BBC's Democracy Live site goes, er, live

On the day the BBC launches its Democracy Live website comes news that MPs speaking in the Commons chamber are ‘to be discouraged’ from reading out text stored on an electronic device. No, seriously.
But hey, back to Democracy Live. There’s a lot to like about it. The front page ‘video wall’ owes a lot to Sky Sports on a Champions League night, albeit without the drama. The ‘Your representatives’ databank (from Dod’s) is nice, with the ability to search by postcode – although it only gives you MPs, MSPs/AMs/MLAs and MEPs, not councillors; and it would be nice if there was an API onto the data too.
The bit they’re clearly most excited about is the ability to search the video coverage by text – using ‘speech-to-text’ technology with a success rate ‘slightly higher’ than the industry standard. However the results, in my experience so far, have been disappointing: it seems pretty good at finding results, but it drops you in at the start of the debate (etc), not at the moment your word or phrase was mentioned.
(Update: Ah, I see now. The search results’ main link is to the start of the clip; you have to click to expose the ‘deep links’ to the right place in the clip. Interface fail? Although actually, it takes you right to the very word: should probably start a few seconds earlier?)
Oh yeah, and then there’s the whole embedding thing:

At the moment, we do not have permission to enable the embedding of video from the House of Commons or the House of Lords. Discussions are continuing with officials at Westminster.

If there’s one thing the Beeb have really cracked, it’s quality video streaming. So there’s no arguing with the site’s TV-esque aspect. But there’s nowhere near as much depth of coverage as on the official Parliament Live site, which includes video – live and recorded – of each committee. Besides, is video an efficient means of reviewing the proceedings of Parliament? I can read the Hansard transcript much faster than an MP can speak it.
So whilst it’s a nice enough site in itself – and don’t get me wrong, it is a nice site – it doesn’t feel like it’s adding a tremendous amount, in qualitative terms, to what’s already out there. Yet. But a look at the source code suggests more exciting developments to come: there’s a lot of stuff ‘commented out’ or not yet enabled. Give it time.

3 thoughts on “BBC's Democracy Live site goes, er, live”

  1. Simon, thanks for talking about BBC Democracy Live. I’m the launch editor.
    We think we’ve caught most of the big bugs on the site but perhaps you’ve found some more. Could you let me know which videos you’ve found which start at the beginning rather than at the word you’ve searched for?
    Our speech-to-text system is designed to take you straight to the point where the word is spoken but if it’s not doing that I’d like to ask someone to look at it.
    All the best,

  2. Thanks for the reply, Mark.
    Looking at the pages again, I was clicking on the wrong link in the search result list: it wasn’t immediately obvious (to me) that I had to click the ‘twisty’ to show the time-stamped links. You might want to review that.
    Although I have to say, I was a bit surprised that the ‘deep link’ goes directly to the second the word is mentioned: surely it would be better to start a few seconds earlier, to give some clue as to context?

  3. Hello again, we’re able to adjust the point at which a user is taken to the word requested. We suspected we might have to play around a bit with this to get it right. Too early and the user may think the word wasn’t actually spoken, too late and you don’t get any context without scrolling backwards manually.
    We’re looking at this and I reckon a tweak will appear soon.
    I’m not totally sure what you mean by the “twisty” but if it’s the drop-down arrow, that’s standard functionality and will remain like this.

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