Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Crowdsourcing my next holiday

Life is short. The economy/climate/world is going to hell in a handbasket. What's to be done? I think a vacation is in order...

Unfortunately my borderline OCD means that I normally spend more time researching my holiday options than I do actually on holiday. Therefore, building on the success of my attempts to crowdsource my reading and choice of mobile phone, I am asking you, dear reader, to choose where I go on my next trip. You will have to weigh up the damage a long-haul destination will do to the environment (and my wallet) versus the comedy value of sending me to Kazakhstan.

Since blogs are so over I'm going to ask for suggestions via Twitter - just reply to @fabricoffolly and/or mark your suggestion with the hashtag #dansbigadventure.

I will then total up the votes and (finances permitting) book a trip to the most popular destination. Photographic evidence will then be posted on Flickr.

David, it's over to you...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

BBC Vision website launches

As previously posted, my job requires me to have an overview of the whole of BBC Vision's online portfolio. Until recently, my record of new site launches comprised a TextEdit document on my laptop (edited on a daily basis) and an Excel spreadsheet on a shared drive (updated, er, less frequently). A couple of weeks back I decided that a far better tool for maintaining and sharing this information would be a simple blog.

As well as being naturally geared towards the chronological presentation of information (with posting dates corresponding to approximate site launch dates), a blog also enabled the easy addition of screenshots (captured using the super-useful WebShot) and tags to enable filtering by various metadata facets (e.g. commissioning genre, associated broadcast channel). Crucially, it also enabled me, in keeping with the renewed spirit of openness, to open up data which had no reason to reside within the confines of the BBC's firewall. I haven't had time to tart up the design yet although it feels like less of a priority in the age of feeds (here's the FeedBurner feed).

For a less Vision-centric view of recent BBC website launches check out Ryan 'Up Your Ego' Morrison's post on Wide BBC pages.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Ben Folds 2.0

I wrote last year about the progressive approach of Ben Folds and his record label (Epic) to utilising the web as a platform both for participation and for distribution, referencing his 'create your own Bitches Ain't Shit video' YouTube group, his forays into Second Life, his live-by-request MySpace webcast (featuring a "guitorchestra" - see below video) and his iTunes/Rhapsody Originals downloads.

It's fair to say he's not been resting on his laurels since then, having launched (deep breath) Ben Folds TV (full screen video channel hopping with user comments running along the bottom of the screen), a Front to Back MySpace concert (rebroadcasting Ben Folds Five's one-off live performance of their final studio album together) and a YouTube covers contest which has now morphed into a planned album of a cappella covers (check out the awesome video embedded below).

He's also recorded and leaked fake album tracks and partnered with iTunes for a live music download series called 'The Sounds of Last Night... This Morning', described in his email newsletter thus: "At select shows on his Fall Tour, Ben Folds will pick a live song from that show and make it available to fans exclusively via the iTunes store by the following morning" (which I'm guessing would have got more press if Radiohead had done it).

Of course, no 2008 web offer would be complete without widgets and there are a couple of choose from - an audio jukebox and, for those of a more visual bent, a video/slideshow player (both embedded below).

And just to prove no-one can always get it right on the web, there's the recently relaunched Official Ben Folds Site, which is a complete navigational car crash, with different navigation on the homepage and sub-pages (where it takes up the whole page above the fold) and spread across multiple domains (,, Hey, nobody's perfect :)

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

BBC Search relaunched

In case you missed it, the BBC's internal search engine relaunched today.

Apart from a lick of Barlesque paint, the main changes are:

- the addition of a 'TV and Radio programmes' module returning results from both /programmes and iPlayer
- 'BBC Best Links' are no longer badged as such (apparently people thought they were sponsored links and ignored them) - they just appear as the first results
- where one area of has multiple page matches for a search query, the second result is indented (a la Google) with a link to More results from "name of site">> (which stops the page getting swamped by results from just one area)
- the phasing out of the wider web search (although a module for results from 'Elsewhere on the Web' remains, bottom right)

Some nice example searches:

Big Cat Live
Ian Hislop
Barack Obama
Climate Change

This is the first in a number of incremental improvements to BBC Search over the coming months. I think it's a small but significant step forward that will help users find what they're looking for (esp. programmes) more easily and more quickly. I also think it starts to show how our search, topic and genre index pages are all part of the same continuum. Looking forward to reading the Martin Belam verdict.

Read more about the relaunch from Matt McDonnell on the BBC Internet blog.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Trends in gaming

As promised a while back, below is a pull together of what seem to me to be some of the most significant trends in gaming at the moment. Let me know what I've missed.

