Category Archives: Uncategorized

back on the researchAgenda

I did a post a few years back about a sketch service I was toying with, researchAgenda.

I have not done much else with the idea, apart from on occasion something similar in idea, the opening up for collaboration in, not just doing research, but finding what to do the research on, comes up. I found a few sketches and briefly inked them. I may add some more notes to this post over the next couple of weeks, to get all the thoughts down in one place to make it easy to point at.

An early sketch on #researchAgenda system

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#researchAgenda detail 1

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#researchAgenda detail 2

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#researchAgenda detail 3

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Designing new maker spaces

Last year I was designing new maker space possibilities and other pop-up urban interventions at Ravensbourne College, designed to extend the college into the peninsula and the publics that use, work and live in the area.





The new space became a challenge when the original, physical space to be used fell through. So in the interim we started developing some alternative activities. These included developing a course to introduce Hydroponics, taking over a rough piece of land to develop a growing space and an outdoor space for the Architecture students to build and show structures as well as investigating the possibility of setting up outside Kilns and glass blowing infrastructure.

From Soil to Water
One of the initial hopes was to have elements of permaculture and care of the land designed into the space. On the peninsula this has its own unique challenges, the land is reclaimed from industrial land, new topsoil and the hope that all the poisons are well buried. It is not a space to grow food.

What was developed was a set of ideas around Hydroponics instead. Initially an introduction course to hydroponics, aimed at all ages and one that could be run in an afternoon.

The next step was to set up some hydroponics growing inside the College building

Food pod 1

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Placing units around the building in common areas

Green City

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Using Ikea hydroponic equipment, we set up a couple of growing ‘pods’ around the building and eventually harvested the crop, which was donated to the cafe that is run in the front of the college building.


Before cropping above, and below after cropping


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There were at least two of these metal trays harvested.

We have two containers like this, one for each hydroponic frame

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The cafe made salads and soups from the crops.

Then further work was done to investigate using arduinos and raspberry pi computers to control aspects of the growing, including lighting, so that in future the architecture students, for example, could embed the growing environments into their structures.

White light Red light

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Placing the neopixel strips against the structures.

Experimenting further

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Hacking small test insalls

Trying stuff out

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This led to speculative work on how the building could start to embed growing spaces within its fabric.

Hmm, but that's a silly idea mark

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sketching how things might be different

It's an idea …

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The Creative Passport, Design and Making

I am currently working with the rest of the Mycelia team to develop the Creative Passporand get it running for Imogen’s upcoming world tour.  The concepts of Mycelia and the passport are well documented elsewhere what I wanted to do here was touch on where it goes beyond the music industry.

I tutor at Central Saint Martins on the MA Industrial Design course, on aspects of digital and IoT related design, how does this model, work for product designers, or say, fashion designers? This differs from photography or music, or even fine art.

So to start the thinking I have gone back to Papanek, in The Green Imperative, he wrote about designing a small trailer for a client, to help in a small waste collection service that he had started. The trailer was a success for them, so they wanted to buy the design so that they could manufacture more and sell them to other such groups.

Papanek agreed with conditions, they could make no more than 200 units a year and only sell them in a 200 mile radius.

IF they found someone who wanted to do the same elsewhere they could re-approach Papanek to get the rights to do that.

Over the next couple of years, there were trailers made in more than thirty small communities and with adaptations to the original designs made according to local environments.

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In a world of local manufacture and the possibilitiy of ‘smart contracts’ (or programmable transactions, because at the moment these blocks of code are not smart, nor are they contracts) this model tried by Papanek could be tried out.

Its not prefect, how do you enforce things at the end when the purely digital part of the transaction is finished? This is where work by the likes of Mattereum on the design of the contracts and the linking between code and existing legal structures will come into play.

