Interoperable Content Classification

I attended EU's Safer Internet CEO Coalition on the wider use of content classification on primarily in a private capacity as I was in Brussels for another event and so the timing was very good from my point of view. My interest stems from my work between 2000 and 2008 when I worked for ICRA (Internet Content Rating Association) and it is that experience that allows me to offer some comment here as much as my current work for W3C.

I made a comment during the meeting that was recorded in the minutes but I would like to expand upon it a little.

The best classification schemes, whether offered by broadcasters or national film classification bodies, are created and maintained in response to their audience's needs. As Julian Coles showed, the BBC research made it clear that their users preferred 'long form text' to simple age classifications. In the Netherlands, the Kijkwijzer icons are widely understood and appreciated by the audience. I gave the example of the Irish Film Classification Office's consumer advice for the film Borat: 'Politically incorrect' humour and satire on a seismic scale.

Each classification is different, each is tailored to a particular constituency. Any attempt to harmonise those ratings can only diminish them.

However, an engineer will notice a lot of commonality. Age ratings are alpha-numeric codes (6, 12A etc.). Plain text is, well, plain text and so on. Films and programmes have identifiers. As far as IFCO is concerned, Borat is film 738B6DA8B82B009980257219003AFBDE, at the BBFC it's BFF227353 and so on.

My belief is that we should not attempt to harmonise classifications, but that we should make existing classifications interoperable. In that way an application, be it a Web page or a standalone App, could easily obtain classification information from one or more sources in a standard way. What that information actually was would vary depending where you sent the query, but the query could be standard and the response could be in a well understood format.

This does not mean that we should create a new standard. There are plenty of ways of doing this with existing standards and practices that developers understand well. All that is needed is for publishers of classification information to set up the APIs so that their data is available as data. That way I could build a Web page and offer classification information to my end user directly from whatever authoritative source that end user may choose.

That's the way to allow a Dutch user in Bulgaria to access Kijkwijzer information, or anyone anywhere to find more gems of consumer advice from IFCO while making developers' lives easy.