1. New input devices / interfaces
The last few years have seen an explosion in the number of innovative new gaming input devices; dance mats, the EyeToy, the DS touchscreen and stylus, Buzz!, the Wiimote and Balance Board, Guitar Hero/Rock Band and the iPhone. Next up: the Neural Impulse Actuator (no really). See earlier post: A visual history of the evolution of video game controllers.

2. Digital distribution
It's been talked about for years but the digital distribution of video games is finally becoming mainstream thanks to the online stores of the 7th generation consoles (PlayStation Store, Xbox Live Marketplace, Wii Shop Channel), the growth of Steam (not being bought by Google after all) and, perhaps most unexpectedly of all, the launch of the iTunes Apps Store (100 million downloads and counting, many of them games). Digitial distribution is also enabling the little guys to get their games out there (check out the wonderful Ben There, Dan That! from the two-man Zombie Cow Studios).

3. Social networking
Gaming and social networking are coming together in a variety of different ways; via casual games / social objects in existing social networks (e.g. Facebook applications such as Scrabulous, Texas HoldEm Poker and the supremely annoying Vampires/Zombies); via games which work across networks (e.g. Mytopia, Come2Play); via social networks dedicated to gaming (e.g. Raptr, Character Planet); via casual gaming sites with integrated social networking functionality (e.g., MuZui, doof, i'm in like with you) and via browser based games with a social dimension (e.g. PMOG, WebWars: EVE).

4. User-created games
Once the province of the bedroom-coder, it's getting easier and easier for non-technical users to create their own games thanks to sites such as The Sims Carnival and PlayCrafter. The visual richness and complexity of what it's possible to produce is also increasing with the advent of more sophisticated 3D engines like Atmosphir. Sites such as Kongregate and YoYo Games enable amateur developers to get their games out to a wide audience. Creating elements within games is also becoming increasingly commonplace with games such as Spore and LittleBigPlanet taking the creativity offered by The Sims to the next level.

5. Free-to-play games
It looks like Chris Anderson might be right (again) - the shift towards free is gradually starting to permeate the games industry. Whilst freeware has been around for years it's only relatively recently that it's started looking like a viable option for bigger games companies as ad supported gaming and alternative revenue streams (e.g. clothing for avatars) become increasingly commonplace.

6. Personalised avatars
The days of choosing between Pac-Man and Ms Pac-Man are long gone. Fully customised 3D avatars are increasingly becoming the norm in gaming environments. Online virtual worlds and MMOGs such as Second Life, MTV's virtual worlds, EVE Online and City of Heroes set a new benchmark of avatar personalisation which is now starting to percolate through to console titles. WeeWorld and Nintendo also helped shift expectations with their respective WeeMees / Wii Miis.

7. Real-world gaming
The number of gaming experiences tempting joystick junkies beyond their front doors has been on the increase over the last couple of years; from ARG's like I Love Bees and Perplex City to geo-location games like PacManhatten, Crossroads, Conqwest and Plundr. Whether these games transition from the geek-elite to the mainstream remains to be seen, although Akoha (which bills itself as "the world’s first social reality game") looks interesting, as does Zyked (think Nike + on steroids).

8. Episodic gaming
A logistical nightmare when shipping physical product, episodic games becomes achievable when delivered over IP. Telltale Games is at the forefront of episodic gaming having published three separate series: Bone, Sam & Max and Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People (with Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures coming soon). Other high profile episodic games include GameTap's American McGee's Grimm, SCE's Siren: Blood Curse and Kuma's controversial Kuma\War. BioWare provided additional downloadable episodes for Mass Effect and Warner Bros. Interactive are reportedly planning to release the Watchmen video game episodically. A somewhat lower profile example is Channel 4/LittleLoud's Bow Street Runner (see earlier post).

9. Casual games
The casual games market has gone through the roof in the last few years. Uber portals such as Pogo, Miniclip and AddictingGames attract millions of visitors a month whilst series such as Virtual Villagers and Mystery Case Files have been downloaded many hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of times. There's also the occasional David amongst the casual gaming Goliaths, with individual titles like Line Rider and TypeRacer capturing the public's imagination and spreading virally.

10. Into the mainstream
Extensively documented elsewhere, there's little doubt that the Wii, Wii Fit, Guitar Hero, Brain Training and Nicole Kidman have all done their bit in helping move gaming beyond the hardcore to members of the family whom previous gaming eras couldn't reach. Will be interesting to see how much further gaming can diversify in order to reach new audiences or whether that particular market strategy has now been exhausted.

Photo: Matt Watts. Used under license.