#bbcpop: Think Before You Grief

As you may or may not know, I work at the BBC as part of a team producing the Comedy website. I’m writing this as a personal response to the many people on Twitter asking what the #bbcpop hashtag was all about.

Last night, we hosted an event in London as part of Internet Week Europe. It took the form of a Popcorn Comedy night – a mix of live comedy and funny videos sourced from the internet, with the opportunity for anyone interested in developing comedy for the web at the BBC to chat with us and find out how to get involved.

And, seeing as this is Internet Week, we used Twitterfall to display the #bbcpop backchannel so that the audience could have fun interacting between acts – and comment on the stuff they were seeing.

Did you just say #bbcpop?

Yep. So that’s the origin of #bbcpop. It was a backchannel for people at the event to play with amongst themselves, completely uncensored. We knew people would have fun swearing on it – it was an adult comedy event attended by creative, playful and above all, mischevious people.

One of those people was Nat Saunders, co-creator of Misery Bear. Noticing the temptingly big screen, he gleefully tweeted:

At a BBC event with a huge live tweet screen. If you do a swear word and add #bbcpop to it a whole room of people will see it. Ha!

Nat is a very funny guy and has quite a following on Twitter. Within literally seconds, the screen was flooded with swearing and re-tweets:

The Big Screen

This was funny for a few minutes, but by then the screen was so deluged, it was impossible to join in with the conversation. Tweets from people actually at the event were instantly lost in the landslide of abuse: the hashtag was picked up by hundreds of people in the Twittersphere who used it as an opportunity to get whatever beef they had with the BBC off their minds, or just join in with a Malcolm Tuckeresque swearfest. These people had no clue what the tag related to, and seemed often to believe their tweets were being displayed to a meeting of BBC executives. I know Nat meant absolutely no malice and was just having a bit of fun.

Wiping the slate and then shitting on it again

So at that point, I suggested wiping the slate clean: let’s start with a new hashtag (#bbcpopcorn) so that people’s tweets from inside the event would have a chance to be seen.

Unfortunately, as is perhaps inevitable, this was seen by some at the event as ‘censorship’:

Well said old boy RT @XXXXXX: #bbcpop migrated to #bbcpopcorn in a futile and terrible attempt at censorship, swear again at these cunts

Despite the intention being the opposite. Once this had happened, there didn’t seem much point in trying to defend against a tsunami of mischief. The original #bbcpop, meanwhile, had apparently become so ‘successful’, it was a trending topic.

I’m not sure what I’ve learned from this as a social media host. In the aftermath, I’ve seen people tweet that it’s “taught the BBC a lesson about the power of Twitter”. If the lesson is supposed to be that Twitter is a public space and people can use it however they wish: I already knew that.

And of course I’m not at all surprised that Nat’s original, naughty call to action generated such an enthusiastic response. I know this because I’ve been there myself: remember when Skittles replaced their whole website with a twitterfall? I was one of the people who took advantage of it.

It’s happened repeatedly when corporations have displayed an uncensored feed of public tweets on their websites. We scoff at their naivety. Don’t they know that anyone can say whatever they like?! Tee hee!

So was this another Twitterfail?

Not quite. There’s a crucial difference: this wasn’t the BBC’s ill-advised footsteps into unmoderated social media. This was a backchannel for an event, just like any other. And usually you don’t expect them to be full of unrelated abuse from people who aren’t there (though it’s obviously a risk).

As a user it’s easy to instantly write a single mischievous tweet and include a hashtag. Poof! It’s gone. On the receiving end, the cumulative effect of these individual tweets is a slightly depressing torrent of apparent abuse – especially when it’s nothing to do with the hashtag it’s attached to, being written by people who have no idea of the context.

I was surprised by some of the (quite high-profile) people involved. Shouldn’t they haven known better? What if it HAD been seen by a room full of executives, and not comedy fans?

So I suppose my lesson was this: as a user, if you’re joining in with mischief, think before you tweet – whether that’s at Stephen Fry or a faceless corporate entity, know your facts first.

