Jonathan Drori former TV producer, director of Culture Online and self confessed fiddler

14th May 2004 at 01:00
Ten years ago, Jonathan Drori's television programmes made compelling viewing for anyone excited by the arrival of the web. Today Drori is still on a mission to compel and engage audiences - and the former TV producer has just overseen a web project which presents viewers with a blank screen as part of a "wonderful experience".

Drori is director of Culture Online, the technology arm of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. The screen appears in The Dark (www.cultureonline.gov.uk projectsdark.asp), a thought-provoking sound installation which plunges visitors into darkness, where sound provides the only aid to navigation.

Drori is no stranger to bold technology initiatives. In a distinguished career at the BBC, he was responsible for setting up some of the Corporation's first online services, including groundbreaking educational resources.

Drori first discovered the power of ICT in 1974, when he began building computer programs as a teenager at school. He and his classmates programmed on punched cards, which were sent to London's Imperial College to be run on a computer. "The following week we would receive the results, which would inevitably have bugs, and after three weeks the program might be able to convert Centigrade to Fahrenheit," he says.

In the early 1980s he joined the BBC as an electronics graduate, and went on to work as a director on programmes such as Tomorrow's World and a series called Welcome to My World, which looked at what life might be like in the early 21st century if predictions about technology were fulfilled.

"It made me think a lot about the future of computers and communications," explains Drori.

His thoughts crystallised when a friend at the National Physical Laboratory invited him for a demonstration of Mosaic, the first web browser to be designed for the everyday user. His friend said: "Jonathan, this is going to change the world. If I were you, I would make a TV programme about it."

Drori pursued the idea with a couple of colleagues, producing a series called This Multimedia Business. At the same time he began to set up some of the BBC's first websites. "All the people doing this kind of thing were programme makers with an engineering or physics background," he says. "We were born fiddlers, not scared to try things out and have a go."

As executive producer of a further high-tech series, The Net, Drori had "licence to experiment on a grand scale", setting up an online chat room to accompany programmes and exploring the potential of interactive television.

In 1996 he was appointed the Corporation's head of digital media and learning channels, establishing groundbreaking educational services such as the Bitesize online resources for GCSE revision. Three years later he became editorial director for all the BBC's online services other than news and current affairs.

"The internet made a perfect match with education," he explains. "Education and interactivity go hand in hand - you are trying to guide people to resources, enable them to communicate, engage them with an argument and help them do or create things."

In 2002 Drori took up his post at Culture Online, where he began commissioning free online projects to attract new audiences to culture and the arts. Current commissions range from Backstage, a curriculum resource which captures the excitement of the theatrical production process, to ArtisanCam, which links schools with artists at work in their studios.

"Everything we do has a link to the real world - people doing real things, not just sitting in front of a computer screen," says Drori.

"We exist not as a culture portal for the nation, but to bring people together to produce exemplar projects which will provide examples and knowledge that we can disseminate to the rest of the industry."

www.cultureonline.gov.uk

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