This model can also extend and support alternative licencing, like Creative Commons and Open licences (Open Hardware etc). The Creative Passport is designed as a way for the individual creative to assert and manage the rights they wish to express and protect over a work, to be transparent on the collaborative aspects of much creative work, where support in, co-production happens, and how this is acknowledged and revenue shared.

geekyoto – creative securities studio

Born out of research at Royal Holloway University, the ‘Creative Securities’ approach to understanding risk and issues in cyber security has been developed by Professor Lizzie Cole-Kemp and her team over the last few year. By taking the tools and methods usually associated with co-creative design thinking, post-its, card games and creative modelling exercises into organisations, the team have created a methodology that allows for understanding of risk to be modelled and created by everyone in the organisation. Having worked with this team, Geekyoto is now offering this approach through the design consultancy.

creative securities studio



to discuss workshops and facilitation through the creative securities studio please contact mark

Notes for a lighthouse artistic director

A good few years back I was asked by a friend to chat about ideas to help launch the Brighton Photo Biennial, something including mobile phones and the city. I had a few chats with the people involved but my slightly strange vision of turning the city skyline of Brighton into something more like Akira’s Neo-Tokyo didn’t really work.

Within Brighton though is a beacon of creativity, and what the creative response means to a community, multiple communities, how they can intersect and share as well as have their own identities. The Lighthouse is a creative cultural institution and for years now it has been promoting, supporting and commissioning challenging, creative, cultural work on the current state of the world.

The most current artistic Director, Juha van’t Zelfde is about to move on, so an opportunity now exists for someone new to take the artistic direction of this institution into a new age.

Right now, in the world as it is now, I want to imagine how an institution could start to evolve itself to support the critical art and communcations landscape of the urban environmnet, to be a beacon of hope to so many people, not just in this country but across the channel into europe and beyond, not as an imposer but as a cultural learner and reflector, a new institution to help weave the new needs for interlectual and critical thinking back into the fabric of our modern lives. To use the urban fabric of a city in ways that have not before, to enhance the safety of the communities and their ability to talk and share with each other, to discuss, argue and agree, to

This isn’t an artistic manifesto for such a new director to do, its my grab bag of ideas that might just stimulate better ones in shaping what this institution can and will mean to so many people.

Progaganda & News

Right now, the culture of trust around news is broken, the words fake news bandied about and basic fact checking ignored. Even the concept of a fact appears to have been brought into question. We live in both a world of Newspeak from 1984 but also the numbing entertainment pacification industry of Brave New World. Language is quickly subverted and broken. Propaganda, advertising even art brought into play to create the spaces of obviously broken ‘knowledge’ yet no matter how much the hollowness of the representation of reality is questioned it continues to be accepted.

In the UK, the press is more right wing, reactionary and delivering the agenedas of rich owners that almost any other western country.

Can this be changed?

Can a ciy, which is possibly the new political power block reject these agendas and create new spaces of information, discourse and communication?

Juha’s work at Lighthouse has started to look at propaganda in its new forms, the next step is to take the counter actions into the streets and pave the city with a new way of understanding and reading the news.

In some of the ways I have started to talk about with new news labs, to make the processes of journalism more transparent, to present stories alongside analysis, to show ownership and influence and interests and for a city to shun the wrong and the bigoted. Liverpool still shuns the Sun because of the way that paper treated the Liverpool fans over Hillsborough, yet that paper across the rest of the country pedals its lies, as do many others. Can critical spaces be created that do not welcome these papers?

In 2004, Dan Gillmor said ‘We, The Media’ yet if we look at ourselves should we be proud or ashamed of that media. Can we develop new norms?

Lighthouse is well placed, its network is across all media, across all kinds of creative practice. In theory if someone walked in that door with an idea, Lighthouse and the amazing team that works there could connect the relevant people to make it happen. This is such a valuable community resource, a route for enabling and amplifying the voices of those who are being ignored and sidelined.

Lighthouse does a lot of community and charity work and hopefully the new Artistic Director will support and enhance this, creating new oppotunities to involve these communities and to open access to the worlds of media and cultural industry which might previoulsy have been closed to many.

Could they support the likes of Arts Emergency, Anti-University and others in opening up access and support networks to those that want to study liberal arts, creative work. Can the work they do already in supporting Maker communities further push the reach of these spaces and activities into different classes, for example how to include the elderly or even support the work of Design Against Crime in developing the concept of creative and design teaching in prisons.

