some themes emerging

August 2, 2015 by
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Updated archives

May 8, 2014 by

Well, it’s been a while since I posted here (Twitter still winning), but here’s a long overdue synopsis of some of the things my first startup, Tornado, created. I’ll be adding to this from time-to-time as I get in touch with some of the old team.

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I know it can be hard sometimes to grasp and translate ideas in a single-shot, over the phone, but this Guardian  “article” recounting their interview with me reads like it has been /auto-corrected/speech-to-text’d/ by an Engrish bot. Given it’s written in the first-person, I felt more than a little irritated by this.

So, in an effort to turn their semi-open-data into something you can read, I’ve turned the words in the article into something closer to what I actually said. I’ll try and keep as close to their format/structure as I can.

Where did your passion for open data come from?

I’ve always been involved in technology: writing software to create scientific models, analyse business data, or using the web create new services. At Jodrell Bank (the radio telescope), we were mapping large chunks of the Universe – helping to explore and understand its structure.

Throughout my career, from Jodrell Bank to AMEE (which calculates environmental impacts), I have been heavily involved in scientific modelling, data analytics and statistics (also now known as “data science”).

What their original article said:

“I’ve always been involved in technology-writing software and where that meets other disciplines, such as science and business. Working at Jodrell Bank, mapping large chunks of US feasability data – to take one extreme – was about tackling large questions around the structure and nature of the universe. In hindsight, that path – where technology meets larger questions about our surroundings – has been self-evident over my career; in Jodrell Bank, doing what would now be called data analytics, down to Avoiding Mass Extinctions Engine (AMEE), my startup company, which calculates environmental impacts.”

Comment: the idea of a radio telescope mapping “US feasibility” is quite entertaining. Never mind the spelling.

What will the Open Data Institute be doing?

We are facing some of the greatest challenges of our time. Whether social, environmental, or economic, I strongly believe that open data can act as a powerful tool to help us gain insight and act with confidence. For example, many large companies learned that simply by measuring their energy consumption (most were not), they can work out how to save substantial amounts of money and reduce their emissions. Open data can unlock insight and value.

The ODI is the first organisation focussing specifically on open data. Our vision is “Knowledge for everyone”. We are acting as a convening space for governments, companies, communities, and individuals who are already involved in this field.

Given the scale of opportunities, the ability to bring together different experts is important. We’ve seen over 700 people through our space in the last 3 months. These include NGO’s, Venture Capital firms, small business, artists, our own and international governments. To me this signifies that open data is a cultural phenomena.

I am very excited about the ODI’s potential to bring people together and catalyse innovation.

What their original article said:

“The ODI has the incredible position of being the first and only institute of its kind. We’re facing some substantial challenges – social, environmental and economic – and the institute will play a significant part in addressing those challenges, including bringing in efficiencies. For example, simply by measuring environmental impacts, 10%-20% of emissions can be saved by companies. That’s from having information in the first place – more information unlocks information.

National organisations and individuals are embracing more open data, and one potential for the institute is opening up knowledge for everyone, giving more insight across NGOs, capital venture companies, academics and so on. Cross perspectives and enabling people to learn is key. We’ve had in members of the Cabinet Office, small businesses, delegates from Asia and elsewhere – hundreds of people from all these different arenas, all interested in how we can move this agenda forward. Innovation and knowledge can affect social, environmental and economic issues – a triple bottom line, but also a very human side.

I see the Open Data Institute as an opportunity-capturing area, looking at how we can create something at scale, and I’m delighted to join in that.”

Open data – buzzword or game changer?

Open data is not new. The open web is the most successful information architecture in history, but it is not just a web of documents, it is a web of open data. In terms of timing, it feels like the mid-1990s – vast amounts of new information are about to be made available in a connected way, and the impact of this could be as game changing as the web has been over the past 20 years. This is particularly relevant as we increase our reliance on data to make decisions.

Working with world-leading experts, and the ODI’s co-founders, Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Professor Nigel Shadbolt, is an honour and their involvement signals the importance of our work.

