Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
"Erase and rewind": Thoughts on the BBC's plans to delete 172 websites (adactio.com)
94 points by spxdcz on Feb 7, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 49 comments

The deletion of the sites is purely political.

The BBC needs to make visible cuts in places where the British (anti-BBC) press accuse them of providing services that they believe should be provided by private companies.

If the site doesn't vanish the press wouldn't see it as a real cut, would they?

Hmm. Some of these sites look like genuine losses, but most are just promo sites for BBC series, at least some of which have been cancelled for years (and some of those looked to have only lasted a few episodes). I think fairly few of these deletions can really be compared to erasing and re-using the master tapes for those shows.

I'm ambivalent. I'm generally pro-preservation, even of ephemera, but I feel rather worse for the people getting the axe than, say, the sunsetting of the pages promoting the Concert for Diana. (After all, do we gain anything more than mild amusement that http://goo.gl/sd4xD is still up after ~15 years?)

As for the worthier sites, it looks like people should take it up with the BBC that those sites are vanishing while BBC promo fluff like http://www.badwolf.org.uk (warning: may still have sound) isn't on the list, yet.

Actually, I do think there's something to be gained by keeping the Space Jam site up. Just look at it: That's what a professionally made website looked like back then! I still remember the day, but I think for the fast-approaching generation of designers who were born after that site (remember, this year's Web Design 101 students were born in 1993), it will be an interesting history lesson with some insight into how the Web evolved.

Fair point, though aren't archival services better for that sort of thing than hoping nobody at Warner says, "I don't think we need to keep the Space Jam site after the next upgrade." or "Make that a redirect to http://www2.warnerbros.com/spacejam " (or some future updated page for the site)?

To me, this is what separates those of us with the souls of librarians from others.

Sure, the sites may be fluff. But they are someone's work. Promo designers are people too. They have mothers.

It's the trivial bits of history that you end up missing the most.

And I might not be making this argument if we were talking about an old building taking up valuable space in a city, or even a shelf of books taking up space in my city library. It's a bunch of websites. Unlikely that the lot of them add up to a whole terabyte. Spend three hundred bucks on backup drives and twenty bucks a month on a Dreamhost account. [1]


[1] Sorry that I can't reliably translate "twenty bucks worth of hosting" into equivalent UK units. ;)

I'd be on your side, except that I've never been to a library that kept copies of every promotional sheet, advertisement, review, etc. for every book that they had.

Curation implies some degree of selectivity to the process.

The WW2 People's War site that this article highlighted as particularly bad to lose has in fact already been archived by the British Library:


To be fair, the British Broadcasting Corporation ought to have been a lot clearer about its remit in the past. Take Dirac for example, why was the British taxpayer funding that development work when H.264 was already widely supported? It's no wonder now that they are being required to make cuts, they had become a huge sprawling monster with a finger in every pie, no matter how relevant.

Your point about Dirac is entirely irrelevant to the OP, which was about the Beeb embarking on a spree of wilful destruction of content.

All big organisation have areas of waste but content is the BBC's raison d'être, not something that should be discarded to save money.

I don't believe this was OT, the poster made it clear how it related to the article; that the BBC has an obligation to their funders (the British taxpayers.)

They aren't destroying it just for the hell of it; BBC Online has been cut across the board because they were so wasteful in the past.


I'm an ex BBC Online employee. Most people don't realise quite how few people are involved in the creation and update of the BBC website. When I was there it was generally 2 people per site (and each person was on more than one site). We had a dozen staff looking after a hundred sites using old and borrowed tech and the occasional independent flash developer.

The BBC was never wasteful. Don't believe what you read in the anti-BBC press. They have their own agenda.

BBC FM&T and R&D did/does awesome stuff with little resources. It appears to outsiders-who-care that the problem exists higher up, especially with decisions such as adopting Siemens to provide infrastructure support (Talk about locking in what existed 10 years ago with an SLA!), and the perverted influence of people like Highfield and now, surprisingly, Huggers.

To borrow a phrase, since this government came into power, people seem to know the waste of everything and the value of nothing.

The BBC's mission is to broadcast content. Clearly that future is digital content, I'd argue equally clearly that future is in Internet-style streamed distribution over CDNs rather than in classical broadcasting.

This puts the BBC as having a major interest in both optimal storage and transmission of streamed media. Why on earth is it not in the BBC's interest to investigate means of improving its service offering and lowering its cost base through use of improved video storage and transmission technology?

To get back to the original point as that's about maintenance of existing content, I agree 100% with those who are saying this is purely political. We have a strong strand in our commercial media which will push relentlessly for the BBC to be cut on all possible fronts because it's impinging on their ability to profit. I'm sorry, but that's rubbish. I watch more BBC than commercial content (and have done for many years) because it's better. You don't have to go very far back in history for the ITV franchise operators to have been lumbering behemoths viewed as a license to print money. The merged ITV that came out of Carlton and Granada was hardly a weak, minor player, nor is the RTL Group backed 5 family or the News Corporation backed Sky network. All are quite capable of building a serious, large-scale rival to the BBC, but they seem to dismiss it as too expensive compared to running repeats of imported clipshows.

