Innovation @ BBG » General Fri, 20 Nov 2015 18:47:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Usability Research aims to create a better Radio Free Asia website Fri, 20 Nov 2015 16:07:16 +0000 Xi Rotmil

Every time a person has a great experience with a website, a web app, a gadget, or a service, it’s because a creative team made crucial decisions about both design and implementation—decisions based on data about how people interact with a computer interface.

During August, September and October of this year ODDI and Radio Free Asia collaborated on an in depth user experience review of the the RFA desktop and mobile websites.

Radio Free Asia broadcasts domestic news and information of specific interest to its listeners in China, Tibet, North Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Burma.  All broadcasts are solely in local language(s) and dialects.

Remote testing sets the stage.

ODDI used the CrazyEgg platform to get an overview of user behaviors during the month of August. 15 pages were followed for a total of 150,000 impressions. This allowed us to see where people were clicking, and where they were not. We also got an idea of how many people scroll down the pages and where most people stop. Finally testing allowed us to see where those users are coming from to begin with, and who clicks on what the most!

Remote testing gave us an overview of users interaction with the pages, and where some follow up with in-person testing might be useful.

From there ODDI:


We sat down with the RFA team and agreed on the test objectives, the questions used in the test, and characteristics of the people who will be trying out the design.


Radio Free Europe provided an excellent partitioned room. Video and audio was delivered from the testing room to the observer’s room via network connections.


The best place to perform these kinds of tests would be in the target countries. Since travel and recruitment would be prohibitively expensive, we sought out English as Second Language students at local universities.

Most of our participants did not know anything about the site prior to the test, and we are grateful for their fresh and valuable insights.

We recruited six participants to test the Chinese Web site and six participants to test the Chinese Mobile site: they were screened to be:

·         Native Chinese speakers

·         Very active news seekers when in China – especially those who visited blocked sites

·         Particularly interested in sensitive Chinese domestic news

·         All under 30

We also recruited six participants to test the Vietnamese Web site and six participants to test the Vietnamese Mobile site: they were screened to be:

·         Native Vietnamese speakers

·         Very active news seekers when in Vietnam ­‑ especially those who visited blocked sites

·         Particularly interested in sensitive Vietnamese domestic news

·         All under 30

The final group, while adhering to the screening parameters mentioned were an interesting mix of backgrounds, including students majoring in electrical engineering, environment science, computer science, applied math and information technology, who also displayed a range of feelings and reactions to the website.


In the test materials, we included specific background and warm up questions to ask, prompts for follow-up questions, tasks, as well as closing, debriefing questions that we want to ask each participant and an evaluation survey.



Each session was videotaped with one camera attached to the phone to record the user’s taps and gestures while a second one was focused on the user’s facial expressions. Observers in a separate room watched the live video feed and took notes.

We used software called Morae for in-house UX testing on tablets and mobile phones. Morae allows us to capture video — with more than one camera angle — and record scoring as we go. Having video of a participant’s hand movements allowed us to do a more accurate and thorough analysis of how they reacted during certain tasks. Also, since it was in-person, we asked follow-up questions immediately after a task to find out why a participant might have been confused about a task.

We also had a team of people from Radio Free Asia, who were observing the tests in a separate room and participated in the test by asking questions through Morae’s chat window at the end of each session.

The tests consisted of a detailed hour-long interview in English with a subject using his or her phone. After a short introduction, the user was asked to perform 9 tasks on the RFA mobile site. These questions and tasks were videotaped and timed (through Morae) to assess the ease with which the user could interact with the mobile site.

Participants were told they would be videotaped and asked to sign a photo release.

After an initial introduction and discussion of web news, each participant was read a set of instructions. The tasks were given to each participant one at a time on separate sheets of paper.  He or she was asked to read each task out loud before attempting to interact with the website. Mobile users were asked to bring their own phones and used them in the test.

The tests were administered in English, but each participant engaged with the website in their native language.

A native speaker in Mandarin or Vietnamese was on hand if the participant had trouble putting his or her views into English. About half the participants took advantage of this option. Some particularly taciturn participants were debriefed in their native language to ensure the test team was getting all of the results and not suffering from a language gap.

Participants were not coached by the moderator. When something did not go well, they were asked to assess the website and offer advice on how the user experience could be improved.

Occasionally at the end of a task the moderator revealed what should have happened, and asked the participant how the website could be improved.



At the end of each session, the moderator asked: “How’d that go?” Also, we invited observers from RFA to pass follow-up questions to the moderator or to ask questions themselves. We also prepared an evaluation survey for participants to fill out.


