If Web 2.0 has an asshole, Ben Metcalfe is it

The BBC’s Backstage project has taken a little flak of late for the slow way that it’s been releasing open feeds for BBC data, which – given that the project is barely a year old – is somewhat harsh. But one “enterprising” former employee, Ben Metcalfe, decided to take things into his own hands and release links on his blog and via the Backstage list to feeds of the weather data that the Beeb uses to create a customisable weather panel on the BBC News home page.

Only one problem: the BBC hasn’t released the feeds to the general public, for the very good reason that its license with the Met Office (which supplies weather data) doesn’t presently allow them to. All of which means that not only has Metcalfe likely scuppered the immediate future of those feeds (and the features that depend on them), but he’s also managed to cost the BBC – and thus the license fee payer – more money. The Met Office will, undoubtedly, use this as a bargaining chip to get more from the BBC for the eventual, inevitable feed license.

In the comments to his post, Metcalfe trots out the usual excuses that you’d expect from someone with the kind of juvenile certainty in his own infallibility that you get from too much sugar and caffeine. If he hadn’t done it, someone else would. He’s not going to lose sleep over it. And so on and so on, ad-teenagerium.

First of all, Metcalfe’s claims that he just happened to work out the scheme for the feeds rings more than a little hollow. He admits that he was closely involved in “many” meetings about the weather data, and – given his technical involvement at the BBC – it’s difficult to see how he can support his “no insider knowledge” claim.

Secondly, his posting of the feeds location and invitation to “by all means make use of this data” indicates an ego that is simply out of control. This is further evidenced by the fact that, despite his knowledge that posting the feeds would cause massive problems for his former co-workers, he simply did it anyway and, as he puts it “I’ll live with the controversey. I’m not going to loose sleep over it.”

The man is an idiot and I wish him every failure in his future career. May our paths never cross.

UPDATE to the UPDATE: It appears that Metcalfe has started modding his comments, perhaps because he was afraid of the inevitable backlash that he’s bound to get. My last comment – which accused him of basically stabbing his former employer and former colleagues in the back – hasn’t appeared on his site yet. Given that his new employer is a marketing consultancy that specialises in showing companies how “openness” is good, I find this rather surprising.


(It’s still vanished, but I’m inclined to believe that Ben isn’t modding comments. Those pesky internets!)

Ben is trying to claim, incidentally, that it wasn’t him wot dun it – it was his “edgy” alter ego “dotBen”. Perhaps the clients for his new consultancy ought to make a point of asking him who’s signing NDAs – “businessman” Ben Metcalfe, or “edgy rebel” (a little bit ooh, a little bit arrrr!) dotBen.

MORE UPDATES: Ben has now removed the offending material from his post. As he puts it:

"In general don’t feel it ‘wrong’ for someone to link to them
directly, after all they were all listed in a javascript file on the
BBC News Website (or derived by changing easily guessable paths in the
URL). That’s how I discovered them, it’s been years since I had access
to the BBC News Webservers so there was no ‘insider knowledge’ of paths
etc.

BUT yes I do admit that because I personally know the licensing position of this data it wasn’t something that I should have done.

And despite the fact that I warned on the blog post that the data
wasn’t licensed for off-site use, I take the point that it was little
irresponsible to encourage people to do it anyway. Feel free to
ridicule me on your blog posts, mash-up photos of me with egg on face,
etc etc."

Ben deserves some credit for at least admitting he was wrong. I’m still royally pissed off with him for doing it in the first place, without checking with anyone at the BBC what the status of the project to open up weather feeds was. And I’ve no doubt that it will cost the BBC money – that the way contracts work – but at least Ben’s big enough to own up that he was wrong.

  • http://2lmc.org/spool/id/5445 2lmc spool

    2006/07/27 21:13

    UK bloggers: FIGHT

  • http://joystiq.com Conrad Quilty-Harper

    Was he forced out of the Beeb by any chance? Sounds like an example of bitter former employee to me.

  • http://blogs.zdnet.com/orchant Marc Orchant

    Heh. Now you’re being characterized as an old money-grubbing geezer in his comments Ian. LOL.

    What a hoser. Well played calling him on this punk move.

  • alistair

    can I borrow some money, Ian?

  • http://benmetcalfe.com/blog Ben Metcalfe

    “the BBC hasn’t released the feeds to the general public”

    They are loaded into the front page of the BBC News website by a client-side script. A simple rumaging in the javascript returns the urls of these files.

    If something is referenced in client-side code then as far as I’m concerned that’s released to the public. If you disagree, that’s your call I guess.

    Whether it was *licensed* to the public is a different matter but I made it very clear that it wasn’t licensed.