What the BBC is doing here is absolutely wrong, but they're doing it in response to (government-favoured) self-serving political pressure from their commercial rivals and out of largely reasonable fear that if they aren't seen to do something like this themselves something worse will be forced on them. That is the core problem - excessive political attention being paid to low-quality competitors who think they have a right to the extra profit they'd have if the BBC didn't exist. They don't; I gladly pay a comparable amount for the BBC as for Sky's vastly lower quality subscription offering and the commercial media outlets need to realise this and raise their game.

Are you implying that a Broadcasting Corporation ought not to be concerned with technologies for transmitting video over communication networks?

Concerned with? Sure. NIH on the taxpayer's money? Probably not. Not like the BBC ever had its own homegrown tape format or anything, it got it all off-the-shelf.

You could argue that tapes are not broadcasting though - whereas if I recall, the BBC was quite involved with early Television research and development.

Personally, as a British citizen and license-payer, I'm quite happy for the BBC to spend money on research and development (if well-thought and efficient; perhaps in this case it was misplaced), and I'm glad that the BBC is pushing technologies like video-over-internet compared to some of the more dinosaur-like traditional media companies.

Time to go watch some more BBC4 streaming over IP.

Maybe not a homegrown tape format... but how about Teletext, FM Radio, Freeview, HD on Freeview, iPlayer?

The BBC invented FM? I was not aware of that...

They could probably keep them running for the price of some football pundit's yearly salary.

They could release on a free document license or CC-BY or similar and the content would appear on hundreds of websites. Indeed as the idea is money-saving and efficiencies they should archive the lot (about half a days wages, at first, and maybe a single HDD) and then sell of the domains at auction lock-stock - deleting them is silly whilst they have any value at all.

They could give the domains to me I'll maintain them.

I'm extremely tempted to perform a Reocities style rescue job and handle the takedown notices as and when they come. Might not work for some of the interactive stuff but at least the text can be saved.

Already started. Email me if you want to help (in my profile).

Gentlemen, start your spiders!

You realise of course that this is unlawful copyright infringement?

When you're on your deathbed, you're not going to tell your grandchildren "I sure wish I had upheld the strict letter of copyright law on the internet more." But you might say "remember that time I saved the BBC from itself?" And like Big Fish, it will be almost true.

That may or may not be true, however it is still copyright infringement. It doesn't matter incidentally if you copy it solely for personal use - stopping a rights holder from being an idiot is not a given exclusion.

I assume that the downvoters can explain how this is not infringing or how I'm not adding to the thread by noting this fact that some may not wholly realise?

This is true, but the BBC were extremely grateful for the copyright infringement that has seen the rescue of Q, Doctor Who, and countless other series - they may come to see that again (and to be honest, the chances of the BBC suing are probably very slight).

The BBC has a very permissive attitude to it's IP back catalogue as long as it isn't stuff they're currently trying to sell. See http://www.youtube.com/user/trippynet - this has been there for years, untouched. There are many other examples, try this for spoken word radio comedy: http://www.temples.me.uk/harry/read.php

This is the advantage of being a taxpayer-funded player in the media business, they simply do not have to care about monetizing their content if they don't feel like it. It is already paid for before it's made. They have been operating an unofficial policy of allowing pirates to act as a distribution network for years. This will probably change when they launch the paid iPlayer overseas.

It is also the reason why murdoch and by extension the murdoch press attack the BBC constantly. They see it as unfair, and it is, but it isn't about being fair to the murdoch empire. It's about getting a good deal on good TV for the british people.

Stated (and binding, as far as I know) license terms currently displayed for BBC websites:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/terms/personal.shtml#4 - personal use, excerpt: "Nothing in the Terms grants you a right or licence to use any trade mark, design right or copyright owned or controlled by the BBC or any other third party except as expressly provided in the Terms."

http://www.bbc.co.uk/terms/business.shtml#2 - business terms, excerpt: "2.1.1 you may not copy, reproduce, republish, disassemble, decompile, reverse engineer, download, post, broadcast, transmit, distribute, lend, hire, sub-license, rent, perform, make a derivative work from, make available to the public, adapt, alter, edit, re-position, frame, rebrand, change or otherwise use in any way any BBC Online Services and/or BBC Content in whole or in part on your product or service or elsewhere or permit or assist any third party to do the same except to the extent permitted at law ("Restricted Acts");"

FWIW I think that BBC created content should be under a liberal license like CC-BY-NC but it isn't; whether they press for legal action is orthogonal to the matter of it's lawfulness.