When we looked at those observations after the test, the weight of evidence helped us examine why particular things happened. From that examination, we developed theories about the causes of frustrations and problems. After we generated these theories, RFA team members can later use their expertise to determine how to fix design problems.


The quality of design is an indicator of credibility. 

Our overall suggestion is to refine and redesign the site. Three users mentioned that RFA’s website looked like a blog or Facebook page, and they doubted its trustworthiness for that reason. Our tests show that elements such as layout, consistency, typography, color and style all affect how users perceive a website.

In addition, the RFA design is three years old and needs to be updated. Among the changes that research suggested:

  • Refine typography and visual hierarchy to be easier to read for mobile first, since this is the most challenging device to design for.
  • Add timestamp to news articles.
  • Create a shorter page, heatmaps show 50% of users are only viewing 25% of the current page.
  • Icons and text do not have sufficient touch/clear area for touch screens on smart phones.
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The illustrated stories of women struggling for human rights Wed, 01 Jul 2015 17:31:32 +0000 Xi Rotmil Earlier this year, the Office of Digital Design and Innovation (ODDI) collaborated with Radio Free Asia and created  “It’s not Ok” – a collection of portraits of Asian women caught in the struggle for human rights in their communities, some willingly, others forced by circumstances.

ODDI UX studio head Steve Fuchs and senior designer Brian Williams were invited to illustrate the stories of these women.

“We wanted to create a series of distinctive portraits, using a variety of mediums and techniques. This goal was rooted in both the desire to treat each story as unique as well as the practical limitations of using the available reference photos and videos,” Steve and Brian wrote in the Artist Statement.

To know more about the creative process and details of this project, we interviewed both Steve and Brian.

Why did you use illustrations instead of photos?

Steve: For some women we found an abundance of photos documenting their public struggles, for others we found virtually no visual reference, as they struggled alone.

Also, rather than just having a photo, I think the illustrations can be more engaging.



Steve: Capturing the essence of a person from a video or few photographs, is a challenging prospect. When the subject of your portrait is a part of a larger narrative, the project becomes even more daunting.

Brian: As Steve mentioned, one challenge was the limitations of what we had to work with. Some of these women are really well-known human rights activists, so they’ve been extensively documented and there are some really great reference photos that we were able to find. But other women are not well known. They really don’t have any photograph or reference. So how do you draw a portrait of someone without knowing what they look like? Or if you do have a photograph of them, it’s such a tiny one that you can’t see their face. That was definitely the case with Jiao Xia. So it was more about illustrating the scene from a story where she was protesting.


Jiao Xia paid the ultimate sacrifice, divorce, for the love of her husband.


Steve: For this project we used a variety of mediums: pen and ink, watercolor, pastel, scratchboard, pencil, and computer to not only reproduce a likeness, but illustrate an individual story of courage.


Work in progress.

Brian: we wanted each of the portraits to be different, and unique. So we just kind of pushed each other to come up with new solutions, to find new ways to draw the portrait.


How do you and Brian go about drawing a character? Is it a combined effort?

Steve: We looked at each other’s sketches making suggestions, it was very collaborative.

Brian: A lot of times, for illustrations you kind of work in a black box where you don’t get a lot of feed backs. And in this case, because we were both partnering on illustrations, it was really nice to be able to bounce ideas off, to do some sketches.

Steve: We tried to do as many different styles as we could, because each case is different.

After we did these initial sketches, we ran them by the individual language bureaus at RFA, because there are some cultural contexts, and cultural sensitivities that we do not know. For instance, the portrait I did for a Tibetan woman, I had it done in a Tibetan painting style, and turned out it is very offensive. The Tibetan’s feel their culture and art has been monetized and exploited by the Chinese. I toned it down, and took the illustration a different direction.


How long did the whole process take?

Steve: We made 12 drawings and it took six weeks in total.

The second edition, which is made for the International Women’s day, is more compressive because of the deadline. It took us three weeks.


What’s your favorite piece?

Dechen Pemba makes sure that Tibetan voices not heard inside China can be heard online.

Dechen Pemba makes sure that Tibetan voices not heard inside China can be heard online.

Steve: My favorite is the Tibetan woman Dechen Pemba. She really liked it and used it as her Facebook profile picture. As I said, because of  cultural sensibility, I had to change the original drawing. In the end, because we worked with the RFA Tibetan Service, we got something better.

Gao Yu is a veteran journalist in China who has been repeatedly imprisoned but never silenced.

Gao Yu is a veteran journalist in China who has been repeatedly imprisoned but never silenced.

Brian: I really like the one I did for Gao Yu. On this one, I know I want to do one that is more collage based. Sort of cutting out shapes and then putting them together, I started with the portrait. Because she’s a writer, so I put the keyboard there.

What’s next?

