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.

HTML email coming to Blackberry

I’m not a huge fan of email generally; it usually means ‘work’, as Mr Briggs noted following Barcamp, and I’ve argued about previously. In my mind, spam has discredited email as a marketing mechanism. But a lot of large corporate clients still think in email terms, and it isn’t going away any time soon.
So it’s with some relief that I note, among the list of improvements planned for the Blackberry platform in 2008, is:

‘HTML and Rich Text Email Rendering – BlackBerry smartphone users will be able to view HTML and rich text email messages with original formatting preserved including font colors and styles, embedded images, hyperlinks, tables, bullets and other formatting.’

If you’ve never used or worked with Blackberry, you’ll be shocked at just how badly it handles HTML email (as I described in an article for BT last year). So on the face of it, this sounds like good news, and will be widely welcomed – although naturally we’ll have to see how it pans out.