Building on Open Source Audio Technologies Or…Why I Still Believe in Radio

This Is OurBlock (poster)

At ODDI we’re continuously looking for new ways to reimagine how US International Media informs, connects and engages with audiences around the world. Digitally connected audiences are rapidly expanding in emerging markets across the Sahel in Africa, in Southeast Asia and throughout Latin America. But in many of these areas, traditional radio continues to be a critical source of news and information while also providing listeners with a common social experience.

With this in mind, ODDI is challenged with creating new digital products for the next generation of listeners, storytellers and community leaders around the world. OurBlock Open Source Community Radio is our first experiment in meeting this challenge. With OurBlock, our goal is to help establish, then grow, digitally connected communities while providing a platform that delivers vital news and information to an increasingly diverse and evolving audience.

ODDI’s Open Product Development

When we begin working on a new product at ODDI, we start with a set of guiding principles that help make sure what we deliver is flexible, extensible and scalable (both in capability and cost!). We want to be sure it is not only something that is highly desirable, but also possible and viable for our unique ‘clients’ and their (and our) audiences.

Innovation Venn Diagram Black

Open Product Development Principles

  •  Build on Open Source Technologies Using Web Standards
  •  Be Licensing, Vendor and Technology Agnostic Where Possible
  •  Build with an API Strategy at the Start–Portability of Data and Content is Key
  •  Be Modular and Service Oriented in our Architecture
  •  Be Adaptive in our Design — All Screens, All Devices, All Environments
  •  Be Innovative (e.g. ‘better’) by solving a unique challenge for USIM, its partners and audiences


Open Source Meets Open Radio

When (re)thinking radio for digital audiences in emerging global markets, building an open source solution that follows these principles is critical to reach the range of devices, operating systems and mobile networks found in the diversity of the communities.

Even more than the technical requirements, there was a sense the functional requirements of a next generation radio platform would also need to mirror the principles of ‘open’ and embrace the shared social experience and participatory nature of traditional radio within a community.

The OurBlock Community Radio project is an idea that was first pitched to the public during the 2012 Mozilla Festival as a way to, “Help answer the question, ‘What does our block sound like?’ Enabling individuals to come together online to create and participate in the power and passion of neighborhood community radio.” Since that time OurBlock has evolved into a new platform for USIM to build and grow an international community of digital affiliates, independent audio storytellers, local community leaders and neighborhood voices providing participants with an opportunity to share news & information, share connections and build stronger communities.

For the team at ODDI, the goal is to deliver a suite of digital services that promote rapid deployment of localized, personalized and highly social streaming audio channels in emerging markets throughout the world. For USIM and its partners, the opportunity will be establishing new networks of listeners, storytellers, newsmakers and influential leaders creating a more informed public and building stronger, more connected communities.

To achieve these goals, we’re bringing together members of ODDI’s UX, App Dev and Storytelling teams lead by Steve Fuchs, Eric Pugh and Ashok Ramachandran to deliver the following:

  • An HTML5 streaming media player for mobile devices in emerging markets built on the jPlayer.js framework and IceCast streaming server technology.
  • A custom Airtime radio playout and automation system that integrates with the BBG’s Direct service for improving USIM content distribution to digital affiliates.
  • Integration of Airtime with SoundCloud, Dropbox and IVR solutions to allow independent producers and community members to contribute audio content directly.
  • A custom drupal-powered publishing system that supports continuous and on-demand streaming, community contributions and real-time social engagement.
  • A digital marketplace to promote station discovery, content sharing and community building.


Are You a Developer or a Designer Who is Passionate About Community Radio?

Building with open source solutions from jPlayer, Sourcefabric and Drupal on our highly scalable Amazon Web Service infrastructure is ODDI’s first step toward building a platform of complimentary services for traditional affiliates and new digital-first partners. Staying within our ‘radio framework’ of open collaboration and shared participation, the team is building the OurBlock platform in the open and looking for developers and designers to join us on this project. If you’re passionate about community radio, building shared experiences on digital platforms (or know what LiquidSoap is), please join us by going to our GitHub page where you’ll find the OurBlock project.

We’ll be blogging more about our progress as the project continues and look for your feedback in the comments. For real-time updates about OurBlock and other digital community radio work–follow us on Twitter: @thisIsOurBlock.


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Adam Martin

Adam Martin

Adam Martin is the Director of Innovation for the Office of Digital & Design Innovation at the BBG. Follow him on Twitter: @adamjmartin

1 Comment

  1. Son Tran Son says:

    I like your diagram of the innovation sweet spot. We shall now refer to it as the Martin Model!

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