Can't speak for anyone else, but I downvoted for the condescending tone more than the opinion.

Could you explain how you find it patronising - is it that I'm pointing out they're breaking the law if they use this specific font [file] without a license but you think this is obvious, or that I'm assuming they know they're committing tortfeasance when you feel it's not obvious.

There are of course other possibilities, hence why I posed the question, they might be outside the Berne Convention/TRIPS countries and not be bound by copyright law, for example.

It's this particular pattern of saying "I assume you realize that [thing I actually assume you don't realize], right?"

Well, no. Obviously they don't realize that, or else they disagree on some more fundamental point, or they wouldn't have said whatever they said in the first place— which I assume you actually do realize.

So it's a very disingenuous way of communicating. All it really says is "I think I know more about this than you, but I decided not to be nice about informing you," which isn't a very productive way to start a conversation.

You've got the pattern exactly wrong.

They mention take down notices which means they are aware of online copyright issues. I was attempting both to confirm that they felt this was tortuously infringing activity and giving the opportunity to respond with their moral justification.

>Well, no. Obviously they don't realize that

To recapitulate: if they mentioned "take down notices" then they appear to be living in the USA, aware of copyright in online material and cognisant of the Digitial Millenium Copyright Act (just an informed guess) as a minimum; my point was to confirm this and, like I said, dig for a response (without leading them on as to what sort of response to make - moral, legal, technical, political, ...).

The question was also serving as a flag for the issue for other readers.

So, whilst I'm prepared to entertain an argument that I was being disingenuous I'm afraid your premises are false and thus the reasoned conclusions equally unsound.

If you're looking to establish a relevant argument to the content of the thread then perhaps civil disobedience WRT copyright would be the way to go; there are strong arguments that the BBC should back a change in UK law as proposed elsewhere to ensure release of such works in to the public domain.

Regardless of your intentions, you should be aware in the future that that speech pattern will come off as insufferably condescending to a number of people, including myself.

If your aim is indeed to start a productive dialogue, I'd consider something more like, "That's a noble thought, but aren't you worried about the copyright implications?"

If the copyright owner doesn't allow anyone else to retain a copy, and they delete all their copies, then how will the work ever pass in to the public domain?

Just because virtual book burning is easier than hunting down and burning real books doesn't make it any more acceptable.

>If the copyright owner doesn't allow anyone else to retain a copy, and they delete all their copies, then how will the work ever pass in to the public domain?

Copyright is a contract between the state (the people) and you. You get protection from unlicensed copying of your works in exchange for release to the PD - if you don't disseminate your works then the public have no right to force them to be released into the PD.

There is possibly a loose end here but generally one can retain a copy for your own personal use (like keeping newspaper clippings) but you can't put this (or any substantial part of it) in a publicly accessible place.

Sure. but the goal is to get an archive of it first, we can deal with putting it online at the right moment.

It is only copyright infringement if they re-publish. Just getting an archive is not infringement, otherwise, you'd be infringing every time you view the site with your browser.

Most people, as they grow up, learn the difference between what is moral and what is legal.

Chin up, champ, you'll figure that out someday, and maybe the appropriate use of condescension too!

I suppose a lot of the content might not be entirely theirs to license, and it would be difficult to sift through it all and determine.

There's no actual domains involved - when the BBC talk about 'top level domains', they mean 'bbc.co.uk/something'.

When things are no longer relevant, I have no problem with them going away. If it means a lot to you, make yourself a personal copy.

Humans often have a hoarding instinct, and it's hard to shake that temptation. How many of us keep every email ever sent to us over the last 10 years? How many of us have 1TB of personal storage on our PCs. and we're running out of space? How many of us have the phone bill from 5 years ago filed neatly away in some box? Let some stuff go.

>How many of us have the phone bill from 5 years ago filed neatly away in some box? Let some stuff go.

5 years is, IIRC, the term for keeping records for tax purposes where I am .. worth checking before discarding all your old records.

Put it on a $100 2TB hard drive and give it to Google or the WayBackMachine.

$100? I'd rather pay $72: http://forre.st/storage#sata

It's not about holding the information, it's about serving it. The BBC makes a whole lot of websites, for when they mention stuff in dramas (Think Bad Wolf in first series of Doctor Who). They will hold all the information they ever made, offline, just like all the TV they can keep, they do.

What they should do is make sure the Internet Archive has it all. And then stop hosting it, stop paying for the domains.

These websites are only mentioned in dramas, they are pretty much useless after a few weeks. If you're watching first series Dr Who and want to see the sites, you can live with using the Internet Archive (Wayback machine).

>These websites are only mentioned in dramas, they are pretty much useless after a few weeks.

They're worth at least a little more than their domain names and content costs by virtue of them being SEO bait. "Bad Wolf" could be a good company [trading] name or band name if you could buy out the top spot in the listings from the BBC.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact