Disclaimer: As usual, this post contains my personal opinion and does not reflect that of any organisation with which you might associate me.
The other day, I had a lovely conversation with some folks from the BBC about some of their future plans. In the course of the conversation, Michael Smethurst spoke about his frustration when dealing with people involved with particular programmes at the BBC, where every single one of them thinks their programme is a “precious snowflake”, completely unique, that simply can’t be treated in the same way as all the other programmes described on the site.
Michael’s point, of course, is that TV programmes have a hell of a lot of similarities with each other. They all have episodes and cast members and may have trailers or be available on iPlayer. When the BBC models them in the same way, they gain enormous efficiencies in their ability to store and access information about programmes: they can reuse code, share content between programmes, and perform analyses over the aggregated data set. It’s great for users too: they get the same fantastic user experience no matter which programme they are viewing information about, and can apply the experience they gain when navigating pages about one programme when they need to find information about another.
The ability to classify and categorise, to bring order to what seems like chaos, to create a model of the world, is one of the things that marks humans from animals. We can look at a hundred people, with different colour hair and skin; different height and build; smiling, talking, crying, and still call them all Person because the essential characteristics that govern how we interact with them are the same.
But if there’s one thing that the last five long, hard years working with legislation has taught me, it’s that in any vaguely interesting domain, this search for order will always fall down in the face of reality.