As well as being a key part of the BBC's DNA project from 1999-2002, I worked at the BBC as a freelance client-side developer on the BBC Learning Zone Clips site in early 2007. This site comprises a database of video clips from the BBC archives, all of which are searchable via a database-driven website. The site is aimed at teachers, so each clip comes with a large amount of metadata, such as a list of possible uses in the classroom, and details on which curriculum stages are relevant to each clip.
Working in the Interactive Factual and Learning department, I took the Photoshop files provided by the designers and produced a fully working, database-driven website in less than two weeks, using a set of proprietary technologies that I had never seen before. The BBC was expecting this job to take seven weeks, so as a result of my speedy implementation, I had time to develop a number of additional tools that were originally slated for a future development phase.
The main addition was a metadata tool that enables clips to be sent out to specialist teachers. They can then view the clips on their own machines, and can fill in a metadata form that is then submitted back to the BBC, so their metadata can be incorporated into the database. I built in a save mechanism, so teachers can save any metadata they have entered and can come back to finish it off later, making it much easier to fit metadata activities around a busy working day.
I also wrote an internal reporting tool for use by the site's editorial team. This replaced a rather unfriendly Access form with a much slicker web interface, enabling the team to be much more efficient in their processing, a prime concern when the intention is to add 500 new clips every month.
The site is currently only accessible from within the BBC, while the amount of content is grown. The site should be launched later in the summer.
Expertise in BBC Proprietary Technologies
During this project I coded up sites and internal tools using a wide range of proprietary BBC software, including the following:
IFL::Template: The Learning Zone Clips site is based on the Interactive Factual and Learning department's templating system, which allows dynamic pages to be built with relative ease, but within a reasonably restrictive framework.
Queryengine: This Perl-based script provides a controlled and scaleable interface to backend databases. I used Queryengine to talk to both the MySQL database for the live site, and the internal Oracle database used by the editorial team to publish the site.
Showrecord: This script is optimised for displaying single records from a database, and I used it to display individual clips from the Learning Zone Clips database.
Sendemail: This script is, not surprisingly, for sending emails, and I used it to control two-way communication between the BBC and the teachers using the metadata tool.
IDStore: This system enables keyed hashes to be stored on the server, and it proved particularly useful for storing the state of teachers' metadata activity, enabling them to save their work and come back to it later.
Within a day of starting work at the BBC, I had read the documentation for the above tools, and had already started using them in earnest. Given that the BBC had allocated the whole of my first week to learning about their proprietary technologies, this meant we were ahead of schedule from day one, and were not only able to meet all the project's deadlines, but to add a number of features to the initial phase that were not in the original plan.