I am looking forwards to what happens with this beacon by the coast, i’m putting a lot of hopes into it.

a public news lab

A proposal

Embed the new news room within a local community. Use design to create an inviting space to allow people to experience and participate in the discovery and production of news.

The proposal is to develop a physical space, open to all that is focused on news.

A number of props and tools can be developed and deployed in the space including:

The Issues Board

A space for people to add their issues and concerns

News Clippings

Encourage visitors to select their story of interest, add their thoughts

News Tree

Who owns / makes the news, visualisations to show how the news industry works, locally and nationally.


In many ways similar to the GlassRoom in NYC recently, a space to explore data and privacy, The News Room should be about what news is, what data is, what are facts , what is journalism and storytelling. It can be quite broad, images to words.

A physical space can host events, including:

Hacks/Hackers – A regular meetup.

A 1000 Words – invite people to talk about a single image and what it means, to them, to the world.


A small research project proposal

In the current climate, it is quite reasonable for someone to decide that they need to secure their digital environment. In fact there are plenty of good reasons for doing this anyway and there are many occupations where such thinking about security should be part of the job. What I want to pose is the idea that someone, anyone decides that they want to do this.

Now I want to set some constraints, they are not overly technically savvy. They do not live in the computer science world. They know how to use a computer and more specifically have been exposed to systems and tools such as Tor and Qubes.

But given this if they had to go and buy equipment from the highstreet, what would they pick? How can they evaluate what they need to do to protect themselves online? Do they need Qubes or is it best for them to know secure practice on Windows and if they did need something like Qubes how do they evaluate hardware in the shops against the hardware support list as published on the qubes website.

As a project this would cover a wide range of disciplines, from understanding the technical abilities and compatibilities (and possible risks) from off the shelf, domestic hardware through to technical and social guidance on how to secure your digital life.

Co-Op Kit

What is the minimal technology set that could be made available online to allow you to create a Co-op based service?

That is the basic question that I think I am trying to ask right now and most of it is probably out there just not collected together. So how can it be brought together?

Lets say, ok, lets say I want to create a co-op uber type service. Taxi service for an area, a community of location. What would you need to design such a service, what are the core technical enablers to quickly get from paper to service.

I know that there are uber style co-ops out there already and lots of pondering on what an co-op uber would look like. Part of the question is, is it a federation of local ubercoops or a larger entity that works locally? Uber is mostly what it is because it got investment (which expects a healthy return on that investment) to quickly get running in lots of places, scale. It has to channel the money back into the central point to return on that investment. An Uber co-op, well money would stay within the community.

(In fact from a quick search this post discusses this in some interesting detail).

I’m just wondering where in the tech bits we can grab some common infrastructure, then build the unique bits of a service and roll it out, to the benefit of all, maybe by community, it would allow it to get to the scale it needs to be.

Materials Literacy

I have not mentioned it here before but part of my time at the moment is taken being Product (and Project) Manager for I Can Make. An amazing new start-up founded by Chris Thorpe, Becky Fishman and Dean Vipond (and myself), I Can Make is creating fun, educational content for your and your child’s 3D printer.

We are developing the educational support for the product and during the talk, the obvious point of ‘putting more stuff out into the world’ came up. In trying to form a response to this in I came up with the concept of ‘Materials Literacy’. Throwaway at the time, a short hand for a whole area of knowledge to be communicated and imparted. Below I try to develop what we could mean by ‘Materials Literacy’.

As 3D printing and other home manufacturing processes become more available people using these tools will need to have a level of understanding of the materials that are in use.

Not to the same depth of understanding as a professional designer, whose knowledge of materials and their properties is rich, in a similar way that an architect and construction engineer should understand how the materials they or the client wants work under the stresses and strains of construction and being in a building.

Just as we do not all need to be graphic designers or typographers to make use of the printer in our home, we don’t need to be a product designer to take advantage of the 3d printer.

What we do need to understand are some of the core properties of the material that we are using. At least with the laser printer we were using paper which most of us already had familiarity with. We knew enough about its properties to be able to make use of it easily without in depth domain knowledge, but remember, in school were you taught how paper was made? And for the most part what material was used to record and communicate your learning on?

