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TV: Virtual Revolution \ Episode 1 \ BBC

January 31, 2010

It’s easy to see the new BBC Two series Virtual Revolution as a ground-breaking piece of content production.

Even if the hoards of people responsible for developing web content are of little importance to you, the fact that the likes of Dan Gluckman and Dan Biddle are credited in the final roll-call at the end of the episode clearly denotes this production as nothing short of a flagpole in the sand in terms of television credits.

Any web production drone who works on a TV show website in the future who doesn’t get credited is getting seriously short-changed and needs to have a quiet word with the executive producer.

That’s not to say that anyone with a cursory understanding of HTML markup should get a credit. Still less anyone who considers having a Twitter account equates to being a web citizen. There are limits to the inclusiveness on offer here. If you’re going to participate on the web, you need to participate on the web. Newbies are welcome, but remember you need to do your time. Play by the rules. Observe the etiquette.

It didn’t surprise me especially that the first episode of Virtual Revolution didn’t tell me much I didn’t already know. That’s not me wanting to make out I’m some kind of guru. I’m really not. Technically speaking I’m an absolute numpty. I do code even though I hate it all at the same time. Despite that distancing from my inner-geek, there was much to engage me in this documentary. The facts were delivered in an interesting way. I felt included. Far too many web-geeks use their advanced knowledge to weild power over those who reckon the internet demands dark arts to be practised by a handful of experts. For the first time in a long time I felt included. That’s important. Because if I felt included, a good deal more people did too. I’m nothing more than mainstream you see. Nothing special.

What did I learn? (See the bits about my notes below). The memorables which still raise a smile include:  40% of UK men used the web for porn surprised me, the fact the second highest location for those requests came from nearby Bromley seemed even more surprising and how only 10% of the 132 million blogs created since 2002 still remain active. (Watch the documentary. The figure is presented slightly differently. Suffice it to say, I’m one of the 10%. I like that.) The fact that a large proportion of blogs appeared to be read in West London came as no surprise either, still it was nice to be told.

I’m happy to overlook my growing personal irritation with the preponderance of contributions from Stephen Fry. He’s a lovely chap and a terribly affable individual to have around. I just think from a production point of view that incorporating his contributions will in time be seen as the kind of cliche Charlie Brooker will soon find irresistible.

The most gratifying however was the amount of challenging statements made in the space of an hour. This wasn’t the infotainment nightmare I feared it might be when a colleague reported back after seeing a private screening. The programme invites repeat viewings. That’s a good thing. There were lots of interesting comments inviting debate. That in itself presents an interesting multiplatform challenge. I only hope that the very bloggers for whom this programme is inspired by will in turn feel sufficiently inspired to blog about the programme itself.

What follows is a list of fairly dull comments I made in my notebook as I watched the programme. They’re all quite dull really. Some might even appear to some as a little bit risky. Maybe they are. What’s important however is that they’re well meant. They’re in no way meant to offend any programme makers who may read this post. They are in fact comments which I’ve felt comfortable publishing largely because only last week I ended up in conversation with an unexpectedly progressive colleague in a corridor at the BBC. His voice was confirmed that it was OK to be objective about the output my colleagues slaved for hours to produce. And that in itself is every bit as weirdly open and progressive as the adorable Tim Berners-Lee who appeared in the first episode of Virtual Revolution.

Plus Points
Like the presenter’s voice
Nice astons
“Wired digital connection: a bless or a curse?”
“The web encouraged millions to work for nothing.”
Good music
At last, the BBC has found the way of promoting a Twitter hashtag – #bbcrevolution
“The web has supercharged information.”
“Quarter of the planet uses the web.”
Excellent way to hook in the viewer delivering otherwise dry stats (visual of UK + voice over stats)
“40% of men use the web for porn. Biggest hit rate in Harrogate, followed by Bromley”
“Most blogs are read in West London” (there’s a surprise)
Like how the presenter kind of represents a the present-day web citizen
Ushahidi – Citizen Journalism site – hadn’t heard of it, learnt something
Nice graphics sequence explaining the internet infrastructure
Tim Berners Lee is adorable
“The created their own ideological wet dream” (on the people who devised the internet)
Nice photography – consistent and engaging
Open source – a reassuring life-model
Learnt something about Bill Gates I didn’t know – him working on rockets
Internet is an “anti-business levelling opportunity”
Napster founder Chad Hurley is presented in a typical fashion – maintaining his teenage geeky frat look, still
“5% of all content on the internet is user-generated content”
Master Shortie is using the internet to market himself – that’s reassuring
Great photography
The old hierachies are still there on the internet
“The web isn’t necessarily democratising creativity.” (no shit sherlock)
Blogging’s gone mainstream. (Surely that means we’re all doomed then.)
Editors are filtering and excluding voices. (Yes.)
Arianna Huffington is the new gatekeeper reinforcing the old hierachies.
Of the 132 million blogs setup since 2002, 90% of them are now dormant. (Nice to be part of the 10%.)
Great visualisation featuring Google, Flickr, Ebay and Amazon. (Where’s Twitter?)

Minus Points

Why are we not spending more time focussing on the infrastructure? Cisco  and TCP/IP are central to the internet. Without the infrastructure the markup language wouldn’t work.
Stephen Fry
Takes time to get to the main question the presenter is grappling with – 10 minutes
I’m tired of Stephen Fry talking about the internet
The web citizen is being personified using the image of the presenter – it’s a trendy female American journalist. Not sure whether I relate to her or connect with her necessarily – am I being patronised?
It’s just a documentary – well made, admittedly – but it’s just a documentary telling me a great deal of information I already knew.
The presenter is now getting on my tits. Constantly tapping into her fucking laptop. How many more glamorous locations can she be shot in?
Music soundtracks are dramatising the web in the same way we use 80s music from the charts  to characterise Thatcherite Britain. A cliche?
I’m still sick of the presenter and her bloody laptop.

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