Session: Social.BBC, ask BBC R&D anything (I may not answer everything :)


Convener: Ian Forrester (@cubicgarden@mas.to)

Participants who chose to record their names here:

  • Anca Mosoiu

  • Jeremiah Lee

  • Johannes Ernst (@j12t@social.coop)

  • Darius Dunlap (@dariusdunlap@indieweb.social)

  • Christel van der Boom (@xtel@flipboard.social)


Question: How did you sell the value proposition of the social web to the BBC? (@dariusdunlap@indieweb.social)

  • We used our values to convince people internally. A similar argument to going to other platforms.

  • We talk open standards, our own presence/server, research trial.

  • When talking about how Twitter started to become dangerous/hostile to what the BBC’s values (for example govenment flag), people started to take us more seriously. Many people talking internally that the BBC should seriously look at this space. Twitter’s new ownership did help too.

  • Number of people following doesn’t really matter for success. If focus is on numbers, it’ll never seem worthwhile. Focus on human values (humanvalues.io). Key values providing people, what deep down matters to them. Ability to have conversation without people jumping in on hashtags.

  • Ability to prove information verifiably came from the BBC to people (see learnings question below). Trust is very important in the modern and future internet.

Question: What’s been the feedback so far? What was most surprising?

  • We knew people would criticize us, but we’re suprised by the number of people that followed and supporting us, that are telling others “Look, BBC is doing this, why don’t we do this”.

  • We got almost more followers to the BBC R&D account than we got on X/Twitter

  • The good conversations and responses are deep, meaningful and nice.

Johannes: Isn’t it unusual to use a values-driven process to make these kinds of decisions?

  • Ian: As a public broadcaster, we don’t sit in the commercial space. Our values are not about making the most amount of money. We aren’t focused on getting the largest number of people on the platform. We are focused on public service and the value to peoples lives.

  • Public service Internet sits between commercial Internet and government Internet.

Question: given BBC moving away from Twitter being toxic, what do you think about Zuckerberg?

  • BBC’s stand is that we need to reach people. It’s problematic to just leave all the other platforms - people aren’t aware of the Fediverse yet.

  • A notable political journalist wrote about their decision to leave Xitter this week and the current state of debate among other journalists. Similar thought from Larry Lessig on not leaving Xitter, people are there. https://theconnector.substack.com/p/finishing-with-twitterx

  • Our ambition is not about Mastodon alone - Mastodon is just the thin edge of a much bigger world (fediverse).

  • We encourage Meta and others to work with open standards - and we’re seeing laws (in the EU?) made for that.

  • If X/Twitter becomes a paid-for platform, there would be a stronger decision to leave, since it’s not an open platform (recognizing users pay with their data).

Question: How can these learnings encourage other media companies to learn from this?

  • We are finding that the quality of the conversations on Fediverse are better than other places.

  • Unless something major happens, we plan to run this past the 6-month experiment end date.

  • In Ian’s expereince, to convince the BBC, we had to go outside, convince others. Then we bring it back inside and it was easier to convince the insiders with others like the EU, Swiss and German pubic broadcasters on the fediverse.

  • People are going to post links from the BBC on the fediverse. To make this verified and more trustworthy, we had to put the BBC account on a BBC property, our own servers / domain. There was no argument to put up against that, in line with our values.

Why do you think Black Twitter felt unwelcomed early on? Ian reflects on the narrative in the general press…

  • Us-vs-them sentiment early on in positioning of Mastodon as alternative to Twitter.

  • Not clearly explaining anyone can setup their own community servers.

  • Confusion of mastodon.social the community and Mastodon the technology.

  • Early adopters of Mastodon are very white, urban, middle class, tech people.

Ian’s job title: Senior FireStarter (many people swooning over this title)

Johannes: Did you do any integration w/ other BBC properties/organizations? Did you need to add different software, or does Mastodon meet your requirements?

  • BBC has lots of Content Managements systems - maybe too many. Wrote an RSS feed for one of these, to make it easier to get the content out.

  • I’d like to see some developers internally convert more of the output into an ActivityPub stream. This might be happening.

  • There are people behind some of the accounts.

  • An example of something that we could do now that we have federated platforms,. which we could use internally as well as externally: Every day, people send us weather pictures. Someone chooses those and puts them “behind” the local news. But we could post them locally on a pixelfed, for example.

  • Jeremiah: I think Pixelfed will end up being wildly more popular than Mastodon for the same reasons Instagram is wildly more popular than Twitter.

Question: Some people are waiting for there to be Fediverse vendors, so they can call someone if there are problems. Does the BBC think about that?

  • That will come, but we at the BBC have resources to do technology stuff.

  • It’s natural that there to be vendors that will fix problems (eventually).

BBC can help train people to recognize what original, “validated” content looks like.

Johannes: For content that’s shared on the fediverse, should that still be attributable to the original source?

  • Project Origin at BBC includes some tools to verify that content came from where it claims to.

  • https://c2pa.org/ Coalition for Content Provenance and Authenticity (C2PA)

  • BBC R&D is interested in identity management, personal data stores, etc.

Organization: Public Spaces Coalition in the Netherlands. Using Matrix to have conversation, in a locale that’s closed off to outsiders. https://publicspaces.net/ https://pubhubs.net/en/

Recommended reading/hearing: Ethan Zuckerman, Reimagining the Internet from the Initiative for Digital Public Infrastructure at UMass Amherst. They built a way to do a single-signon into various social media communities. https://publicspaces.net/2021/07/30/an-envisioned-future-of-social-media-by-ethan-zuckerman/ https://conference.publicspaces.net/en/session/roundtable-session-pub-hubs

Ethan Zuckerman’s small town (Mastodon fork with Single-sign on using Facebook, Google, etc) - https://github.com/iDPI-Umass/smalltown