Steve: What we are hoping to do after this is to do something that moves. RFA has a project going forward on human trafficking. We are hoping to do some 30-second animations for that.

Brian: They’ve hired a team of documentary journalists to produce a series of video, and we are trying to take excerpt from the interviews, and produce a series of animations – something that hopefully will help pull people into the story through social media and from there they’ll see the longer documentary.

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Meerkat, Periscope and the Gamification of Live Streaming Mon, 27 Apr 2015 17:23:00 +0000 Randy Abramson Periscope and Meerkat are barely months old and they have already become the ‘platforms to most likely to replace your TV/browser/mobile stream/favorite YouTube channel.’ Why have these platforms grown so quickly? Because the streams are personal and interactive, but most of all, the entire experience is fun. Live video streaming is nothing new, but pre-Periscope/Meerkat streaming was far from a ‘fun’ experience, neither for the people shooting the live stream (which required a decent amount of configuration and prosumer equipment, at the very least) or for the viewer who passively watched streams with the exception of those that included chat modules that often competed with the stream for your attention. Periscope and Meerkat are easy to use for both the shooter and viewer and the entire experience has addictive game-like qualities for everyone involved. Here are the fun gamification challenges for both the viewer and streamer:

Gamification for the stream shooter:

Can I pack a room?
On Periscope, after a certain number of people join your stream, new viewers get a ‘room full’ message that blocks them from using the chat feature. This is frustrating for the viewer, but it reaffirms that the host can draw a crowd.

Can I keep up with the comment stream?
Watching someone like Jack Smith IV (@JackSmithIV) of the on Periscope can be exhausting. Users continuously fire questions at him, personal and work related and Jack attempts to answer each one, alternating between brash opinion, keen insight and snarky defense, all while continuously smoking cigarettes.

Can I get keep the hearts flowing?
On Periscope, when users see things that they like, they tap on the screen and hearts float up the side to show their approval.

What’s my score on the Leader Board?
On Meerkat, each broadcaster is assigned a score and the app displays a Leader Board that shows rankings. Time spent on Meerkat and the number of viewers you have impact the score.

The Meerkat Leader Board – the ultimate in live stream gamification

Can I get all followers to do what I ask them to?
Once you have a loyal fan base, is it possible to get viewers to read an article of yours, follow you on Instagram, share your website URL, etc.?

Can I get more followers by broadcasting?
Ultimately, increasing your number of followers is the most addictive part of Periscope and Meerkat. If you missed out on getting a big following on Twitter, you get another shot with these new platforms.

Can I get my stream featured on the Welcome page?
It’s not clear yet on how Periscope or Meerkat is featuring streams on the screen users see when they launch the apps. There will be a future where getting your stream promoted on the Welcome page of the app will be worth as much as page 1 results in Google.

Gamification for the stream viewers:

Can I get into a room before the chat room is at max capacity?
If there is a celebrity broadcasting on Periscope, you better get there early if you want your question answered!

Can I get my comments answered?
Even if you get into a stream’s chat room, you still need to say something interesting enough for the host to acknowledge you.

Can I get the streamer to do what I ask or show me something?
One of the most popular requests on Periscope is ‘Show me what’s in your fridge?’ Enough said.

Can I make the host stay on longer?
Often the host will say they have to get going, but an interesting question can keep them on the stream.

Can I rattle or stump the host?
This can lead to either hysterical laughter or flat out disgust, depending on the question and temperament of the host. Either way, the questions are embedded in the video for all to see.

But What Does All This Have To Do With Journalism?

Both of these platforms are still young and we’re starting to see various news outlets experiment with the tool. Some broadcasters are doing quick, informal recaps of trending stories and a handful of anchors have set up streams of their broadcasts in real time. There have been some breaking news stories on Periscope, but those broadcasts are competing for eyeballs with the intimate ‘ask me anything’ sessions that Jack Smith IV or billionaire Chris Sacca broadcast on a regular basis. Chris and Jack have mastered the gamification points listed above and audiences keep coming back for more. As a journalist for the Observer, Jack Smith has been keen to interact with his fans on a personal level, but he also makes mention of his digital work on the Observer site, Instagram and other platforms. He says that the Periscope fans have been anxious to consume that content and have been passionate sharers of his work.
Jack Smith
@jacksmithIV has found a regular following on Periscope by broadcasting daily

When you try to cover hard news with Meerkat and Perisocope, you get something that is interactive first, broadcasting quality second. Video is shot in portrait mode only, comments obscure the view of your broadcast and the user is free to float hearts (on Periscope) and unfiltered comments up the side of your video, even during the most downtrodden of events. There are other streaming tools that journalists should explore. StringWire, for example (a NBC owned app), allows for multiple mobile device input, landscape shooting and a mixing console where a producer can control the view of what users see and download clips for editing. StringWire is an incredible piece of broadcasting technology, but the interactive components of Meerkat and Periscope are absent in their early version release. StringWire is more about showing the news. Meerkat and Periscope audiences become part of the news and if they are winning ‘the game,’ the broadcaster might actually let the audience drive the camera views and the broadcast itself.

