Wednesday, March 14, 2007

BBC Jam axed

Content a jammy mess
My previous post on BBC jam slammed it as a waste of time and money. The content as appalling. It would seem that the Trustees have seen good sense and decided to pull it on 20 March. The arrangement between the BBC and suppliers was all too cosy with the wrong companies chosen to design and deliver the content. This was clear in the output (see my posts Jan and Feb 2006). Some of it was literally unusable.

Unfair competition
They have been flooded with complaints about both the content and its competition with private vendors. Ofcom obviously see it as flouting sensible rules of fair competition. The managers couldn’t handle the rules around consent and broke the rules, accelerating its downfall.

The good news is that the BBC Trustees appear to be doing their job – protecting the interests of the public. This is a victory for commons sense. So the BBC joins the UkeU and NHSU as expensive e-learning failures.


Anonymous said...

Are you bitter and twisted because Epic failed to get on the preffered supplier roster.

Yes the stuff live on the site at the moment is flawed but the content waiting to be launched is much more about what Jam was intended to be and puts the traditional publishers to shame in terms of innovation.

Anonymous said...

>> Are you bitter and twisted because Epic failed to get on the preffered supplier roster.

I would appear as such...The smug glee with which people can herald the news of a service that had 170,000 registered users being closed is macabre. Content (that fair enough, is an advance of the first round of stuff released) is apparently waiting in the wings, but could potentially never see the light of day. Which to me is the real "shameful waste of money"

diarmuidobrien said...

Good man, Don. You were on the money with that one - though obviously you weren't when the BBC awarded the contract elsewhere. Nostradonus, we should call you.

Anyways Slam-dunk-Donny, instead of dwelling bitterly, spending valuable business hours "slamming" the BBC, think of the whole episode as a lucky escape. Imagine the ire and fury of Mrs Clark if you had come home last night and told her that the bank might be soon repossessing Clark Towers because the BBC were having to pull Jam, and your contract was in threat of suspension (like all the other people working hard on making Jam a successful free resource for hundreds of thousands of kids).

But you know something, I suspect that you'd have been alright in the end Donno. A smart guy like you would make sure your arse was well covered. No legal fee would have been too big to ensure you got your slice of the tax payers money, regardless of how shitty your contribution to Jam would inevitably have been. I am sure the Daily Mail would have run a heart breaking sympathy piece on your plight. Hell, give Paul Dacre a call, why don't you. There's still time to get on page 8 telling your fellow insufferable bores about those evil anti-competitive ogres at the BBC who favoured particular private sector companies which just weren't your particular private company.

You're either outside the tent pissing in, or inside the tent pissing out, ain't that right Don-man? It clearly grates to an unbelievable extent that you were left outside the tent.

Oh, and Donster - I signed my name since I have nothing to do with the BBC, Jam or any of the companies that beat you to the punch and got a contract there. I just came across your PlanK blog and wanted to put my contempt for your pompous bitterness on the record. Your replies will not be noted.

Best of luck with the next pitch for a big slice of that public money you covet so much, Big Bad Don.

Anonymous said...

media guardian today:

Half of the £90m production budget for BBC Jam is committed to external producers.

Andrew Chitty, the vice-chair of the producers' trade body Pact, estimated that pulling the service would cost the new media production industry £20m-£30m in addition to further revenue from rights ownership.

Anonymous said...

I work on jam producing appaling and unusable content. Unfortunately I, along with many other failures, will not have a job soon, which appears to please you. Any chance of a job at Epic?

Anonymous said...

I don't work on jam, but I do work in spar.....can I have a job at epic?

Anonymous said...

Apparently the knock on effect is going to be hitting workers outside of the BBC too..,,2034632,00.html

(free registration required)

Anonymous said...

Whilst I understand your reaction to what many in the industry would have seen as unfair competition, Jam's demise is the audience's loss.

Yes the initial content was poor. On such a massive project with such lofty (and often unclear) goals, that's not unheard of. I seem to recall a few like that when I worked at Epic!

There is, however, a great deal of excellent content yet to launch. Even the worst of it is far better than the dross trotted out at BETT every year by educational publishers whose business model, let alone content, hasn't moved on since the heady days of CD-ROM.

