we write about the things we build and the things we consume
Tom McAdam

personal, not personalised, recommendations

Following in the footsteps of Rita and Romain, today I’m going to write about my talk at #MetaBeers last month: Personal, not personalised, recommendations.

It was inspired by an email I got a few days earlier from a friend, from whom I often get such mails, entitled “Watch: Hour to Save Your Life”, with a one-liner in the body telling me why I should.

It was a timely reminder of the type of recommendations I value: personal, directed ones from friends who know my tastes. So then I got thinking: how easy do various sites make it to let people share content in a one-to-one fashion.

First stop: iPlayer, given it was something on iPlayer that instigated this whole thing. Firing up the app on my iPad I looked, longingly, for a “Share” button. Nothing. Ok, so what about the website? Ooh, a “Share this page” link. Interesting. Let’s see what that does:

Sharing options on iPlayer

Oh, so I can share it in a number of places but only publicly. Oh well.

What about our friend Netflix? Well, things look a little more hopeful to begin with. The iPad app has a “Recommend” option which, quite helpfully, lets me select Facebook friends (if I’ve connected the accounts, of course).

Wonderful! But what does that send? A private message like this:


That’s an odd-looking URI there. Where does that go? Well, if you’re logged in, after a couple of redirects via some tracking APIs, you finally get to the programme. But what if they person you’re sending to doesn’t have Netflix? This:

Netflix login page

Well that’s not very nice, is it? So all is fine and dandy if I want to send a recommendation to a friend who has a Netflix account, but I better keep a list of friends with Netflix accounts so I know who this works for. Sigh.

what do i want?

Given URIs are really quite useful, all I’m asking for for starters is an easy way to send a URI via that transport that’s everywhere: email. Email is a good start since it is everywhere, but Twitter DMs, Facebook messages, anything else you want to add is fine. Simple.

but there’s more

It need not stop there, though. Atlas is very good at telling you about a piece of content, and the various places it’s available from. Give it a URI for a piece of BBC content, and it’ll respond with where you can find it. So a request along the lines of

will ask it for all the locations The History Boys is available at. Now if the API key I use has Amazon Prime Video enabled, through the power of Atlas’ equivalence engine, I’ll have returned to me both the iPlayer URI, now expired, and an Amazon Prime Video URI. Here’s an abridged portion of the response:

"locations": [
        "availability_start": "2015-05-23T00:55:00Z",
        "availability_end": "2015-06-22T00:55:00Z",
        "available": true,
        "available_countries": [
        "duration": 6480,
        "network": "wifi",
        "platform": "ios",
        "restriction": {
            "message": "Contains very strong language.",
            "restricted": true
        "signed": false,
        "subtitled": true,
        "transport_type": "link",
        "uri": "http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01shmjd",
        "video_aspect_ratio": "16:9",
        "video_bit_rate": 1500000,
        "video_horizontal_size": 640,
        "video_vertical_size": 360
        "available": true,
        "available_countries": [
        "currency": "GBP",
        "duration": 6720,
        "high_definition": true,
        "price": 599,
        "restriction": {},
        "revenue_contract": "pay_to_buy",
        "uri": "http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00NJ1CX8O/",
        "video_aspect_ratio": "16:9",
        "video_horizontal_size": 1280,
        "video_vertical_size": 720

How could this be used? In one of a few ways:

  • Mobile app: people could install a resolver app which registers to listen to content providers’ URIs, and then looks up from Atlas on-the-fly, redirecting them according to their preferences and the availability of content. The downside is that the app needs to be installed, so there’ll be a very low take-up
  • Instead of sending a link to their own platform, sites send links to a media router service https://mediarouter.org/?uri=http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/..... Again, people can set their own preferences on where they wish to be redirected to, but in return for platforms using the router, it would prefer the platform if content is available and if the person has access to the site. The obvious downside here is that it requires the buy-in from platforms. Platforms would benefit by having traffic directed to them that may not otherwise come their way, and guarantees could be made about balancing traffic between sites.


I’ll quite happily settle for just being able to send URIs in private to friends from apps. Integrating the wealth of data in Atlas would be an added bonus.

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