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Saturday, 22 December 2007

I disagree with Derek Wyatt MP

There's no doubting Derek Wyatt's credentials as a commentator on the new media landscape. But that doesn't mean we have to agree with him.

In a letter published in The Guardian today he says the BBC has followed, and not led, new media developments. Pointing to the success of other projects such as Google, Napster, and the iPod, he asks rhetorically what the BBC has added to the cultural space in the last ten years.

It's possible, of course, his letter may have been edited, but it seems odd that he doesn't mention the BBC's website which is widely recognised as one of the best in the business. BBC.co.uk has around 16 million users in the UK, over 3 billion page impressions a month and had the third biggest reach for any UK website in March 2007 (Google 1st, MSN 2nd).

In some areas the BBC has been relatively slow in embracing the new media world, but it's easy to underestimate the technological and cultural challenge of adapting such a large organisation to the demands of the 21st Century. And one can hardly blame the BBC for the bright ideas of other enterprising individuals. The Internet space has, after all, expanded the potential for cultural exchange and innovation extraordinarily.

Whatever the success of the BBC Micro computer and Ceefax, I'm not convinced that the BBC should be held to account for a failure to invent things. Technological innovation is not the BBC's primary role. Wyatt lists new media inventions with consequences for BBC journalists. And if you want to criticise the BBC, you could argue that they haven't grasped these consequences as quickly as they might. But the organisation didn't invent the radio, the television, the satellite or the Internet, (to name but a few) so I don't see why they should be inventing the iPod, or Google, or Facebook or...

(It's not as if other 'big media' organisations are doing a better job of innovating: MySpace was created by a company called eUniverse; Wikipedia by Bomis Inc.; YouTube by three former paypal employees; Google by two PhD students; Facebook, by a Harvard student; and Napster by a student in Boston.)

UPDATE: At least a couple of others had similar thoughts.

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