As a viewer, I’m drawn into Periscope and Meerkat streams that I would normally not seek out through Google search. I can sit shotgun with a parasailor or watch the bustle inside a Swedish restaurant kitchen. Hard news has always competed with whimsy for attention, but the number of cameras on the ground has just increased tremendously. News organizations will have to engage with viewers and build trust and allegiance in a way that they’ve never had to do before. As the young kids say, Game On!

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“Direct” Content Distribution Site Redesign Fri, 30 Jan 2015 16:14:16 +0000 Doug Zabransky Easier Navigation with Expanded Content Offerings

Direct is a content distribution website for affiliates and digital partners of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).  Content offerings are from all  BBG broadcast networks;  the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), Radio and TV Martí, Alhurra, and Radio Sawa.   Audio and Video content is aggregated within 60 languages across all BBG brands.

January, 2015 Release Notes

Portal Home Page Redesign

Drive customers to content with prominent Login and Register buttons and the language selection menu with in-language translations.


Secondary Language Page Navigation Added

Redesign above compared to old site pulls banner out of top navigation and narrows top navigation bar.

Find content by Clips, Audio, Video, 720p (HD) and a new programs dropdown menu.  Secondary Navigation is highly customizable by language service with localization support.   The Search box was moved from the top navigation to the secondary navigation justified right.

Left Navigation Grouped by “Featured” and “Filter By” Blocks

Featured and Filter By Navigations are customizable.  Language Services can add or remove elements within the navigation blocks.   Also, Filter By elements have been grouped together with the addition of the Program “faceted search” menu.

Choosing any category within the “Filter By” block will now render only the filtered or faceted search navigation.  If for example, Network “RFE/RL” is chosen only RFE/RL results will be rendered returning only the Filter By navigation.

Television Broadcast Schedule Can be Customized, Reflects Updated Satellite Information

TV Satellite Listing Errors have been updated to reflect the correct names and virtual Satellite channels.   Satellite downlink frequency and coordinate information includes standard Satellite names (Internal names removed) with anchor links on the following page:


Added Video Heights to Video Download Links Menus

Now links show heights like high definition sizes 1080p and 720p or standard definition heights 480p.




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“Unsettled” wins the W3 Silver Award for Mobile Applications Mon, 17 Nov 2014 15:27:39 +0000 Xi Rotmil The VOA News mobile application “Unsettled” has been selected as a winner for the 2014 W3 “Silver Award.”w3winner_silver_wht

W3 Awards honor creative excellence on the Web, and recognizes the creative and marketing professionals behind award winning websites, web video and online marketing programs. The W3 is judged by the Academy of Interactive and Visual Arts — an invitation-only body consisting of top-tier professionals from acclaimed media, interactive, advertising and marketing firms. The awards this year attracted more than 4,000 entries across the five award categories.

The application “Unsettled” presents the triumph, tragedy and contradictions of the immigrant experience through a multimedia exploration of history and economics. The app features interactive charts, maps, info graphics, audio clips, stills, and a U.S. naturalization quiz.

It also includes over a dozen exclusive video clips featuring intriguing interviews with: Mae Ngai, author of The Lucky Ones: One Family and the Extraordinary Invention of Chinese America, and the Lung Family professor of Asian American Studies and professor of History at Columbia University; Bryan Caplan, professor of economics at George Mason University and blogger for EconLog. The New York Times named his first book, The Myth of the Rational Voter, “the best political book of the year” in 2007; William F. McDonald, sociology professor at Georgetown University and co-director of the Institute of Criminal and Procedure at the Law Center.

A co-production of VOA English and ODDI, the publication is VOA’s first long-form storytelling app and leverages the interactive opportunities offered by the iPad. The book is available on the iTunes store, Barnes and Noble, and Google.

“It’s gratifying to be recognized for the effort that went into “Unsettled”. We worked very hard to present a fair, accurate picture of the history of immigration in the U.S. in the hope it would provide context and understanding to the present-day debate,” said Mark Young, managing editor of VOA News English. “I’m grateful to the journalists, designers and developers who created an interesting and engaging ebook, and would also like to thank Mae Ngai, Bryan Caplan and William F. McDonald for contributing their time and expertise to the project.”