Jam has also moved the goalposts in terms of Accessible content, and content available in Welsh, Irish and Gaelic. How many of the software houses are truly meeting those needs?

It's not just the audience who will lose out. 50% of all Jam content was supplied by external suppliers. But I reckon about 90% of all internal content was subcontracted as well. The online educational industry has done very well out of Jam on the whole.

Finally Donald, as a Scot I'd have though the waste of money would have appalled you. Wouldn’t you rather see kids benefit from £100m worth of content - or would you rather see it flushed down the drain? Rather than celebrate, I think all efforts now must go towards working out how kids can access this content, whether through Jam or not.

Anonymous said...

Dear Donald

I work in the charity sector and am trying to find a talented digitol education content supplier in London. Reading your views on BBC Jam you obviously know your stuff (I'm not techie at all!) could you please recomend someone for me?
Many thanks
Linda Damerell

Donald Clark said...

Don't shoot the messenger! It was the BBC Trustees that pulled the plug - not me.

Also, people seem to be labouring under the illusion that I work for Epic. I don't. I left in 2005, lomng before BBC Jam was launched.

My criticism of BBC Jam was based primarily on the fact that the content was appalling. I can hardly be criticised for failing to realise the worth of all of the content that hasn't been released.

My view, and the view of the European Commission, and many others in the industry, is that the BBC should not have been given this project. Subsequent events confirmed my fears. The opening programmes on French and Business were, I repeat, awful.

I actually admire the internal work on e-learning in the BBC, pioneered by Nigel Paine and now Nick Shackleton-Jones. I also like, and use, the BBC Bitesize content, despite its lack of quality control on errors (see previous post).

But there's more to this story than meets the eye.

The management of the project has clearly been lax, as the BBC have been pulled up for breaking the consent conditions given by the government and the commission. The people working at BBC Jam and the suppliers are clearly not to blame for this.

Consider also the fact that about half of the projected £150m five-year budget has been spent, but so little achieved. £75 million and what have we seen so far in terms of output?

Anonymous said...

Thats fair enough, but the Trustees pulled the plug because of pressure from sources beyond their control. Not to labour the point, yes the initial content had its shares of flaws (and to paraphrase someone above, no project that seeks to satisfy the demands of on the the fly multi lingual, highly accessible content thats produced under the microscopic scrutiny and distain from a proportion of their professional colleagues can not have flaws), but, as someone else mentioned above, the fact remains, what is happening is only damaging to the multimedia e-learning industry as a whole, and not just in terms of $. If the BBC manage to pull this out of the hat and get this content online in some other way other than the JAM brand then this would be some saving grace. The stuff that should have been launched in January, and subsequently produced content, does indeed, as anonymous says at the start of this thread, put other publishers to shame. I only hope it this point gets illustrated.

Anonymous said...

Linda Damerell>>

The entire production side of Jam project will very shortly be looking for work and posess a formidable arsenal of design and code talent. I don't think you will find a more talented group of people anywhere.

Donald Clark said...

The damage done to the e-learning 'education' business is now a sunk cost - it's happened and there's nothing we can do about it. (The corporate e-learning business will, however, be unaffected.)

Let's loook to the future. It's likely to give some spirited, small companies a chance to develop product. Many avoided this market simply because of the expected flood of free content.

I like MyMaths, SamLearning, Caspian Learning and dozens of other sites and content. This decision will boost the ability of these companies to expand, and others to grow, as venture capital will be more readily available.

Anonymous said...

"The content is appalling..."
Has anyone seen the work that Epic has done? Amazingly poor in quality - lacking in imagination, done simply on the cheapest production processes possible and designed to satisfy simply shareholders who want to maximise profit.

Very sad day when people like this gloat over the cancelling of a service that was actually dedicated to quality and learning for users, rather than paymasters...

Anonymous said...

Your assertion that the content is "appalling" is of course a subjective matter; and as such I'm going to take issue with you on it.

Maybe your narrow-minded view on educational content is the Bitesize content that you love so much - what's 2+2 Don? DING, you got it right, have a cookie.

