Rating Our First Relay Event

Relay logo

Relay is a real-time, live-blogging platform that allows journalists to easily report breaking news and developing stories from their mobile devices (note: it was formerly called Beacon). Relay is still in beta, but its user-friendly interface and sleek design has already caught the eye of HuffPoPBS MediaShift, MediaBistro and Poynter. Here we’ll take a look at our first pilot event, conducted with the Voice of America Urdu team, and grade the results.

In late September, 2013, we outlined the guiding principles behind the development of Relay. After three months of design and development time, we were excited to take Relay out for a test run! Our supremely talented VOA Urdu digital team (Urdu is the national language of Pakistan and several Indian states) stepped forward for the first pilot project to cover the death of Nelson Mandela from inside Pakistan.

Relay Mourning Mandela pilot

This photo of Pakistanis mourning for Nelson Mandela was used in our first Relay pilot with the VOA Urdu team. The card that is being viewed is highlighted in white on the bottom timeline, and the icons on each card signify the type of media–photo, video, quote, producer note, poll, Twitter highlights, and so forth.

Publishing Workflow: B+

We successfully published video, text and photo reports, as well as LiveStream video reports and Google Hangouts–all from mobile devices. In this regard, the publishing workflow functioned as planned and was successful in allowing our journalists inside of Pakistan to ‘shoot, send and go.’ They could create their content quickly on mobile devices, email it to the Relay platform and continue with their reporting.

As smooth as the publishing workflow went, we did hit a couple of snags:

  • Title character limit was too low: 100 characters for English titles suffices most of the time, but Urdu titles tend to be longer. We’ll have to adjust the character limit for future Relay pilots.
  • Photo size limit was too small: We had a 2 MB photo limit size for incoming images. One photo that hit the system was larger, so we’ll need to increase this limit as well.

One of the most interesting learning experiences of the pilot came through the Google Hangout that we had with the Urdu team in Pakistan. The Hangout began as a video Hangout, but despite our reporters being hardwired to the Internet via ethernet, bandwidth fluctuated. We were very happy to see that the Hangout technology did not allow the presentation to stall — instead, the Hangout simply downgraded the experience to audio only. It was clear from this example that there were benefits to relying on best-in-class 3rd party broadcast tools like Hangouts when working with varying connection quality.

Customer Facing Front End and Responsiveness: B+

The user was able to swipe between cards on mobile devices and click through timeline items as planned. However, we did run into a couple of presentation bugs:

  • Video loses image: We noticed that if a user plays a video and did not click pause before moving to another card, the video did not display an image when they user came back to the original card. This is a high priority fix for the next release.
  • We found another bug where text runs over the timeline interface, but only on desktop display.
  • Interface adapted correctly on Apple and Android mobile devices, although Window phones were seeing the tablet layout.

Language: B+

  • Urdu language was presented as planned, although a couple of cards reverted to left to right alignment. This is a ‘must fix’ for our next Urdu pilot
  • One card needed to be edited due to character count limits. We spent a bit of time trying to grab all the right to left aligned copy from GMail.

relay-mandela-death-pakistan

Another photo of Pakistanis mourning for Nelson Mandela from the Relay pilot with the VOA Urdu team (photo from Reuters).

User Engagement: B+

Having users alerted about updates to the stories that they care about was a key function that we wanted to be part of Relay from the start. For this first release, we programmed in the ability for users to subscribe to updates via Email alerts. The functionality worked flawlessly in our Urdu pilot, but we would like to build in the ability to subscribe for updates through SMS alerts. Be on the lookout for that functionality soon! Also, we incorporated Disqus comments into Relay so that users can leave feedback about individual pieces of content.

Timeliness: A+

All in all, we were able to publish an entire Relay presentation including a live audio interview using the Google Hangout platform with and an in-studio video stand-up in under an hour. We couldn’t have been happier with the way the Urdu team demonstrated the amount of content that could be produced in real time while using tools they already had in their back pockets.

We shot a quick stand-up with Imran Siddiqui in the VOA studio and emailed it to the Relay platform for publishing, all within a couple of minutes


Next Steps

We are looking forward to working with VOA Music on broadcasting their Roots and Branches program using LiveStream and adding extra behind-the-scenes footage on the Relay Platform. We also have a 3 week test with our VOA Spanish group in mid-January. Equally as exciting is a request from the Davanac Journalism Lab in Belgium to use the Relay platform in an upcoming Master Class in February. We’re hoping to learn from these upcoming pilots and iterate on the platform to make it even better for future internal and external users of Relay.

Want more info about Relay? Contact Randy Abramson, Director of Audio/Video products at BBG.

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Randy Abramson

Randy Abramson

Randy Abramson is the Director of Product Management and Operations for the Office of Digital & Design Innovation. Follow him on Twitter: @randyabramson.

2 Comments

  1. Son Tran Son says:

    Talk about innovation at the speed of news! Well done, this was a great first pass as a pilot. I hope others catch on to how AWESOME Relay is. I’m a live blog reader and I think Relay totally changes the game for the better. No need to sit in front of a browser constantly clicking refresh = WIN!

  2. Randy Abramson Randy says:

    Thanks, Son! We are very excited about the product. Be on the look out for our coverage of the State of the Union Address and the anniversary of The Beatles playing the Ed Sullivan show using RELAY!

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