A bit of BFI Player feedback

BFI Player

A couple of days ago, while thinking about the whole ‘MCN for the arts‘ thing that I mentioned in the last post, I popped over to BFI Player to see what’s happening with that.

There was a survey and, having 5 mins to spare and being a civic-minded individual, I filled it out. Seeing as how I spent a bit of time on one of the questions – I think it was a general ‘any other feedback’ one – I thought I’d post what I wrote here…

I really want to like BFI Player but each time I’ve gone there it’s been difficult to find a way in.

The homepage is currently swamped with trailers, which I really don’t see as the main thing that something like this has to offer. Can that category be excluded from Most Popular? That’d be a quick win.

The genres could do with tidying up too – discussions, interviews and lectures all seem of a kind and would stop cluttering the place up so much.

Those are minor gripes really. The biggie for me is that I find the barrier to participation just that little bit too high. Here’s how I’d fix that if I was involved.

There are two categories of film that I (and, I’m willing to bet, the majority of people coming to the site) want to be able to find quickly and easily:
1. Free films; and/or
2. Films I’m likely to have heard of.

If you were to hook me with those categories, get me registered on your site, learn a little about what I like and then educate me with the rest of the BFI catalogue then everyone’s a winner. I might even end up spending some money with you.

Hope that helps!

Looking at the site today the thing with the trailers isn’t nearly so bad, but why not just link to them from under the actual film (having them come up in a lightbox or something) rather than featuring them among the actual films? Also, there really is quite a bit on there that I’d heard good things about – Blue Is The Warmest Colour, The Selfish Giant, Sightseers, Berberian Sound Studio…

Thinking about it some more, have they made the classic mistake of categorising their films in a way that makes sense to them (Inside Film, Artists’ Moving Image) rather than one that makes sense to users (free, well-known)? I wouldn’t be surprised.

Whatever, good to see them getting some input from users on this stuff.

Agile commissioning and the arts

Arts organisation search engine

Last week I knocked together a search engine for UK arts organisations.

Why did you do that, Chris?

Honestly? It was partly for a joke and partly because it was easy enough to do. It started with posting the news that Arts Council England are commissioning a £1.8m ‘Multi-Channel Network for the Arts’ on the CulturalDigital forum.

That led to a few tweets, including this exchange:

Twitter conversation

Putting together a custom search engine on top of Google isn’t tricky. Just go to google.com/cse/‎ and follow the instructions.

To populate the search engine I used the list of URLs for the 100 arts organisations in my Arts Analytics sample. Amusingly enough, a few people didn’t want to miss out on the fun, so I set up a submission form and have since added the illustrious likes of the Wellcome Collection, Shakespeare’s Globe and National Museums Scotland.

Other custom search engines of this ilk include:

  • JURN: a search-engine dedicated to indexing free and ‘open access’ ejournals in the arts and humanities
  • museumcollections.org.uk which searches about 50 museum website collections sites

I’m not expecting it to be used much. As far as I’m aware there’s no general clamour for a niche search engine of this sort. If it does pick up traction then maybe it could be turned into a thing, fleshed out a bit and supported properly. What’s more likely is that it’ll sit around for a bit and pretty soon be forgotten about entirely.

Ok then. Is there a bigger point to be made here?

Why yes, I suppose there is. This is from ACE’s guidance doc relating to the commissioning of the multi-channel network:

Our hypothesis is that there is unmet demand on YouTube and other video
platforms for high quality arts content from audiences, if it is aggregated, packaged
and presented in the right way.*

The Arts Council’s approach to testing that hypothesis is to commit £1.8m over the course of a four year project. I would humbly suggest that that approach is insane. Or brave. But mostly insane. And increasingly outdated.

If I was involved in this I’d be asking some questions:

  • Where has this hypothesis come from?
  • What’s the quickest way to validate it?
  • How different is the digital video landscape likely to look in four years time?
  • If the opportunity’s so good, why have the existing MCN companies not taken it upon themselves to create one for the arts yet?
  • Is an MCN definitely the answer or is there another way to meet the challenges that have been identified?

I’m not saying that an MCN for the arts is a bad idea – maybe it’s a great idea. It’s just that this way of commissioning grand projects is open to all sorts of things going wrong. There are smarter, simpler ways to start than jumping in with both feet.

An encouraging sign

I was very interested to see the Government Digital Service’s post last week about Getting approval for agile spending. They sign off that post saying:

This could be the most exciting administrative change this year in supporting an agile culture in government.

I hope it’s successful, because I think other areas would benefit from a similar approach.

* I really wish I could rewrite that paragraph for them, the grammar’s all over the place. That whole doc needs a spellchecker run over it too.

Announcing One Further

One Further - a digital consultancy

Last week I announced the launch of One Further.

One Further is a digital consultancy and it’s where I’ll be earning my keep from now on. I’m planning to keep working within the arts and culture sector (although not exclusively), mostly around:

  • Content: strategy, planning and production
  • Search engine optimisation: auditing and planning
  • Analytics: audits and training
  • Social Media: strategy, planning and training
  • User Testing: remote or in-person testing of web/mobile sites and prototypes

…and anything else along those lines – research, mentoring, training, workshops, website brief writing and that sort of thing.

I’m very pleased to say that I’ve got some good work lined up already, but I’m available to hire and am looking for projects now, so get in touch if I can be of use.

I’m also keen to mix client work with a few self-directed projects. There are two in particular that I’ll be working on and (fingers crossed) unveiling by the end of this year. If you’re intrigued, the best place to get early access to anything will be through the One Further mailing list.

Actually, I should add that if you want to follow One Further-related shenanigans you can do that on Twitter, Facebook, Slideshare, Google+, Soundcloud… basically anywhere you may care to look.

So yes, that means that, after three good years, I’ve left Made Media. It’s hard to explain just how good Made are and I learned so much there it’s untrue. For that I have to thank Jake, Tim and Carl for the opportunity to do some great work, alongside some excellent colleagues for some truly exceptional clients.

I know Made have got some superb work in the studio at the moment and it’s going to be tough not being a part of that. I’ll just have to cheer from the sidelines from now on.

Leaving a place like that isn’t easy but it does make you more determined to make it the right choice. On that note, thanks to everyone who’s offered congratulations and support so far – it’s very much appreciated.