What their original article said:

“It’s much like the web in the early 1990s. We’re at a tipping point where more and more information is available and so there’s more to unlock. I’m delighted to be working with some of the world leaders in this new movement, including Tim Berners-Lee and Sir Nigel Shadbolt. This is the most exciting thing I’ve done. Projects in the past have included building‘s early web presence, a pioneer in that space, a web-streaming business, and the last, helping to create an ecosystem around environmental data. But for me the opportunity is different. We’re in an age of data-driven decision making, with vast amounts of data. It’s huge and transformational.”

Comment: I’m not sure what the rest of my background has to do with the analysis of buzzwords. And they switched the Knighthood… (congrat’s Nigel!)

With a degree in astrophysics and a masters in electronic music, did you see yourself doing what you do now?

What I’m doing now didn’t exist when I did my degrees. In 1993, my first paid job was to review all music software on the internet. If you Google that now there are hundreds of thousands of results. I enjoy research and exploring new ideas, especially if you’re not sure what the questions are.

What their original article said:

What I’m doing now didn’t exist when I did my degree. In 1993, my first paid job was to review all music technology and, if you Googled that now, there would be hundreds of them. In hindsight, none of those things had really taken off. It’s very exciting when we don’t know what the questions are and we’re tasked with finding out what those are – and then looking for answers.

What’s your leadership style?

In order to create, we need to explore many ideas. Developing a culture where experimentation is encouraged is essential: we all need to be able fail, sometimes frequently, while we work things out.

The whole team should be involved in the design of the organisation: we are developing coaching and mentoring programmes for everyone. This will help create a strong organisation as well as help anyone in our team provide support to the companies we are incubating, and to the broader community.

One model I find interesting is the “servant-leader” model.

What their original article said:

A lot of what we do is through trial by example and error. That drives me, learning itself – and from those around me. We’re building team empowerment to help our teams make their own decisions and developing a mentoring scheme for our energy and emerging markets team. It’s about how we can best serve our teams and stakeholders. MIT is doing research on the idea of the servant leader, and that’s what I try to do.

Comment: Given leadership is the theme of their series, this was to me the most disappointing part to read

What three things would you take to a desert island?

A piano, an internet-connected laptop (if that’s allowed?) and a painting by my friend Ulyana. (

What their original article said:

A piano, an internet-connected laptop (although I’m not sure that’s allowed) and a book or a painting by one of my friends, Ulyana Gumeniuk.

Comment: Ulya doesn’t write books

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Webcasting radio = innovation

October 16, 2010 by

A big shout out to RinseFM who just got their FM license .

This is the second station I’ve helped with streaming that’s ended up with an FM license (the first was Resonance FM).

Having put Virgin Radio, Kiss FM and Classic FM streams online in the mid-90s, and then all of the regional Emap “Big City” stations online, it’s good to see webcasting acting as the catalyst for incubating, innovating,  and enabling new talent and embryonic stations to grow.

The great folks at Emap gave me this brilliant quote after we launched their stations: “I would recommend them to anyone undertaking a project involving streaming media of any size�?. The fun stuff is to flex at the small end, not the large, and see if you can flip the dial (Rinse get a substantial online audience, not that far off what Virgin Radio got in its early days of streaming – and at that time, Virgin was the most listened-to station on the web).

It’s a process that takes many, many years and doesn’t fit with any kind of funding or related creative support structure that we have. There’s definitely a need (I’ve helped dozens of community-led projects get going), but very little in the way of useful infrastructure that works without getting in the way.

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July 3, 2010 by

Building on this

two things:

1) add the cyclic patterns for every form of centralisation->decentralisation

technology | politics | finance | energy | cosmology | art | religion | etc…

2) look to see if there’s a damping factor

Are we dealing with periodicity that has diminishing amplitude?

ie. thinking in a political/government sense: do we “normalise” into the status quo – and then need a revolution to introduce a new disruptive signal?

How quickly do we get to the “right” cloud-edge balance?

Can we map the damping factor to accelerate change? (ie. reduce wastage)

If we use a large pile of sand, could we get expectations towards “sustainability”(1) moving faster?

Or am I trying to invent (another) negative entropy machine?

Or is it all just about gravity?

