Many top technological advances do not come from white-coated boffins in Cambridge or Cupertino laboratories discovering something serious in a test-tube. Of course, no one can overstate the importance of hard science, but what really counts is its appliance. Sometimes, the technology has been around to do something special for ages, and then finally someone hits on the right combination of cleverness and creativity to make it happen.
Apple's iPod music player was a case in point; Steve Jobs didn't invent the technology - the hard drive, screen, memory chips and audio amplifier all existed long before it was launched back in 2003 - he just put them together in a cool looking little box with an easy-to-use software interface, designed by a normal human being (Sir Jonathan Ive) rather than a geek who doesn't get out enough...
BBC's iPlayer is another case in point. Real Networks, to name but one software specialist, had been doing streaming media players for years when the BBC had a brainwave and made a bespoke version that unlocked all those great programmes that the Corporation makes. It was a genius move in consumer terms - we all instantly understood why it was so darned handy, and how it would change our lives as consumers of the content the Beeb makes. But in tech terms it was simply the bringing together of some fancy digital databases with clever, bespoke streaming software.
Well, now the spiritual heir of iPlayer is here - Playlister. It simply and elegantly 'joins the dots up' behind the scenes, so to speak, to provide a service that we all know we want, but never really expected to get. It's a relatively simple idea, but no less brilliant for it. What Playlister does is to let you 'bookmark' music you've heard on the BBC, so you can play it back later. But here's the thing; the Beeb doesn't own the rights to every piece of music it plays, so Playlister links up to places online which do. Put simply, if you like a tune you can add it to your list of favourite music, and that list works with streaming sites outside the BBC umbrella.
Playlister is therefore a really clever linking system, that lets you access the music you like - when you want - currently via Spotify, YouTube and Deezer. Effectively, it's a twenty-first century 'record' button, but you don't have to buy a tape or a recorder. Think about it - instead of having a house full of CDs, records, DVDs and VHS videos, you get to access the great big music collection in the sky, whilst taking full advantage of the BBC's ability to introduce you to ever more of it...
Playlister harnesses the power of playlisting to bring you a vast, personalised music collection, accessible anywhere and instantly updatable. Only the Beeb could do this, because has so many radio stations and such a powerful online presence. The system works beyond this too, as it solves the problem of hearing music on the radio or TV and not knowing what it is; you can add it to your playlist as soon as you've heard it then find it later who and what it is.
And because you don't need to buy the music yourself or store it on your own device, your whole music collection is accessible online from anywhere you have internet access, across desktop, tablet and mobile computers - just log in with your BBC ID. Another bonus is the system can help you find more music that suits your taste, using the expert musical guidance of the presenters to recommend more for your playlist.
Serious amounts of logistical work must have gone on behind the scenes to integrate the Corporation's vast output with these external platforms, and I applaud the endeavour wholeheartedly. Our national broadcaster needs to be doing more of this sort of thing - using technology intelligently to make content more accessible and interactive.
Currently Playlister is in its 'beta' stage development phase, meaning it's not quite the finished article, but you can still try it for yourself and see how you get on; hopefully it will be integrated into the BBC's iPlayer Radio mobile apps soon. This is big, bold step for the Beeb then - try it for yourself, see how you go and let them know!