    The rest of your post is pure conjecture (eg ‘this has cost the BBC’, etc etc). I’m really confused as to how you can assert such claims without any substantiated evidence to the effect.

    BTW: as you probably know, get called an asshole a lot… so, yes, I probably am one.

    I haven’t, however, deleted/edited any of your (or anyone else’s comments) on my blog. I’m not sure where your missing post went.

    Ian, I’m really sorry to think so little of me. There is a method to my madness, and I actually approach this with genuinely positive intentions. I’m sorry you can’t/won’t see it.

    Bests,

    Ben

  • http://www.gapingvoid.com Hugh MacLeod

    since when has costing the british taxpayer money been a problem to these people?

    crocodile tears, indeed.

  • http://www.plasticbag.org Tom Coates

    To Hugh – I think that’s rather missing the point – the BBC gets a certain amount of money in through its front door and it can only spend that amount of money. If you don’t like the BBC, then maybe it’s easier to phrase it like this – if they end up having to pay a rights holder more money in one place, then they have less money to spend elsewhere.

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    No Ben, there’s madness to your method, not the other way round. And no, it’s not conjecture: already, BBC employees have had to spend time – time that they could have spent doing other, rather more worthwhile things – and as you should know given that you’re now working in a time-billable area, time is money. What’s more, if you knew anything about the commercial area of data licensing and how it works, you’d know that you’ve undermined the BBC’s bargaining position, which the Met Office WILL exploit. In its data operations, it acts as a commercial entity and has a duty to maximise its income. It will, no doubt, seek to do so.

    But then, obviously this is “dotBen” posting, who clearly has a disconnect problem with any world except the world of geeks.

    Which brings me nicely on to Mr MacLeod’s comment. It might surprise you to learn that the majority of people working at the BBC do so on salaries less than that of their commercial equivalents. The majority of people I’ve come across who work there do so largely because they are attracted by the ethos of public service. How much public service have you ever done, Mr McLeod? Are you even familiar with the idea?

    While the BBC isn’t a shiny beacon of light (etc), and it has plenty of problems, to claim as you do that “these people” don’t care about wasting public money – and on a blog, rather than to anyone’s face – smacks of both childish pique and cowardice. It’s an easy thing, isn’t it, sneering from the sidelines pimping wine while others try and make things better for other people?

  • http://profile.typekey.com/PhilE/ Phil

    “If something is referenced in client-side code then as far as I’m concerned that’s released to the public. If you disagree, that’s your call I guess. Whether it was *licensed* to the public is a different matter but I made it very clear that it wasn’t licensed.”

    To sum up, your defence is that you did nothing at all: you didn’t release the feed and you didn’t tell anyone it was licensed. Nothing you did changed the status quo in any way. That post might just as well not have been written, for all the effect it had on anyone. What are we talking about again?

    Trouble is, you have done something (certainly lots of people seem to think you have) and it has had real effects on people (again, lots of people seem to think they’ve been affected). Either Kim Plowright et al are wrong on this one, or you are.

    I’m with Ian – there’s something very *juvenile* about this (it reminds me of ill-thought-out stunts I pulled myself when I was but a lad). To me, what the comment I quoted really means is

    “Yeah, those people may not like it, but they’re just wrong – and maybe this will make them realise that! I mean really I’m helping them!”

    Good luck with that attitude – you’ll need it.

  • http://www.quotesque.net anil bawa cavia

    Well, i haven’t read Ben Metcalfe’s original post, but i have to agree with him on one simple point:

    If your data is http addressable but not intended for the general public, then it’s your responsibility to secure that data for access by authorized clients only. If what i have read here is true, the BBC (or the MET OFFICE, i’m not sure as to the location of the feeds from this article) was already offering licensed data feeds to the general public before Ben Metcalfe wrote his post.

    It’s a simple technical point. There is nothing wrong with referring to a URL. Nothing at all.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/mashed_potatoe/ jamesb

    Sure, it may have made the BBC uncomfortable and it may *possibly* have cost them in terms of re-negotiating the license for weather data, but like Ben says, that’s conjecture. It may, if people actually did innovative things with the data, have had a good effect in showing themwhat was possible – and furthering the argument for open access to ‘public’ data [personal, non-commercial use]. That or get them to make it more secure :-P Pushing things a little has been what developers have done since day dot. Scraping data is something that happens all the time, to prove concepts. Your argument about costing the BBC money here seems a bit hollow and certainly doesn’t justify you calling him an asshole.

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    You’ll have to trust me on there being no “possibly” about it: it WILL have cost the BBC money, and significant money too. You need to remember, as Ben as acknowledged, that there’s a big difference between (say) you doing what he did and him doing what he did. And that’s why he acted like an asshole.