(1) Sustainability being defined as “measuring the rate of change of the right thing”.

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In response to

Westminster Media Forum “BBC 2016 Charter Renewal” meeting 2004-02-25 at Millbank Tower.

Inverting the Model

Working at the junction between the macrocosms of broadcasting (TV and Radio) and the internet (everything) is always stimulating. You always have to assume that you know nothing about either. Both have such different language and thought processes it’s often a leap of faith even to communicate. The only thing shared is ego size.

If Web content creators ever felt 2nd-rate to newspapers, TV or print, they are not alone. I’ve been to many “broadcasting” meetings where you can hear the radio guys explode because the TV folks just don’t acknowledge them. TV sits in its Empire with its own eyes and voice.

A lot of people have actively and tangibly been recreating the TV and Radio “distribution” over the last decade. There isn’t a good word to describe it – Broadcasting over the Internet is just a thing you can do. Webcasting, Streaming, Downloading, etc. fall into the same trap as Broadcasting (Terrestrial, Cable, Web) in describing distribution technology – none describe the medium. Unfortunately the Internet does all of them.

We are, today, at a new junction point and our BBC could be its champion.

It has built one of the most formidable and difficult to achieve reputations in the emergent globalised world: that of a trust-network.

It is the “most popular content website” precisely because of its perceived impartiality. The existence of BBC online has helped people discover the “Digital World” – to look at Britain is starting in the wrong place.

Our “unique service” captures the eyes and ears of the world. It is “owned” by the people. There is no capitalist-agenda at its core: it exudes egalitarianism, fights governments, loses, wins, but cares. Of those I’ve met who work for or with our BBC have a sense they are protecting our culture. There are notable exceptions to this, but this is not my aim here – the global public perception is of quality and “moral purpose”.

So, we are faced with change. The BBC publishes vast quantities online, and is consumed fervently worldwide. This year will see significant change – placing live on-air and archive content from both TV and Radio online, in some cases with a 7-day rolling archive.

You can visualise a day, not very far from now, where all of BBC output from all sources is available online, including the entirety of BBC archives – to a global audience, for free. However, its competition and critics are diverse and growing.

So, let’s turn the model on its head. Phase out the license fee and charge an optional online subscription fee for BBC Online. 10m people paying 33p a day recoups £1.2bn per annum. For an online service, this fee is tiny. For the BBC it has considerable worth. Some lucky subscribers also get “normal” TV and Radio transmission thrown in for free by virtue of their geographic location, and its public-access remit is upheld.

Our BBC doesn’t need to change what it makes, or why – people already come to use its archives, to watch news, trust in the communities it builds, its transparency and who it links to. It forces greater accountability and could change “how” content is made. Also, the sticky problem of UK taxpayers subsidising the rest of the world for online content goes away, or rather, turns through 180 degrees.

It can be transparent about the money raised in ways that profit-organisations cannot: publish its revenue hourly, online. Give viewers a sense of what is being made, and what their money makes achievable in real-time.

Take it further and let people influence what is funded after the base financial targets are hit – publish budgets for uncommissioned programmes and let individuals “donate until the budget is hit”. Then make the programme and release it on air, online and on DVD.

If we want a Digital Britain. If we want to catalyse the world’s thinking on globalised media and its responsibilities: use the BBC’s scale and experience, and put its direction in the hands of its global audience.

Gavin Starks
European Chairman, International Webcasting Association

Entrepreneur and Webcasting innovator, Gavin has pioneered streaming
media since 1995. He is a founder and European Chairman of the International
Webcasting Association. After helping to build Virgin Net in 1995
he created award-winning webcasting company, Tornado Productions,
selling it in 2003. He has worked at Jodrell Bank Radio Observatory,
had his music performed, and his research published, internationally.

v1.0 Gavin Starks, 4th March 2004
v0.5 Gavin Starks, 29th Feb 2004

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Internet Music Survey

January 10, 1993 by

Surveyed all the free digital signal processing (DSP) and music software available on the Internet. In those days you could – there were about 120 references to “music software” if you did an Archie search…

Early days …. funny to think that years later it’d be so relevant.

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