We are and we’re already very comfortable with the material of paper. The inks, toners and processes were the new materials, that and the possibilities of what could be printed opened up new possibilities of learning and understanding how to communicate with print.

With home manufacture we need to know appropriate materials for appropriate tasks, it’s no good using a non heat resistant plastic to make a part that is going to be subjected to high heat, for example. Equally though, we should be able to understand the life cycle of the material being used and following on from that, the life cycle of the objects that we make with that material. How recyclable is the material (is it compostable, or does it require other processes to recycle it) and could that recycling be done in the home?

We also need to be aware of materials and how the interact with the human body, printing children’s toys with a material that might be toxic could create a similar situation to the ‘lead paint’ situation. [[Matt Malpass, who co-directs the MA industrial design course at CSM mentioned this during an initial discussion about materials literacy]].

Similarly, unless there is an understanding about the materials and how to reuse them, in a couple of years, Ben Hammersly predicts a news article on ‘the amount of plastic rubbish that is being churned out by the home printer industry’ [my paraphrasing].

Consumers need to understand the costs of the material that they use and be able to calculate the cost of printing versus mass manufacture.

If 3D printing and other new personal manufacturing tools and processes do change our relationship to objects, in that we can have what we need, when we need it, for as long as we need it and not necessarily any longer then part of the tool chain to deliver this change has not been delivered. Also, importantly a large part of the education and information on materials and how we use them and can re-use them has yet to be developed.

It is this space that I believe should be covered by ‘Materials Literacy’.

Beyond Comments (redux)

The Knight Foundation and Mozilla are running a project to look at News, something which I am, obviously interested in.

They are currently setting some challenges, to try and get some new ideas going, the latest is : Beyond Comment Threads.

Back in 2008 I had a blog over at, Nodalpoints. I posted a few ideas there about various things, and I am going to cannibalise them over the next few posts here, mostly because the original site has gone and some of the posts had some nice ideas.

The idea I am going to talk about here was the ‘Social Bar’, here is my original post on it:

Raising The Social Bar

Jan 15, 2008 2 comments
I gave a presentation on this project at the recent BarCampLondon3. More thoughts and further thinking is below.

What is it?

The Social Bar is the name for a small R&D project that I have been doing at the office. The area of research is in comments, especially on the BBC’s website but also how they work on large media type sites in general.

Where does the conversation take place. In recent years the BBC as well as a number of other large media sites have started to open up, to allow people to comment on parts of the site, started weblogs that reside on and are written by staff and talent.

The Social Bar is about the idea that this mechanism is not serving the licence fee payer well enough, that we need to take a lead in the next step to, almost step back, to what the web was about.

At its most basic it is about creating a barrier to entry, if you want to comment about something on the BBC’s website then you have to go through some processes that recently were not there. I know that this sounds wrong, especially in terms of the BBC and access for licence fee payers but there is a reason for this.

In fact these reasons can be summed up as follows:

A lot of comments on many sites are trivial. They do not add any real value to the content that is there (be it a weblog post, a news article or some other piece of editorial content on the BBC’s website).
For all the BBC’s will to be creating a space where people can say what they like it in fact can not do this. Policy gets in the way, even marketing can get in the way. What appears under the URL has to fit in with certain guidelines and perceptive needs.

The BBC wants to be your (the licence fee payers) trusted guide and gateway to the internet. What service can achieve that whilst trapping your thoughts on its own site?

All of this started to come together when I was given a bit of time to do some R&D in the office. I have been thinking about comments, attribution, ownership and reputation for a while and took this opportunity to try and shape some project. Initially a number of technical proposals started to take shape (I will share these online soon, more in support of this idea rather then as actual proposals to build stuff). What I started to find was that it really is not a technical problem and as such does not need a technical solution.

It is a cultural change and one that has to happen at the BBC. It is not the audience doing anything wrong (in fact there is no right or wrong about any of this, just that I believe that we need to move on from the current model quickly).

So what needs to change and why exactly?

