30 March 02006

Musicube sharing of BBC listening profiles

musicubeThrough Radio 1, the BBC has introduced a Flash interface to its on-demand 'listen again' feature, which enables listeners both to personalise the user interface they use to access radio programmes, and to share this interface with their friends. My personal 'musicube' is shown below. The elements I got to specify are the genres included in the 'cube', and the amount of space they take up.

One blogger has reviewed the musicube as "a cool (if fairly useless) concept". The cool bits are the ease of personalisation, the sharing capability and the eye-candy look. As far as the utility goes, if you're an efficiency-conscious hacker, there are quicker, less pretty ways of building your own console for the BBC's radio programmes.

The standard user interface for the BBC's listen-again Radio Player is this one. It's menu-driven, with two fundamental (and fairly flat) hierarchies: organised by radio station, and then all the music and all the speech programmes are organised by separate (and fairly broad) genres and the speech programmes.

The musicube strips out most of the radio programmes — all the speech, the music documentaries, and any of the classical or 'older people's' music — and then invites you to choose your favourite genres from what's left. These genres are then presented in a multi-coloured sweet packet.

There are modest criticisms you can make of this interface. In my musicube, for example, every programme that's in the Chill Out area is also in the Experimental area: if I'd known that, I might not have added both to my profile. As with most Flash interfaces, getting the basic info seems to require effort, even when it shouldn't: you have to mouseover each hexagon to see what programme it represents, and sometimes even then the description says 'click to listen' rather than providing the programme title. But we old-school usability purists probably have to concede that there is a generation that has habituated to this kind of interface, and for them the rotating multi-coloured bits are, well, 'cool'.

The scope to share your musicube is the bit that's both cool and important, because it provides the means for users to include their favourite BBC radio programming in the currency of exchange with their online mates, and in their presentation of themselves in online networking sites. The help pages explain how to put your musicube in your MySpace profile, and I believe they can also be exchanged in instant messenger applications. The BBC more easily becomes part of its listeners' identities and conversations.

Having mild geek tendencies, and also being outside the target age range for musicubes, I have had a personalised interface to the BBC's Radio Player for some time. It includes programmes the musicubes don't reach (Andy Kershaw, Mixing It, the Critical List and Mint for example). It's a simple HTML file; it's not pretty. Also the code has a little bit of alchemy in it that further enhances my listening experience, which isn't strictly licensed, so I can't share it.

Posted by David Jennings in section(s) Human-Computer Interaction, Music and Multimedia, Radio, Social Software on 30 March 02006 | TrackBack
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