23 July 02005

BBC 6 Music podcasts and learning

It's almost exactly a year since I posted my review of BBC 6 Music as a learning resource on this site, and nearly eight months since I commented on the disappearance of some of the web resources from the 6 Music web site. Now 6 Music has begun a weekly podcast of speech highlights from its programmes as part of the BBC's download trial, so it seems a good time to review what's changed.

The original review is now punctuated with a series of updates saying "this page has been removed in the recent [web site] redesign" and none of these educational pages has been replaced in the months since the redesign, though the Hub Sessions web page, which disappeared briefly at the time of the redesign, has now been reinstated. (Last December I found pages elsewhere on the BBC site that linked to 6 Music pages that had been removed — and they still do!) The focus of the 6 Music site has moved away from providing contextual information, and building up text/image features, to focus solely on supporting the broadcast programmes in fairly prosaic ways: tracklistings, what's on this/next week, and a few vote-or-comment interactions. In my view, that contextual information had real public value as part of the 6 Music offering, but perhaps in time, as I said before, it will re-emerge elsewhere on the BBC web site.

As well as text, some of the old pages featured interview clips, in the form of RealMedia streams. The Talking 6 Music podcast makes such clips available again, along with some short documentary slots like the weekly 'single story', and — at least in the 20 July version — some extended DJ babble.

I presume 6 Music doesn't have the rights to include its documentaries — most of which are repeats of features commissioned elsewhere in the BBC — in the podcasts. This gives their podcast less substance, in learning terms, than the equivalent offering from sister digital station BBC 1Xtra, which is offering full versions of its TX documentaries in its weekly podcast.

ID3 tags for Talking 6 Music podcast, shown in iTunesFor users this has pros and cons. Having the material as a download gives extra control and the prospect of 'owning it permanently'. Having clips bundled in a single MP3 file makes it harder to locate and play individual clips. Some podcasts seek to overcome this latter problem by programming 'chapters' into the files, so that users can flick forward or back within the file to the clips they want to hear — here's a description of the use of chapters in iTunes 4.9. But this seems to depend on using the AAC file format, rather than the more widely accessible MP3 format.

Not much tangible progress has been made on the metadata issues I referred to a year ago (see section 2.3 of the original posting). Here are the ID3 tags for the latest Talking 6 Music podcast. The 'table of contents' is entered in the Comments field. This field isn't included in iTunes searches, so a search for Dylan would not find this file (a search for Coldplay would, however, as this is entered in the Name field).

It's not the BBC's fault that the file format that has won out as the most popular for podcasts is one that doesn't support more structured metadata or chapters. But it indicates how long we may have to wait for even fairly simple enhancements to on-demand media.

Posted by David Jennings in section(s) E-learning, Music and Multimedia, Podcasting, Radio on 23 July 02005 | TrackBack
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