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First Look: BBC trial of Eyewitness service


The Creative Future paper published by the BBC earlier this year described an idea for a  new service called Eyewitness that would build a "national grid" of memories of historical events over the past 100 years.

Now I think Open can offer you perhaps your first look at the service in the shape of the service to come in the experimental The Time When.

I understand that if this is judged successful, a service like this could become a community of memories and eyewitness accounts running across many BBC websites. I would imagine that the approach would lend itself well to many of the BBC's news, sports and music sites for a start, with people chipping in reviews and personal reactions to events.

The Time When is in development and may change a lot - it may never be launched as it stands - but it already looks like pretty compelling to me as a standalone service and also as a way of increasing participation in bbc.co.uk.

The memories already in there range from an account of someone arriving at the scene of the Tavistock Square bus bombing last July 7th, their mundane commute suddenly a horror, to someone recalling Mrs Thatcher coming to power when they were five. The most popular date is 31 August 1997, when Princess Diana died. Dates and entries are cross-referenced to Wikipedia, which gives useful access to background reference information around a personal account of an event.

It's quite pleasant browsing memories like this, it reminds you of where you were when these things happened and you feel strangely drawn to the "does this remind you of something" link at the foot of each mail.

It's possible to join in on the trial by registering, so I added one of my own, about millennium night, and it felt quite nice to do, like telling a favourite story, you get to re-live it as you're doing it in effect. A bit like writing a micro-chunks of a memoir - different to blogging or anything else really.

It will be interesting to see how the beta pans out - I like The Time When - but its also clear that the application could be used in all sorts of ways - I guess some bright spark there is already mashing it up with Google Earth or some such so the memories can start to hang out in space as well as time, as it were.

According to the website, if you do submit memories they won't be lost in any transition to a final service in future:

Eventually we hope that a version of this site will be available on bbc.co.uk, but to test the idea, we have developed this prototype for a limited period. Please note that the prototype site may not be accessible at all times.


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wow - how easy would it be to get lost in this site, both reading other people's accounts and thinking of my own. I'll certainly be contributing to it!

thanks for sharing the site antony.

Cheers, Louise - nice to have you commenting and glad you enjoyed the link...

I also thought the way they get you to tag the memories with location could be really useful for mapping the memories onto a map. Imagine a picture of the UK that you could slice down by year and see all the memories from the year glowing.

That would be excellent - hopefully that's a plan in the pipeline.

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