The mission with Jam was always to try and make something distinctive and complementary to existing online and classroom educational services. Drill and Practice teaching was completely forbidden to us (yes us, I worked on a number of the commissions, and am damn proud of Maths and Financial Capability).

You try to think of an innovative way to teach a five year old the concept of addition in an online environment. The *concept* of addition, not just what adding two numbers together results in. Teachers, parents, kids, consultants were involved at every single stage of design - the kids came up with our characters with us, the kids played our games on paper, in prototypes, in alphas, betas, at every stage.

The content is bloody stunning, I won't hear a word said against it. When the EC's opinion is made public (and lets be clear for the record; it is not yet public which condition(s) BBC Jam is said to have breached) I am confident it will not be about the standard of the content.

Anonymous said...

Mmmm - how about a challenge? I think if you want to be taken seriously as a commentator on e-learning you should take more care before flippantly writing off whole products and suites of products as "appalling". For example, if you have a modern machine and a modern connection and play module 7 of The Business Studies course ("appalling" according to your last post) from start to finish, I challenge you to say it's appalling. The module culminates in a video-based interactive negotiation between Rolls Royce and it's union where you can get an incite into what each participant is really thinking throughout the negotiations. It's some of the best e-learning content I've seen and it uses video techniques that could be used for all manner of other e-learning content. It's innovative, creative and experimental. I'm sure you could make a case to say the usability could be improved or you'd put the next button somewhere else, but unless you want e-learning to stand still and remain as page-turning online text books you should stop being so biased and view these materials fairly. A lot of the best BBC jam stuff is on hold or in production, but even amongst the subject currently live there is some really innovative material that raises the bar but would never be done by e-publishing companies who are stuck in low budget, high volume mode. I challenge you to go through the 7-11 Music Resource and come back and say it's "appalling". A more reasonable judgment would be "wow, that was pretty amazing, I've not seen stuff like that before". But unfortunately you've only got this weekend to step up to my challenge!

Donald Clark said...

Does no one at the BBC have an identity?

First, I repeat, I don't work at Epic.

Second, my judgements on the content refer, as I stated, to the first batch of content and it was an unusable mess. Read another view from Professor Davies, an expert on language teaching and ICT:

Trustees don't pull £150 million projects lightly. Some things have gone badly wrong here.

I will look at the content and hope that the £75 million already spent has been worth it.

Anonymous said...

I could comment on this, but it's too much like kicking a man when he's down. And I'm not referring to 'JAM'.

By the way, Donald definitely does not work for Epic so a few of the posters' views are clearly as reliable as their comments. I've ignored those on the grounds of utter ignorance - naturally these we're invloved in JAM.

Knightime hood-lum

Anonymous said...

I support BBC Jam - My son loves it.

This complaint has come from BESA - The contact details for Dominic Savage (Director General) are - I have emailed them to complain about their complaint to Europe, and to point out that, as 50% of BBC Jam was commissioned from private companies, he is shooting himself in the foot.

The website has a list of members in the IT sector.

Anonymous said...

Those who would still like to access some of the content after the site has been taken down next week should download the 'jam pots' while they have a chance:

Anonymous said...

I seem to remember the BBC jam direct supplier list was announced in 2004, when you were still at Epic.

Donald Clark said...

2004! My goodness - it's taken 3 YEARS to produce this stuff (and £75 million).

In February 2003 19 companies providing ICT software, services and infrastructure to UK schools, colleges and universities, made a formal complaint to the Commission (I was not one of them)about the BBC Digital Curriculum.

The BBC originally asked for £170 million to provide the Digital Curriculum, but after a Government review the Secretary of State had granted £150 million.

However, the BBC were subject to Altmark conditions one of which is:

"Payments must have been set either by competitive tender or on the basis of a cost analysis for a hypothetical well-run operator."

There's no way this condition was met - look at the costs versus the output. Something stinks here - the Trustees have been forced to act quickly and ruthlessly - something has gone badly, badly wrong.