“We are exploring storytelling tools for BBG, and looking for new formats to engage our audience. The storytelling app allows for an immersive experience, and could be an important long-form Journalism format in the future,” ODDI UX Studio Manager Steve Fuchs said.

“Unsettled” is part of the ODDI Book Pilot, which aims to explore different epub formats and author tools.  Another book in the pilot program, Tiananmen Square Remembered, won the International Media Excellence Award, held by the Association of International Broadcasters last year.


Check out our innovative app “Unsettled” at:

Also in epub3 format:

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VOA News selected as a finalist for “Best Mobile Service” in the 2014 Meffy Awards Tue, 23 Sep 2014 18:45:37 +0000 Will Sullivan We’re pleased to announce that the VOA News mobile and tablet application suite for Google Android, Apple IOS and Symbian has been selected as a finalist for “Best Mobile Service” the 2014 Meffy Awards!

VOA News KhmerThe Meffys are held by the MEF mobile trade association which is focused on cutting-edge mobile and entertainment companies. The awards this year attracted more than 250 entries from 30 countries across the 13 award categories, and was judged by an independent panel of 40 journalists, academics, analysts and VCs from around the globe.

The ground-breaking VOA News application offers original journalism in more languages than any media organization in the world (44 total) and has previously been honored this year as a finalist for the 2014 GSMA Global Mobile Awards for “Best Mobile Publishing Platform or Service” and the Appy Awards for “Best Multicultural App.”

“Hundreds of hardworking journalists, producers, designers and developers helps us create this amazing, unrivaled application,” Will Sullivan, Director of Mobile for the BBG said. “We owe all our thanks and share this honor with them.”

The new version 3.0 of the VOA News apps are launching within the next month on both Android and Apple IOS mobile and tablet devices with a big new design and enhanced features including customizable Android Widget support and Google Chromecast streaming.

The winners of the 2014 Meffys will be unveiled in San Francisco at the MEF Global Forum 2014 in November.





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Metrics Rule: Data Learnings From VOA’s 2014 World Cup Coverage Thu, 31 Jul 2014 18:23:29 +0000 Randy Abramson In January, 2014, ODDI and the VOA French to Africa team set the wheels in motion to build a responsive site aimed at the young, mobile enabled African demographic that would tell the story of the World Cup in real time through game scores, lineups and live play-by-play commentary, as well as through shareable animations, illustrations, video, and text commentary. We also put together an extensive marketing plan to help spread the word about the site and we were committed to react and pivot according to metrics that we were monitoring regularly. What follows are some of the lessons we learned along the journey through the group stages, the quarters, semis and finals of the 2014 games in Brazil. (Note: the site is live at and we also created a sister site for VOA English at

Project Goooooooaaaaalllllsssss!

Our data showed high mobile usage of our VOA apps and Web properties across Africa, so our main goal was to create a site that would be optimized for a range of phones and tablets. However, our data also showed us that device type and bandwidth capabilities varied widely throughout Africa, making it hard to target a single experience that would work for the entire region. Additionally, this effort marked one of the first forays into a dedicated site that focused on sports for VOA. With that in mind, we knew that there would be questions whether non-smartphone users with ‘pay as you go’ plans would be willing to use their hard earned money to view World Cup coverage on their devices. Still, the team was determined to create a digital property that loaded quickly and would be flexible enough to optimize for display on low-end mobile phones, as well as on higher-end mobile devices and desktops. Another key goal for the team was to focus on creating shorter, non-traditional news content (examples: memes, illustrated stories, fan badges for Facebook pages, etc.) that would appeal to active sharers on social networks.

Surprise! Desktop and Ethernet/Wifi Users Dominate

Based on our research, we knew that a large amount of mobile use in Africa comes from low-end phones that can’t render java script or rich multimedia elements. We did see a surge of visitors at the beginning and end of the Cup coming in on “unspecified devices,” which we interpret as low-end mobile devices, but we were surprised to see that the majority of the visitors throughout the Cup saw the sites via Windows desktop machines or higher-end Android/Nokia devices. Although we do see big consumption of our standard VOA news mobile web site on lower-end devices, the trend did not hold true for our World Cup offering as these devices were outnumbered by desktop and higher end phone/tablet users by a ratio of about 3:1. We also saw that 70% of the users coming in from Africa used LAN/WiFi connections, but it is important to note that LAN/WiFi connections overseas may not match the high speeds that we are accustomed to in the United States. Connecting to LAN/Wifi might be attractive for low-end users because it doesn’t eat into data plans, but the experience may still be slow due to massive network sharing. Knowing that we were catering to a plethora of user capabilities, we adjusted our content strategy by offering a mix of media formats that would match our users’ varying levels levels of device, platform and connection sophistication.

