Last week saw the culmination of one of the UK’s most popular TV shows – Britain’s Got Talent. The way in which this show over five series has captured the attention of the British public is quite incredible, with the majority of popular media outlets dedicating significant space to the contestants, the judges, rumours about the format and speculation about who would win.
Such coverage and excitement means that Britain’s Got Talent drives audience and voter engagement to levels that politicians must dream about. Of course there are many ways that the show makes sure it gets our attention, not least of which is having hours of live coverage on prime time television, but, the talented team behind the show are also using many techniques to encourage deeper engagement for a modern audience.
Take for example the Buzz Off game. This is a game with which viewers can play along while watching the show to ‘buzz’ the acts that they don’t like using a mobile or web-based application. The buzzes are stored with a running total kept and shown per act on the website, so that the audience goes from being an passive viewer to an active participant in the show. The Buzz Off game is developed by Livetalkback for the Britain’s Got Talent Team and recently Malcolm Box, CTO of Livetalkback explained to a group of London big data enthusiasts some of the challenges in building and designing an application that is required to scale to almost Facebook like proportions for a short period of time. The full presentation is below, but for convenience some of the key points are:
- The volume of traffic being handled by the Buzz application during a two hour live show is equivalent to 130 billion requests per month – excluding Google, this would put the application as approximately the 2nd largest website in the world behind Facebook.
- To manage this scale, the application is based on Ubuntu Server, MySQL and Cassandra all hosted in the Amazon Public Cloud
- The service uses hundreds of instances that must be brought online very quickly as additional capacity is required and then released as the load declines after the show.
Malcolm and the team at Livetalkback have done an incredible job to put this together in a short space of time and have it work reliably throughout this year’s programme. A cloud-based approach made perfect sense for an application with such specific scaling requirements, and it was vital that the application scaled not only technically but financially as well. This is where Ubuntu on Amazon really proved its worth – customers pay for the resources they use and there are no license fees or royalties to worry about when bringing up new instances. It is the type of efficient driving of engagement that once again Government departments must be in awe of.
Which brings us onto the Cabinet Office. The UK Government is looking for ways to provide cost effective online systems that drive audience engagement. Recently there have been signs that there has been progress through the Alpha.gov.uk project led by Martha Lane Fox. Alpha.gov.uk is a prototype site that demonstrates how digital services could be delivered more effectively and simply to users through the use of open, agile and cheaper digital technologies. It is only a prototype at the moment but it is significant in that it has been quickly put together and delivers exactly what it is supposed to do in a cost effective way. So how did they do it? Well they decided on a similar architecture to Livetalkback – Open source software based on Ubuntu Server in a public cloud. Full details of the technology used is at:
British tax payers will take heart form the knowledge that someone in the Cabinet Office is looking at this and hopefully wondering why more Government services can’t be delivered like this. When it comes to engaging an audience and encouraging interaction in a cost effective way, Britain’s Got Talent and the Cabinet Office now have more in common than you’d think.