Think about the interactions with content on the BBC’s site (I am going to assume that we are just talking about the BBC’s website but this could apply to any large site, especially media sites).

You can get in touch. Yes you can its on each of the pages on as it is part of the main page templates.

Now if you look at some parts of the BBC you will also be able to bookmark the page using services such as, reddit and digg. Via these tools you can also apply some tags to the content.

Some pages also allow you to leave comments. These include the blogs (go to as well as other parts of the site. This is on a site by site basis, for example The One Show asks for your comments, but Doctor Who does not.

How these comments work also differs across sites. There is moderation everywhere, some of the weblogs allow for post moderation of comments but otherwise everything is moderated before it is posted to the live website.

The One Show for example has what it called ‘Curated Comments’ these are heavily moderated, as many of the news comments are as well. That is appropriate, the BBC is well known for its editorial standards. Applying these standards to comments in much the same way as letters to the editor of a paper are handled and published should be acceptable in terms of the BBC’s web site.

So we have Contact, Tag and Comment. Ideally it would be great if you could Annotate as well but this seems a long time in coming so we will forget about that for the moment.

Now my contention has been that if you looked at a lot of the comments that appear on these sites they are trivial, in fact they would probably be better classified as Contact, in as much as it is the commentator wanting to get in touch with the author. To be sure there are some comments that are very good but if you looked at the cost per comment that was editorially worthwhile it would in fact look like a rather expensive way to get content onto the web.

So how about we make a few changes. First off, if you want to get in touch, then use that contact link. In fact make it more prominent and make sure that the comments get through to the correct editorial team quickly. Then make sure that team take time to respond to these contacts where appropriate.

Tags, well they are useful and it would be even more useful to get these tags on the page, a box showing how this page has been tagged by both the BBC (as an ‘official taxonomy’) and the audience (as the folksonomy).

Comments, here it would be good to have something consistent across the whole of the BBC and when you press on it, here is where I want us to do something different.

If you want to comment we should be encouraging you to do so but to do so from your own space on the web. In fact this space could as well be your Facebook profile page, your MySpace site or a weblog. It might even be a comment on some other forum or space which the person is a member of what is happening is:

They are being asked to create a space, an identity online. Attached to this identity will be their comments on the BBC comment.

Link to what they want to comment about. Something that we are loosing with all these facilities to comment right there on the page is the fact that the web was built to link. We should be linking to pages. It is how the web is supposed to work, it is how search engines work.

The BBC should be encouraging this kind of behaviour. In fact what the BBC should be doing is asking people to get involved in the conversation and guide them to the places to have these kinds of discussions. Some will be forums, others will be discussions that take place across the blogosphere on different peoples weblogs. Some parts will be posts, others in the comments there.

The BBC can guide people, we can suggest some good places to start and forewarn and forearm them about the facts of moving beyond We could even have online courses similar to WebWise and Computer Tutor on how to start creating your space. Setting up a weblog and writing posts (this could tie in with other campaigns, literacy for example), using the likes of flickr, MySpace and Facebook and other such services to tool up people into living part of their lives online.

What we also need is for members of the BBC to feel that they can take part in the conversation that happens ‘out there’. They should feel that they can post on another weblog or forum, link where appropriate and generally post whilst representing the BBC. We can then say to our audience that we will be taking part in the conversation about our editorial content (the core of what the BBC does) and we will take part in places away from home, not on our turf.

As I mentioned before, this started as a technical project and has changed to one of wanting to change how we work on the web at the moment. There are technical things that can be built, most of them not too complex, aggregators and more tools to help point people to where the conversation is happening. It may be that the money we save in moderation costs in fact goes into more editorial work guiding people and participating in the conversation but that I do not think is a bad thing.

I think this is a fairly rich topic and is not an idea that is going to change things overnight. There are probably holes in the thinking above (should we be making things harder for people to comment, can we make sure that the producers of content do get involved in the conversations, etc.).

If you can think of reasons not to do this, or to go right ahead then please do let me know. I will post more thoughts on this shortly, including some information on the technical ideas that I thought I was originally going to build, something that might be better suited to being an independent public service publisher.

