There is much to concern people in the statement regarding the ‘suspension’ of interactivity at BBC 6 Music by Controller Bob Shennan, but the selective use of statistics and the claims of resources being drained invite examination.
Taking Mr Shennan at his word, I accept the line that “10 regular users have been responsible for nearly 7000 posts concerning one programme” is correct (I was one of 10). For the purposes of this quick analysis, I’ll be as generous as possible and assume that the figure is 6999 – although a soon-to-be published, independent analysis shows that the figure was closer to 5400 un-removed posts.
So, over the 474 days that the thread was in existence, each of the 10 posted an average 1.48 messages per day, or around 15 in total (fewer than 13 per day given the non-BBC figures).
The top three posters by numbers have recently been banned from the boards and one other thread regular had his ability to post seriously limited, having been revealed as a Lamb Show contributor. Presumably this would have eased the pressure on resources significantly. Using Mr Shennan’s own figures and taking averages as a guideline, the remaining seven (if they do remain) would post around nine messages per day, given BBC ascribed levels of interactivity. The more detailed analysis reduces that figure further to a total of 7 messages a day.
Leaving aside the fact that over 4300 (in reality 5600) messages must have been received from other posters (around 450 unique users are recorded as having posted in the life of the board), there is the matter of how the board was moderated.
At times, this could be said to have been either ‘inconsistent’ or ‘heavy-handed’. The effects of this included bannings, but had the far more insidious result of leading people to simply give up. This can be seen time and again, where new posters announced themselves (“I’m so pleased to have found this board” etc.), contributed for a couple of weeks and then disappeared – mainly after what came to be referred to as ‘mod riots’. Similarly, posters who were regulars in the early days can still be seen penning messages on other forums having, presumably, got fed up of the hosting or, more simply, bored or generally exasperated.
It is not a great leap of logic to conclude that the thread would be longer, but for these effects, and the proportion of posts made by the infamous 10 would be proportionately reduced.
However, the fact that some people posted more regularly and more tenaciously than others is only to be expected. Look at any blog, message board or chat room and similar patterns will be detected. There are many examples where 50% or higher of contributions are made by three, four or five posters. The use of the statistic, designed to label regular contributors as resource-heavy drains on the BBC budget, starts to look like a smokescreen.
And what of the resources? BBC blogs, like message boards, are reactively moderated. The only difference in the BBC Radio context is that where board topics are listener led, blogs are presenter or producer generated.
Taking the much promoted PM blog as an example, what is the nature of the contributions there? Such a site, being concerned with matters of the day, often exhibits tensions that ‘run particularly high’.
As of noon on Saturday 16th May there were 312 contributions from posters for that one programme on that one day on one radio station – far more than the 6 Music message boards ever generated in total on most days. A quick glance shows that, similar to the boards, some contributions have been removed by moderators. (Presumably there are resource matters to be considered with blogs as well.)
Dig down a little further using just one thread (The top one – ‘The PM Glass Box’) and we can see that 5 posters are responsible for over 50% of contributions from the first 68 entries – it’s being added to as I write. Extrapolating, that seems to make the 10 posters on the George Lamb thread contributing 60% (BBC figures) or less than 50% (independent) seem perfectly reasonable. Where comment ‘traffic’ is concerned it’s reasonable to note that days where the George Lamb board reached 68 were few and far between – the daily average was 24.
So ‘resources’, also, appears to be a smokescreen leaving the longest unoccupied vacancy in broadcasting (that of host to the boards) as the only remaining issue. Mr Shennan must surely be aware that there are 2 million unemployed.
Ultimately, the reasons offered for the closure of all of the boards (not just the George Lamb one) would appear to be shameful excuses for a shameful exercise that has resulted in reduced interactivity (one of the BBC’s holy grails) and a silencing of criticism on the forums that are paid for by the very people that post there.
So we wait for news on “how best to develop constructive dialogue about the future of the network” with less than bated breath. In the meantime it would be useful – in the name of constructive dialogue – if one of Mr Shennan’s representatives could address the inconsistencies contained within his statement.
Comments are invited from the BBC and anyone else with a view.