Marketing Paid Off Big

Another key strategy for the team was to leverage the radio, TV and digital programming that we controlled to market the our World Cup property.  We partnered with VOA’s Creative Services team to create :15 and :30 radio, TV and digital platform ads that would promote the World Cup desktop and mobile Web site. Those ads (see video promotional spot below) ran over 200 times on French and English speaking air during the duration of the campaign. Since 35% of all visits to the site came from users who manually typed in the site URL, we can assume that the advertisements were effective. Additionally, lower third animations ran in VOA TV programming throughout the Cup and drove additional visits. We were also very pleased that our Google AdWords performed with a high engagement rate of 1.9%. Our search engine optimization preparations also helped drive referral traffic to the site, which grew as the Cup went on. In total, Google was responsible for 17% of our referral traffic.


Team Up And Be Relentless On Social Platforms

Facebook is very popular in Africa, so succeeding on that platform was a huge priority platform for our team. Facebook provided not only a place for us to promote our most recent editorial offerings, but it was also an area to interact with our users, test out new content types and get instant feedback.  In the end, Facebook was our biggest referral site, accounting for 35% of the overall referral visits. On a daily basis, and sometimes in real time, we monitored performance reports and adapted to drive our Facebook engagement higher. For example, we saw early that posts with photos drove more engagement than text based posts, so we posted more photos. We then noticed that our photos, when clicked inside of Facebook, simply opened a larger version of the photo instead of sending users to our site. Since the photo is the largest ‘hit’ area, we worked to ensure that visitors went to our site when they clicked on photos inside of Facebook. When engagement and ‘likes’ of our Facebook page began to flat line, we reached out to Brila.FM, the VOA News FB page, Sonny from Sonny Side of Sports, and the Indonesian and Khmer Facebook teams to help amplify our messaging and drive users to our Facebook properties. We also began to repeat some of our Tweets in case users might have missed our original posts and researched the best time to engage with our users, which turned out to be before and after the live matches. Still, we did see that as the World Cup went on, we were seeing less and less traffic from Facebook which we assume was because: a. the African teams were eliminated from the Cup and b. more and more World Cup content began to flood Facebook feeds and Facebook’s algorithm might have put our content at a lower priority, making it invisible to followers.  The big lesson learned here is that going it alone on any social platform is difficult. Looking at this great read from Marketingland, you realize how few of your followers actually see your posts on social platforms, so teaming up with others to help amplify your message is essential.

A Like Could Be As Good As a Page View

Our team tried hard to create content that broke out of standard news reporting and we were delighted to see ‘non-traditional’ content get the most likes and shares of all of our offerings. A surprise hit was the ‘like this if you’re rooting for…’ image badges that were produced by our graphics team. These badges resonated with our users on social platforms in a visceral way: users saw a striking image of the team they were rooting for and liked/shared that content.  News organizations normally fixate on page views and time spent, but we began to appreciate likes and shares as a parallel metric to measure user engagement.

Like if you're rooting for Argentina!

An example of the fan badges we created that performed well on social media platforms.

Beyond the World Cup

The World Cup project provided so many learnings, but in no way do we see these lessons set in stone. Mobile device pricing is constantly falling, making more and more smart devices available across the African region for lower cost. Efforts like Project Loon could make higher speed connections available in remote areas. And who knows what the next developments on social platforms might be? In the end, despite all of our research and preparations, it was our ‘learn as we go’ philosophy that helped us to adapt to user capabilities and desires that made the project successful.

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Radio Sawa Arabic music streaming app launches on Android & Apple iOS Mon, 30 Jun 2014 11:34:47 +0000 Will Sullivan Seven 24/7 streams of Arabic music from around the Middle East and North Africa region is featured in the Radio Sawa app.

Seven 24/7 streams of Arabic music are featured in the Radio Sawa app.

When Radio Sawa launched as a network of FM radio stations across the Middle East in 2002, the Arab world had not really experienced anything like it as many countries had state-controlled media environments. Radio Sawa provided an alternative, with a mix of Arab and Western popular music coupled with newscasts and social issue programs.

Radio SawaTwelve years later, Radio Sawa has a lot of competition on the radio dial and has limited radio reach in countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt because authorities have not permitted FM licenses. To evolve and engage new audiences in the digital age, Radio Sawa needed a new platform to reach closed markets and serve a new generation of listeners; that opportunity lay in designing an innovative audio mobile app for Arab youth.

