Monday, November 03, 2008

The Development of the CMS

What's different?

The video on the web revolution is shaking up old media and making space for media to work in ways that are more beneficial to our societies. Our project will both work as “stupidly simple” IPTV and as interactive video on the web. To facilitate this it will both provide a “lean-in” and “lean-back” experience, depending on user interaction. The “lean-in” will provide all the tools for web 2.0 social media interaction, while the “lean-back” will come at the viewer with the simplicity of old-style TV.

We believe that the IPTV CMS we want to build has to come from the bottom up rather than from the top down, as only by interacting with flourishing local groups can the design decisions that are usually made by a small group of technicians effectively be tested.

The visionOntv CMS uses all the traditional web 2.0 tools for interaction, but the interaction takes place around the content of videos, rather than expecting people to interact usefully in an empty space. Whereas facebook is mainly about existing communities of friends, our CMS is about creating action-based communities with a democratic purpose. We are pushing connections between people and encouraging physical meet-ups. Therefore our project is more like an IPTV version of couch-surfing (, aiming to create real-world communities by virtual tools. Instead of merely commenting in a dead space like youtube, ours has live chat during watching a film and turns this live chat into forum posts, relationship links and membership/involvement in outside groups.

Technologically, we aim to progress IPTV from open source to open standards.

The backbone

Liferay was named “Technology of the Year” in 2007 by info magazine. It uses jsr286, an industrial standard portlet specification for java. This provides a convenient programming model for portlet developers, which means that they can talk to each other. In other words, we can widgetize any part of it. For instance, chat could be copied into any other website.

How the CMS works

We will use to the full the “micro-broadcasting” that IPTV makes possible. We will enable physical connections between people so that they can see themselves in a way that traditional media has no power to do. Working in a geographically limited community means at the most basic level that a neighbour walking down the street could say “I saw you on TV last night!”, with all the implications this has for community-building.

We are using rss as a database exchange format. At the moment rss is a very confusing experience, with feeds taking you all over the place to different source files' websites. In our case, the rss feeds will go to the Hackney TV news page with a link to the source's website, keeping the viewer within the VOTV CMS experience. Comment can be syndicated between VOTV and originator sites using a site such as This allows everyone to publish on their personal blog and to be independent in the creation of media, if they wish, but to benefit from the syndication of media in a complete TV station.

Local mainstream media such as the Hackney Gazette will be sucked in as well via rss, but our focus is on media creation from the bottom up.

We will not host the videos, avoiding unsustainable server costs. All content will come in via and bittorrent by rss.

Films will be viewable with streaming inside the CMS itself or in conjunction with the visionOntv player application, which is an already-operating customized version of the successful open source Miro player. This peer-caching player provides a superior user experience to streaming, both in terms of quality of image and avoiding the stop-start which is many peoples' experience of streaming. Use of bittorrents also protects us against the potential closure of streaming sites under economic recession.

When watching a video the viewer will be told, for instance, that there are 7 posts about this video, that 20 people are currently watching it, and 150 watching the channel as a whole.

The viewer will then have the option to chat directly with people watching the film and to create less ephemeral forum posts . A highly novel feature is that if you are the only person currently watching the film, you will chat with people watching the channel as a whole, and if no one is watching the channel, the station as a whole. In other words, there will always be people to interact with even with the dustiest or most minority content.

Ultimately, as the project develops, the CMS will be highly directed to the personal user, where programs, adverts and info-verts will be personalised to the individual. At this local level, advertising and the TV news programs themselves become a community noticeboard.

In terms of pushing physical screenings and meet-ups, a number of models are possible. In the first version, people on the street could organise a meeting and then advertise it. In future, this could be fully automated. Venues could register a space available, then a critical mass of people could decide they wanted a meeting. They could then even turn up as a “flash-mob”.

In terms of local democracy, the news could become interactive through “e-decision” plebiscites by text, web-voting and interactive IPTV “mini-cinemas” in public venues, community cafes etc. We have trialled the IPTV booths already to play continuous video on recycled computers in community spaces. Our CMS is WAP-enabled so that it will work on low-end mobile phones, and users can post directly to the CMS using text and picture messaging.

The IPTV mini-cinemas help deal with the “digital divide” by age, education, and broadband access. What also helps is the deliberate simplicity of the applications and the community-based training provided as part of the Hackney TV program.

Local business sponsorship by automated advertising will help to make Hackney TV sustainable.

This is a 3-year project designed to run until the 2012 Olympics, but the Knight News Challenge funding of the technological development is for the first two years only.

The aim is that Hackney TV should be a trail-blazing example of visionOntv embedded in a local community, replicable globally.