Further notes on the Social Bar

Jan 16, 2008 Post a comment
Continuing from the post on the Social Bar, I thought I would put down some details on where it comes from.

Initially I was given some time to do a bit of R&D, as a part of one of the technical teams here. I was interested in another way of dealing with comments. I wrote my initial proposal and started putting together some GreaseMonkey and Ruby prototypes as well as lots of sketches. I did eventually realise that there was not a big tech project here but a set of ideas that may or may not work. I had proposed this for Etech, but withdrew the proposal when I realised that all I was producing was in fact these ideas on how to think about comments and not anything that you could really measure.

I have been thinking about comments for a while, I built a site a while back that converted the UK Governments ID Card Consultation White Paper into a weblog, each post was a paragraph from the document and of course you could comment against each comment.

Most of the comments were not that useful and could not really inform a consultation.

More recently I am taking part in a project with the Design Against Crime initiative at Central St. Martins school of Art and Design, Bike Off is all about bike parking. The lasest research project (AHRC/EPSRC funded) is about developing standards for bike parking facilities. Part of the project is to have a public consultation on the proposed standards and we are going to evaluate a number of online and offline ways of doing this.

One of the ideas to address the comments problem was to switch off the comments. In other words we would produce a resource where it was easy to link into the document, to be able to link into the heart of the document when you wanted to write your response to the consultation. It is a model that I expect that we will still try. The point here was that you would (or at least should) get better ‘comments’ if in fact you did not want to host the comments but just make sure you had a good number of linkable too elements that needed commenting upon.

It would also help in moderation, as the amount of spam was huge. This though will be a problem everywhere for a long time.

The problem then becomes finding the conversation, which is not that hard now. You can google a URL, and use Technorati to find weblogs that link or use tags. So in fact building up a view of a conversation is not that hard, maybe navigating it in a meaningful way might take some practice but is definitely do-able.

So now we move onto the BBC. I worked on a project where we built some software that was probably overcomplicated for the task in hand and the comments that came in were not ‘that’ interesting. Or rather they probably were not worth the cost per comment (if you analyse it that way), when using a standard contact us type form on the site would have sufficed.

So how much value do most comments add to the original content? If you look across the web it just varies from site to site. Being able to comment on a friends weblog seems appropriate. The places I think it is not working is when you have comments across a site generically. The Guardians Comment Is Free is not as much of a success as I think the Guardian would have liked. Many of the BBC’s weblogs though do get valuable comments.

So in fact a generalisation such as ‘switch off comments’ is not valid it does though push forward a number of smaller ideas.

Who owns the comments?
Where does the conversation take place?
How do we find the conversation?
The answers are rather simple too, the author owns the comments, it takes place on the web (now the web can extend beyond the traditional web, mobile techologies, web on TV etc.) and finding the conversation, ok its not real time yet but you can find it using Google and Technorati and other similar tools.

The quickest thing that the BBC (and similar sites that produce large amounts of content that is ripe for comment) to do would in fact be to publicise tags along with the page/programme, well that and commit to a permanent URL for an asset (and that is something the BBC is working towards quickly, every programme will have a unique URL for it).

I did these two graphics a while back, they are linked too back in the posts here on nodalpoints but I will include them here again.

Graphics that just list the suggested tags for posts etc. Just like they do for conferences now, we could have them for the channels and the programmes and sites.

It makes it easier to find the posts that discuss the content.

Beyond this there could be spaces for other services that manage your comments in a stream so that you can retain more control over them, even if they are not posted on your weblog. Maybe this is some kind of Public Service Publisher service, maybe it is something that the BBC builds.

As long as organisations get involved with initiatives like Data Portability, APML etc (and they are) then all things are possible.

There will always be projects where it is totally appropriate for comments to be right there on the site, on the page but not always and I think, the BBC at least, has a duty to start encouraging people to interact with the web away from

This is happening in many pockets at the BBC and the Social Bar is not some initiative to be taken up by the BBC or not, this is just a floating of ideas about comments and how we interact with content online. I am using the BBC as a bit of a space to try out these ideas at the moment, but my thinking (for all its flaws) is based on experience beyond this type of site.