So the Office of Digital & Design Innovation and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks joined forces to design and build an app unlike any in the Arab market. We focused on building a gorgeously design, touch-driven, mobile-only application which played to the huge popularity of streaming radio on smartphone devices. Streaming radio ranks higher than any other content format as the most popular form factor according to a comScore’s Multi-Platform and Mobile Metrix report released this year:

Streaming radio use on digital devices

Streaming radio use on digital devicesThe application is an audio-first experience, with newscasts and featured podcasts from Sawa’s journalists available on demand. But the crown jewels of the experience are the seven Arabic live-streaming radio stations from around the Middle East and North Africa region. Arab youth can listen to music and news 24/7 and in the background while they read, play or use other applications.

The Sawa Chat feature allows audiences to record and send their thoughts to our programs instantly.

The Sawa Chat feature allows audiences to record and send their thoughts to our programs instantly.

Another fantastic feature of the app is our expanded Sawa Chat functionality. For years, Sawa journalists have asked people on the street questions about social concerns. With the app, users can now respond to weekly questions by recording and uploading their thoughts and sending them to our producers in a couple quick taps. These submissions will feed expanded Sawa Chat content on the air and on the app.

Quick sports, tech and pop culture news is featured in the application.

Quick sports, tech and pop culture news is featured in the application.

The app also showcases articles from Radio Sawa’s digital journalists with six news feeds rich in original journalism, music news and sports. It also showcases Sawa’s innovative Have You Read This? youth-focused journalism which builds stories around trending ideas and conversations spreading on social media.

Check out the Radio Sawa app now, it’s live in the app stores and available for mobile devices running Android 4.0 and above and Apple IOS 6 and above. We’d love to hear your feedback and if you dig it, please give us a review and rating and share it with your friends!

Davin Hutchins, Editorial Director of MBN Digital, and his rock star team collaborated on this blog post and the Radio Sawa design, development and launch.

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Making a decision? Check the data. Thu, 03 Apr 2014 13:00:18 +0000 Rebecca Shakespeare Working in a data-driven business culture is a jargon-y way of saying, “We use science to decide what to do to reach our desired outcomes at work.” Science is, at core, a method of logical inquiry and testing. The scientific method starts with a hypothesis – a hunch or a guess at what makes something happen. The rest of science is testing and analysis: Is the hunch the cause of the outcome? Is it the only cause? Is something else happening? If you have a hunch in science, you test it to see if it’s true.

Data-driven business culture applies the scientific method to business decision making. It’s an alternative to gut-instinct and “Highest Paid Person’s Opinion” decision making, bereft of hunches, feelings, instincts, and personal preferences. Management must support this methodology, decision-makers must have the knowledge required to use the data as input and feedback on their projects, and the data must provide reliable insights on which to stake business decisions.

Management Support

In a data-driven business, executives believe that their organization’s success is based on doing the right things to achieve a measurable outcome.

We have leadership support already from some parts of the BBG for web analytics – some editors set targets for their traffic and are evaluated on how well they meet those targets. At a strategic level, the BBG has emphasized establishing a set of key performance indicators (KPIs) that illustrate the impact the BBG has in target markets. Having these clear targets in mind lets everyone determine the most effective method toward achieving their goals, including identifying products that do not yield adequate results.


In a data-driven culture, decision makers base their choices on evidence rather than hunches. They work towards targets, using metrics that tell them whether or not their project (or article or affiliation) is successful.

Here’s an example of turning a gut-based decision into a data-driven one:

Not data-driven: “I’m going to start a podcast about environmental issues because my boss told me to make a podcast about something, and I think I have enough to say about environmental issues.”

Data-driven (note the evidence, hypotheses, and goals): “I’ve noticed that we get lots of comments and questions about environmental issues when we include them in our general interest programs. Environmental articles get 100,000+ pageviews over several weeks after I post them, 30% of which are from one target country, so I infer that environmental issues are evergreen and have broad appeal AND specific reach in a target area. Any podcast we promote gets at least 45,000 downloads per episode, 40% of which are from that target country. I think that there’s an audience for an evergreen podcast just focusing on environmental issues, and I expect that if I promote it in regular programming and on related articles, it could get at least 30,000 downloads per episode after 2 months of publishing them weekly.”

Reliable Data

Trustworthy and readily available data fuels the data-driven decision-making process; data must be reliable, and stakeholders must review and analyze results regularly. In order to ensure BBG’s web analytic data are reliable, we’re undergoing an initial audit of our setup, and will have maintenance audits to make sure data continues to measure activity in our target regions precisely and correctly.

Strong, relevant data on its own will not yield results. In a data-driven business culture, everyone is attuned to their data on a regular and systematic basis so they can identify outliers and trends over time. The most effective decision-makers make a habit of monitoring their data, making changes to their projects in accordance with what they think will improve performance, and then observing if these changes caused the outcome they hoped for. Decision-makers who do not look at the data throughout their project’s lifespan forgo the opportunity to improve based on the feedback they could be getting.