There’s a dark side to Twitter that has emerged in recent times: snap reactions to ‘news’, unthinkingly aggressive herd behaviour that can amount to bullying. It’d be an overreaction to say that happened here, but it’s an echo of that behaviour – the instant and unrelenting tide produced by thousands of seemingly ephemeral snide comments.

So, come on tweeps. If you’re going to participate in a public medium, why not behave like the friendly, thoughtful people you really are?

And, if you are a faceless corporate entity planning to use a public tool as a private backchannel: if you’re not planning to moderate it as you go along (which would be censorship), maybe you need a different solution. Unless you’re hosting Swearfest 2011, of course.

I leave you with my favourite bear:

This post was entirely my personal opinion and not that of my employer.

This is why I’m deaf and blind


I don’t know what you did at Christmas this year and you could argue – quite rightly – that it’s none of my business. But here’s what I did: I cut together a load of video footage I’d shot of great bands throughout 2007.

What I did next was completely fail to publish it on this website. Never mind though – I’ve done it now. So pull up a chair, sit on it, and endure 15 minutes of pure actual video.

Bands featured include: Operation Wolf, Lardpony, Yeborobo, BARR, Shimmy Rivers And And Canal, Les Savy Fav, Hundreds, Tens & Units, The Chap, Hands on Heads, Tea With The Queen, cLOUDDEAD, Mika Miko, Dananananaykroyd, DJ Scotch egg, Liars, Everybody Is Going To Die, Heseltine and Gay Against You. I hope you find something to your liking.

All peformances were in London, apart from cLOUDDEAD and Les Savy Fav at All Tomorrow’s Parties.

Single Frame interview

Single Frame

Hey! Have you heard? Single Frame have gone digital!

If that means nothing to you, then you’ve pointed your browser at the right website. Let me explain: Single Frame are a very good band from Austin, Texas who at the time of writing have been active for around eight years. Their diverse creative palette merges energetic, synth-riddled indie rock with less lazily definable sonic experimentations. Saying they’re a bit like Xiu Xiu channeling post-hardcore probably won’t be much help, but if those words don’t render you completely bewildered, they might at least point you in the right direction.

Sadly it’s fair to say Single Frame haven’t reached the level of recognition here in the UK that they deserve. This could have a lot to do with the general unavailability of their records in our highstreet entertainment chains, but now, thanks to this new thing scientists are calling ‘the internet’, distribution shouldn’t be such a problem.

SFepIn what’s becoming an increasingly familiar story, Single Frame have parted ways with their label to return to their (not inconsiderable) DIY roots, self-releasing the new and imaginatively titled SFep as an iTunes Plus download – along with, at 50 units, a very small run of limited edition CDs.

iTunes Plus is of course Apple’s vaguely insulting new iTunes Store ‘innovation’, the ‘plus’ being that the MP3s are encoded at a higher quality than the regular store and provided DRM-free – surely as it should have been in the first place. But this does mean reasonable pricing and international availability, and now wherever we are, we can all enjoy a little bit of the Single Frame musical action-pie.

So I bought that EP from iTunes, and I loved it. Then I thought “I really don’t know anything much about this band”, and then I thought “maybe I’ll ask them some questions” and then I did and they responded and now I invite you to listen to the EP and read what I asked and see what they said.

Facebook’s bad vibes

Still using Facebook? Loser. All the cool kids have either been BANNED or quit in disgust. Facebook could be about to become this year’s MySpace (remember MySpace?). The relaunch of Netvibes with the new Ginger feature set has seen the customisable ‘start page’ build the familiar elments that comprise its RSS-feed aggregating, drag-and-drop widget house into a fully-fledged attempt at a social networking platform: it pulls feeds in, it spits them out again to your subscribers. This includes status updates and ‘walls’. Sound familiar?