Anonymous said...

another anoymous comment, but i do still work for the BBC...and yes, I work on Jam, and yes I would agree with Donald that the content is appalling. I also think Music 7-11 is a poor quality learning resource and so I would meet the challenge and call it appalling (although the details of why is another post). In reference to external suppliers, the Music commission was outsourced, instructionally designed and built by a London-based company - there was no creative development input from the BBC. Very little content has been built inhouse. In fairness to Jam, some content currently in development is much better and some quite good - but I would also stress 'some'. From my experience of the BBC, they've taken people from TV and Radio and put them onto an online learning project. So, you have a situation where people who don't understand online, nevermind education or elearning, are being 'creative' in building an 'innovative' learning resource. No wonder some of the content is appalling. The TV background also explains the focus on linear learning content within Jam. I have worked in the elearning industry for 6 years and I've never experienced a development environment where the learning design has been so (potentially) compromised by the need to meet a 'creative' and 'innovative' criteria. And I'm not disregarding those as positive things, but I can understand why some Jam content was so bad, when the content development was so restricted by an internal short-sightedness and limited understanding of the medium. In some cases, a 'scenario' was valued above the learning content. However, I do think some of the newer content coming through was much better - although my biggest problem with this whole situation is the shocking waste of money of pulling the plug on the project. If it was released and the content is bad, the externals may not have to worry that much about competition after all.

Donald Clark said...

In this case I understand the need for anonymity. This sounds like a fair and reasoned response to why some find the content so odd. It also gives an insight into the processes adopted in the production of the content. Your diagnosis explains a lot.

Anonymous said...

Quote:"I like MyMaths, SamLearning, Caspian Learning and dozens of other sites and content."

Hmmm, sure you do Mr. Clarke. And you have absolutely nothing to do with Caspian whatsoever now, do you? Do you?

Donald Clark said...

I'm involved with Caspian Learning BECAUSE I like it. Anonymity is not my style.

And it's Clark without the 'e'!

Anonymous said...

Sorry Donal !

Donald Clark said...

I'm sure you can also spell 'banal'.

Anonymous said...

I did a lot of the ground work on the very first parts of jam - or the digital curriculum as it was then. I was alarmed to say the least when I heard the news about the service being pulled.

Looking back though, right from the word go there was a serious and acrimonious backlash from outside the public sector so there's nothing new there I can tell you.

I sort of agree with the blogger who says that too much focus on the 'creative' user has not necessarily been a good thing. Most teachers just want something high quality which is easy to use and clear in its aims. Simple.

Anonymous said...

Children are being deprived of a fantastic educational resource that has been paid for by licence fee money. With GCSE exams in one month this is not good enough, please read below and think about signing the petition.

"We are sorry to have to tell you that the BBC jam service has been suspended with effect from 20th March 2007."

Children are being deprived one of the best educational resources ever and put on a shelf by the BBC. A combination of the suspension of BBC Jam and the closure of CBBC is a disgrace.

For the:
- children, teachers, parents in school communities
- children who have to learn from home
- issues and lessons that will not be learnt
- 25 external production companies and BBC production staff involved in BBC Jam
- licence fee payers who have chipped £150 million into the resource.
- publishers who are threatend and fail to take advantage of the opportunities..

.. the message is simple.


Anonymous said...

The BBC seem to have got it right so far with the introduction of BBC revisewise and bitesize and have proved themselves so far when providing free educational resources. I found both of these websites a great help during my GCSE's and also now during my teacher training. I hope that this can be resolved soon to allow pupils to get the online help and support they are entitled to!

Anonymous said...


I'm very late on this whole thing, but then wierdly I couldn't really find anywhere to vent my spleen about £80-90M being pissed down the plug hole by spectacularly incompetent management at the BBC.

I worked on Jam for a while. The server-side platform was a nice cash-cow for Microsoft; the Flash development kit was always struggling to do anything remotely interesting; the support to suppliers was minimal at best as you had over-stressed and exhausted technical project managers giving you out of date information - when you could get hold of them.

But the worst, the worst by far, was the collective the collective lunacy that appeared to grip the producers - that what they were going to produce was wild, and innovative content that would interest children/teenagers brought up on PS3 and XBOX ... maybe those one or two in the UK who listen to Radio Four's Go For It on a Sunday evening or learn how to make dry stone walls for fun whilst singing olde English folk songs .... that was the most pathetic part of it all.