Note: Much of this blog post was inspired by the University of British Columbia: Creating a Data Driven Business Culture, taught by Anil Batra. 

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VOA West Africa Trip: What I Learned… #Africa2014 Mon, 24 Mar 2014 19:12:07 +0000 Adam Martin I recently returned from 17 days of travel through sub-Saharan West Africa, experiencing the culture, meeting with VOA broadcast affiliates, becoming educated on the local digital media ecosystems and gaining a better understanding of how US International Media can prepare to meet the opportunities presented by this rapidly evolving region and serve our strategic mission.

During those 17 days across Senegal, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria, I heard from a diverse collection of journalists, social entrepreneurs, students, cab drivers, broadcasters, technologists and Senegalese Wrestling fans (Laamb!) who shared what they say those opportunities are and also some of the challenges they face.

What I learned…

Media & Technology

  • Mobile communication dominates as a form of social interaction among young students and professionals in the region. Mobile messaging apps, chat services, SMS and IVR all inform the way people communicate, organize, learn, send and receive news & information.

  • The Social Web is the Web for many in this same demographic who regularly engage online. Facebook acts as a single destination for people where they can message with friends, share photos, find relevant information, socialize online and organize ‘in real life.’ Twitter, Instagram and multimedia mobile messaging apps like WhatsApp, Viber and 2Go are also growing as places where people engage with friends, family, media organizations, brands and public figures online.

  • But…radio continues to play a critical role in these communities with its ability to reach a large and diverse audience, engaging them on topics that are local, relevant and personal to their lives while bypassing challenges for Web access that range from low broadband penetration and cellular data accessibility to language proficiency and literacy.

  • Radio and the Social Web share many characteristics that make them complimentary and allow them to serve as critical sources for communications. Having an ‘authentic voice’ that reflects the local language and culture with the ability to respond to the audience in ‘real time’ is key to successfully engaging with and building a supportive, loyal following — on-air or online.

Adam Africa trip

Me (fourth from left) with the Radio Kledu FM Team in Bamako, Mali

  • The regional telcos (telecommunications companies) that control the ‘last-mile‘ flow of data, information and access to the global community have tremendous influence over the way people use their mobile devices to communicate. Working effectively with these power brokers will be necessary for near-term success in providing content to these communities while alternatives are developed to bring more competition and collaboration to the market.

  • Affordable access to cellular data and low broadband penetration continue to be two of the biggest obstacles to ‘internet everywhere’ across the Sahel. Closing the digital-divide in these countries will lead to opportunities for incredible growth in access to education, new business opportunities, health and social services and cultural exchanges.

Adam Africa radio

Radio Kledu FM and digital news teams preparing the afternoon rundown


  • Digital Media Literacy within these regional audiences is growing exponentially. There is a critical need to bring more digital training to the journalists, technicians, marketers, programmers and management teams at USIM affiliates in order to meet the needs of an audience that is increasingly finding alternative programming online.

  • VOA Broadcast Affiliates across the region are increasing investments in their digital operations and in original programming. They say there is a demand for unique, local content that reflects their culture and is relevant to their changing lives. This means news that is timely, actionable and formatted for a mobile audience that is increasingly engaging first, through the social web before turning on the radio or television.

  • The potential for Nigeria as a center of economic growth and innovation on the continent appears almost limitless but it also faces many challenges. A renewed confidence in local and national political leaders, investment in its infrastructure, re-emphasizing education reform, and improving access to social services for all citizens were all said to be critical to Nigeria’s future success.

Adam Africa Photo Radio

A look inside a Ghanian broadcasting company


  • Mali has an amazing local music scene with modern r&b sounds rooted in the traditions of blues-men like Ali Farka Toure, but there’s also an underground hip hop community and a collection of club DJs and band leaders bringing Merengue, Salsa and Bachata to Malians.

  • Extreme sports that combine speed, action, music and local passions are growing rapidly in popularity in West Africa. If you want to learn first hand about youth culture in Dakar, go to a Laamb match where you’ll find them watching their favorite wrestlers get after it.

  • Money, Religion, Sports and Politics are the topics people I talked with spoke most passionately about ~ so not that different for a neighborhood guy from north Boston like me.

  • In Lagos there is an ‘energy’ that comes from the people and from the city itself…you can feel the City breathin’. The pace is frenetic but with a sense of urgency – the kind that drives change.

  • But the traffic…Lagos needs to fix its traffic situation.

  • If you’re near Osu in Accra, head toward the beach and ask for the spot where they serve the best ‘red red’ you’ve ever eaten…trust me.

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