Christian Ahlert and his Minibar team are always doing interesting things, and if we at O’Reilly can’t always take part, we certainly admire from a-far. Now Minibar is running an app building contest on behalf of the Technology Strategy Board’s newly launched IC tomorrow platform, a “unique testing ground that connects app providers to major content owners and consumers, enabling the development of innovative business models and the creative exploration of content”. Sounds good to us. Developers should register their interest here and will then be invited to an app building briefing day on 4th of November at Skills Matter.
In the run-up to the competition, Minibar interviewed Chris Jackson, CEO of MetaBroadcast, who has been working with IC tomorrow since its inception. Chris explains about his experiences as the first to develop an app through the platform, the benefits of taking part in the contest and his hopes for the future of the programme.
Chris, could you tell us a little about yourself and your background in the field of digital innovation?
I’m CEO of MetaBroadcast, a design & technology company. We make video & audio services on top of rich data such as descriptions of content and records of what users like, dislike, watch, etc. Our main clients are the BBC and Channel 4, plus we do a lot of stuff for ourselves that we think is important.
Before founding MetaBroadcast 3 years ago I was Head of Strategy at the BBC, and a media technology strategist at consultancy McKinsey & Company. I started my career as an R&D engineer with the BBC and a coder of early web apps.
You were the first to develop an app for the IC tomorrow platform, can you tell me how you became involved in the programme and what you attracted you to it?
We won a grant from the Technology Strategy Board last year for a feasibility study. As a part of that process we developed watchsomething.tv, a novel way to browse video content. At the moment we link out to the content on iPlayer, 4oD, etc. We were excited to be involved with IC tomorrow, because there’s potential to get access to content that we can embed within watchsomething.tv.
Was there a reason why you chose to produce this kind of app?
watchsomething.tv is a TV app that goes beyond normal catch-up, the natural focus of most online TV services these days. Catch-up can be quite narrow, and that’s a real shame: there are some great shows from years ago that we all forget about or don’t know how to see again. From the perspective of the content owners, there’s real money to be made if their archive becomes more popular. Services like SeeSaw and 4oD have a great selection of that content online now. We wanted to put the best of this front and centre, and start to develop some smart personalisation UI and algorithms. The TSB believes in our pilot service so much that they featured it in events and publications, so the suggestion that we integrate it with IC tomorrow followed naturally.
There’s a second app of ours on the platform, too. Atlas, the video and audio index, makes it really easy to work with video and audio metadata. It’s not consumer-facing, but is available for other developers to use in trials and services.
What was your experience with the platform (given that it is in the early stages)?
The great thing about IC tomorrow is that it does a lot of the dull but necessary work for you, from using content to linking up with other applications, from reporting to help with billing.
As the first developer on board, of course there were a few rough edges but we got round them pretty quickly. We’ve got a fairly good Java library up on github now and there’s also some slightly more sketchy Python code kicking about. Happy to share that code, and tips beyond it!
How do you feel you have benefitted from joining the platform?
We’ve already had a great conversation with a big TV content producer. It’s pretty likely that will turn into an exciting project soon.
Past your own project, what other advantages are there for those taking part?
Well, I think the main advantage for others is having access to content. There’s also a chance to get hold of the right kind of early users. IC tomorrow is being actively marketed to a small group of motivated early adopters. There are some good tools to analyse their activity and to survey them so I think their feedback on new ideas and applications is going to be really valuable, too.
Over time I hope a community of developers will build, with lots of sharing of code and services.
What advice would you give to developers looking to make the best out of their time on the IC tomorrow platform?
Think content. Using this API is the pre-requisite to get really rich access to premium content, without getting tied down by all the admin that normally comes with that.
What kind of apps would you hope to see the contestants produce?
I think there are lots of interesting opportunities to link video and audio content to other stuff on the web. How about a cooking show that links to the ingredients on Tesco? Or a radio station sorted exclusively by tracks from artists that have upcoming gigs near you?
How do you envisage the future of the IC tomorrow platform in 5 years time?
In 5 years I hope the platform has made itself redundant. It’s really all about enabling links between different people and organisations. So I’d hope those links would evolve to be richer than a single central platform can support. IC tomorrow is a good opportunity to kick-start all that.
Lastly, have you any plans for your own future on the platform, perhaps another app maybe?
Absolutely. We’ve got a couple of other things in the pipeline. Recently we released gawp.tv, a prototype that records what TV you watch (or gawp at, slack-jawed), and builds a page that represents your ‘gawping’ habits. We’ve got another video navigation service coming soon. Both could benefit from integration with IC tomorrow.
As a company we’ve put a lot of effort into building personalised and social video and audio technology. Our API for building this kind of app will be released soon, and we’ll hopefully be adding that to IC tomorrow, too. There’s lots of possibilities.