So, the BBC have gone live with BBC Backstage. It promises to be an API, but at the moment it’s only a means of promoting the fact that the BBC has a “reuse” policy for its headlines, and that it has a range of RSS feeds which people can use to create new products based on BBC links. There will be an API (no real details as yet), but at the moment this is really just a shell for future experimentation.
Nothing at all wrong with that, of course. And it really does show a breadth of ambition and applied resource which, for this particular overstretched BBC competitor, is at once awesome and infuriating.
What I do have a bit of a problem with, of course, is the breathless welcome for this initiative in some circles. I cannot, for example, agree with Ben Hammersley’s excited statement that:
Those businessmen with a plan to take on the BBC News can now do so, but they needn’t spend millions building a network of bureaux and correspondents. Instead they can take the BBC news content itself and innovate and add value to the way it is presented, analysed, contextualised and so on. There’s actually more of a business opportunity here now, than there has ever been. By opening up its content, the BBC hasn’t only helped preserve itself, it’s created a entirely new industry.
Nice idea and everything, but here’s the reality: you are explicitly forbidden from doing this by the Backstage terms of service. You can’t redistribute BBC content; only the BBC can do that. And Backstage is an ideal way to encourage distribution of BBC content around the world (a fundamental tenet of the BBC’s public service charter) but click on a link and you’re back on a BBC page to look at the full content. The simple fact is that the BBC is not distributing full-text content by RSS; only headlines and snippets (this is even true of Backstage’s own RSS feeds). As the BBC itself has said, it expects 10 per cent of its website traffic to be coming from RSS by the end of this year. In other words, RSS is justa another effective way of building audience and traffic, and Backstage is a very good way of getting BBC RSS feeds out into wider communities.
So does this change the world? No. Is it a smart thing to do? Absolutely. Will anyone make money out of this other than the BBC? Not a hope. Does this take us into new areas? Potentially, but not yet. Is digital media the, like, most amazing place to be right now? Oh yes.