A common platform?

What does the future of public service media look like? What comes after the current crop of public service entities, which are all essentially channels? Could it be a kind of platform?

We already have lots of platforms: Playstation, the web, Windows, Ubuntu, Series 60 mobiles. Systems that live low down in the stack, providing a bunch of services and data for applications that run on top. We’re familiar with how they work. They make life easier by eliminating duplication and they make possible all sorts of creative and useful work that wouldn’t happen otherwise.

So what I’m talking about is building a big, generous, accommodating public platform that runs code and community and content – making life easier for creators and communities in Britain. A kind of giant shared computer that exposes useful assets like public data, educational content, archives and library catalogues, health data and democratic and community tools… The whole range of useful and enabling content and services that comes from state providers like the BBC, the Ordnance Survey and the Public Records Office and also the good stuff that comes from the commercial and third sectors.

A national public service platform like this would be a public good, a freely accessible toolset, meeting place and notice-board. People would use it tell stories about all the big issues: the drama about free content and software, health service reform, access to public data, surveillance and health records, copyright, immigration, educational standards, content ratings for kids’ media, community access, capacity building for excluded groups and all the rest.

A platform like this would be open to all: individuals, businesses, clubs and schools. A rich and open toolset that people and groups could use to represent themselves, communicate their values, publish cool and useful content (and make money), but also to make mischief, dissent and pure entertainment—nothing worthy about this platform. Could something like this be a legitimate replacement or supplement for the industrial era public service outlets (the terrestrial TV channels, essentially) we now treasure but recognise are really struggling for relevance?

This is not a new idea. I first wrote about it over ten years ago. Lots of others have done so too. Ofcom even came up with a name for it (before they lost interest): the Public Service Publisher. Tessa Jowell, when she was Minister of Culture, advanced a similar idea with more of an economic edge: she called the BBC ‘venture capital for the UK’ in speeches like this one made all over the place. Jem Stone alerts me to the fact that senior managers at the Beeb seem to have picked the idea up again. Caroline Thompson, the most senior BBC Executive you’ve never heard of, was recently heard testing it on a Manchester audience (James Cherkoff points out that Peter Bazalgette’s Boggle is close to the Common Platform idea too).

I’m going to suggest that we call this new public service vehicle our Common Platform.

Next Wednesday evening I’m chairing a debate about the BBC’s role in the subtly different world after the Trust’s review of bbc.co.uk. The debate’s a response to the fairly robust debate that’s been going on at uk.techcrunch.com since Mike Butcher put the boot into the Beeb after the report came out. We’ve got several important BBC people booked to participate plus Ofcom’s Tom Loosemore. Sadly the event is already a full house but watch this space for more news and a summary of the debate once we’ve had it.


  1. It sounds good in theory (and sounds a bit like Google), but government IT projects — like the NHS debacle — tend to result in more misses than hits. The overspend is often enormous and there is no guarantee people will use it.

    Minitel also springs to mind.

    Although I suppose we should not let failed attempts discourage us.

  2. Hold on you lot. Please don’t take us down a minitel dead end! Any kind of common platform must be the opposite of a minitel. Neither proprietary nor monolithic. No ‘billing model’ and no ‘terminal’! OK? :->

  3. Yes it is! I’m a big fan of Boggle and I think that Bazalgette’s the kind of man who could obtain some traction for an idea like this. What he’s missing is that Boggle or my Common Platform would actually be more like an operating system than a TV Channel or a portal. I see the CP’s content being essentially a fabulously diverse range of ‘executables’ blending application functionality, services, data and old-fashioned content. Exciting isn’t it?

  4. “Next Wednesday evening I’m chairing a debate about the BBC’s role ”

    Sounds fun. I’ll coming along and cheer and stamp my feet or whatever. Where is it?

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