tracking your activity.

Tristan has much more about the background to Radio Pop and our thinking around it.

Links and things

Paul Sandoz from Sun writes an interesting post about the RESTful-ness of our BBC Schedule API
I’ve never claimed to understand all the ins and outs of REST, perhaps now is the time to try..?

iTunes is offering Global Underground’s Afterhours Ibiza for £7.99
Not only is that a tenner cheaper than on the high street but you also get an extra 15 tracks… bargain. I’ve got about half way and its pretty awesome so far.

  • 5:59 am, 31st May 2007
  • bbc, events
  • No Comments

Find Listen Label at Zeitgeist Europe 2007

Mark Thomson talked about the BBC unlocking user creativity during his speech at the Zeitgeist Europe conference earlier this month. To illustrate this he used Find Listen Label as an example. Skip to about 7m 50s in the video:

Short and sweet :-)

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