Facebook status updateOf course it does, you idiot. Unfortunately for Facebook, it would never have been long before this began to happen. Predictably it took MySpace longer than it should have to introduce status updates on its service, but it’s not the only competition. You could now spend all day updating all your status messages across different services if you wanted. This had obviously become apparent to developers, which is why there’s been a sudden slew of new services promising to help you aggregate and maintain all your other services and the services subscribed to by your friends. Services.

Some folk are calling this ‘lifestreaming’ (me for example, just then) and sites like Second Brain and the mildly terrifying Spokeo (‘Spookio’ might have been more accurate) already do a pretty good job of aggregating common feeds in and out and finding those emitted by those you wish to stalk.

Find your friends, track your friends, harass your friends, lose your friends.

The thing is, Facebook could come out of this very well in the long term. They just need to open up and embrace the wider web. The vast majority of Facebook users are not going to be getting Second Brains in the near future, mostly because they couldn’t give two shits about RSS feeds or social bookmarking. But it’s not impossible that the more enthusiastic casual web users will soon pick up Netvibes accounts, especially as they can use Netvibes to incorporate common activities like checking webmail, monitoring eBay bids – and indeed, Facebook updates.

Netvibes is a lot less uptight about how you use it. Facebook ‘applications’, as we all know, are an absolute chore at the best of times and when you want to do something simple with your favourite external service – like adding a feed of your latest pictures on Flickr, for example – the experience is rarely satisfactory. This is mostly, I suspect, because Facebook want us to stay within their little blue and white garden, and use their photo sharing features. At the same time, Facebook are tentatively sullying the focal point of information with advertising (sorry, ‘sponsored messages’).

So, the ball’s in your court, Facebook. Are you going to start playing nicely and become my lifestreaming tool of choice, or are you going to stagnate while Netvibes and the rest get on the social networking bandwagon?


What we all want: a new Gang of Four album?

Gang of Four's Jon King

Well here it comes: according to bassist Dave Allen, there’s a new all-digital Gang of Four album in the works. If I had to point the finger at just one, I’d say that Gang of Four’s first release Entertainment! is possibly my favourite album ever, and the follow-ups Solid Gold and companion EP Another Day, Another Dollar are also fantastic. Then they lost their rhythm section and everything went a bit wrong until 1995’s Shrinkwrapped.

So I was overjoyed when they reformed with the original lineup a couple of years ago and I actually got to see the band play. They might have aged but hey – it suits them! I’ve seen their dorky performance on the Old Grey Whistle Test. These days Jon King is proper menacing. But I digress.

They reformed just at the right time, at a point where a load of bands who were basically churning out watered-down GoF while being lauded for their ‘innovation’ had shown there’s an audience for this stuff – an audience who deserved to hear it done by the people who influenced generations of musicians (I’m sure the Minutemen would have joined them but… well that clearly can’t happen). What I still don’t understand is why they chose to complement the subsequent wider tour with Return The Gift, compilation of their re-recorded classics. Why? Who does that? Entertainment! is perfect as it is.

At least, I said at the time, they should try recording something new. And now they are. Password is my favourite of the demos. But I’m worried. They’re in a tight spot. Now they’re back with almost the original lineup (sadly missing Hugo on drums), but they’re returning to a saturated post-punk market. In a way the post-punk ‘revival’ has already moved on and evolved just like it did before – except this time, instead of new wave, we got nu rave and a whole lot more.

Will they be able to remain important, edgy, and exciting? Will da yoof be able to distinguish them from 57,000 other angular-guitar-and-funky-bass outfits? I sincerely hope so. But I’m not sure that looking to the past it the way to do it: although a lot of people don’t even seem to know of its existence, Shrinkwrapped worked for me because it did at least feel relevant – a reflection of the band’s new home country and the seedier sides of American consumer society.

I hope they can do something like that again, even if it doesn’t recreate the original, urgent asthetic I loved so much, because surely that belonged to 1979 – and now they’ve got to prove themselves again. Good luck, lads. I’ll be listening.

Photo courtesy of Mediaeater/Creative Commons