Innovation @ BBG » Analytics Fri, 20 Nov 2015 18:47:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 ODDI Demo Day Kicks Off the New Year Mon, 13 Jan 2014 18:41:16 +0000 Erica Malouf Friday marked the last demo day at ODDI in the current format. In the past, project owners (team leaders) have given demo day presentations in ODDI’s office with an occasional note from a team member. From here on out, the emphasis will be on having the team members take the lead in talking about their work, instead of the project owners.

In the past, stakeholders from within BBG have always been invited, but have rarely joined–it’s usually just ODDI staff who attend the Friday demos. Going forward, ODDI demo days will be centered around the stakeholder. Teams will schedule time with their various project stakeholders within BBG. The goal is to get internal customer feedback on a more regular basis as a part of our Agile, iterative approach.

ODDI scrum master Son Tran says that team-driven presentations provide team members with an opportunity to show that they are delivering on goals and owning the work they’ve done. He also notes it’s about the iterative process:  ”Closing the feedback loop and making it shorter is better for improving projects.”

What are we working on at ODDI?

For most teams, Sprint Zero was a time of research and planning, defining goals and determining KPIs. Adam Martin, our newly minted Director of Innovation, asked teams to come to the January 9 demo day “prepared to discuss their Charter as described in the Strategic White Paper, their shared vision in response to the Charter, the team’s goals, how they will measure their success against those goals, and their product(s) roadmap for Q2 of FY14 (and beyond if available).”

Now the teams are ready to see their brilliant ideas into fruition. And some teams are also managing ongoing projects like Relay, RIVR, the BBG-wide analytics roll out, and mobile app updates.

Here’s a look at what’s happening:

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Will Sullivan presents on the latest mobile app updates and the Symbian launch.


Project Owner: Will Sullivan

The Mobile Team is continuing develop, update and support the suite of umbrella news applications for all BBG entities, which supports more than 82 language services now, and has an install base of more than 400,000 users. We are launching new applications with Radio Free Asia (RFA) on Google Android and Apple IOS for both mobile and tablet form factors and just launched VOA’s Africa-focused Symbian application (the third largest mobile OS in the region, after Android and IOS, which we launched for VOA services last year). This quarter we will be updating the entire suite to a more magazine-style iPad design, building new Android home screen news widgets and moving the app analytics over to the shared Adobe Omniture SiteCatalyst system. We’re also beginning work on an live audio streaming and on-demand podcast Android and IOS application for the Middle East Broadcast Network’s Radio Sawa that is visually-rich with a touch-centered interaction experience and deep user-generated and social sharing integration.


Project Owner: Doug Zabransky

The Affiliate Digital Services (ADS) team represents a new chapter for USIM and affiliate relationships. Existing and new BBG Affiliates will be offered up to three tiers of digital service. Each tier represents levels of digital-hosted offerings including live streaming, adaptive html 5 digital players, and an internet broadcast station which will allow for content source switching between BBG live and on-demand content, as well as other affiliate content within the ADS community. All tiers include customer service and support.

Essentially, BBG hopes to build a robust network of affiliate partner on-line stations. Growing the BBG affiliate digital audience will grow BBG’s audience as well.


Project Owner: Rebecca Shakespeare

The insights team is focusing on setting up tools that collect and present objective information about digital performance to inform BBG leadership and editorial about what is actually happening with their digital products and content. The team is currently focusing on the rollout of the new web analytics tool which measures digital properties owned and hosted by the BBG. It is also contracting outside validation of the numbers that are collected and reported to ensure accuracy of the information presented. Beginning in February 2014, the team will start to focus on displaying weekly performance analytics from BBG’s range of digital reporting tools, side-by-side in a dashboard, to present a complete picture of digital performance.


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Brian Williamson’s illustrations illuminate the Storytelling Team’s vision


Project Owners: Steve Fuchs, Randy Abramson

The storytelling team is determined to revitalize and update USIM storytelling around the globe. We are brainstorming innovative ways to tell stories that inform, engage and connect with audiences based on their needs and expectations. One of our main goals is to build community engagement with younger audiences by using a toolbox of highly relevant, visual, trans-media storytelling techniques. We plan to not only count standard metrics–such as time spent, return visits, videos watched, social engagement, and so forth–but we also aim to make a real-world impact that affects conversation and behavior. Randy will continue to work on Relay, and the entire team will work on projects like finding innovative ways to cover sports in developing countries, among others.

Other Teams & Projects

In addition to the teams that demo’d last Friday, ODDI also has several other teams that are kicking A and taking names.

The Research & Analysis (R&A) team functions as support for all other teams. R&A was recently pivotal in helping the Storytelling team and the Affiliate Digital Services team determine their next projects. During Sprint Zero, the R&A team dug deep to find data on countries around the world, interviewing internal experts and BBG’s Regional Marketing Officers, diving into BBG research reports and library databases, and translating that data into insights and strategic recommendations. The R&A team includes Son Tran, Ashley Wellman, Yousef Kokcha, Ahran Lee and myself (Erica Malouf).

image RIVR screen

Ongoing Project: Doug Zabransky will continue to lead the IVR project called RIVR. Look for a blog post update to come soon.

ODDI also has various teams working on ebooks, UX testing and more. Follow the action here on the blog, on Twitter (@BBGinnovate) and on our new website portal (

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10 Tips for Rolling Out Enterprise Analytics Fri, 01 Nov 2013 21:01:12 +0000 Rebecca Shakespeare The biggest challenge for measuring digital analytics at BBG is the agency’s size. The BBG has more than 300 websites (most that are mobile responsive) and mobile apps, five separate organizations and more than 100 units that need individual reporting.

When we committed to getting an enterprise web analytics tool, we were using at least three separate Google Analytics implementations, a Sitecatalyst implementation, and other tools to measure whatever we couldn’t catch in those. VOA alone had 50 Google Analytics profiles.

While everyone was doing due diligence to maintain their analytics tool(s), we didn’t have a way to look across the whole organization’s digital properties. Some of the questions we couldn’t answer before were things like “Which BBG network is most popular in Vietnam?” or “Of our Russian-language content (many sites’ worth), what topics are most read by Russian speakers in Kazakhstan?” And every report about the BBG’s digital performance in general required calls for data and assumptions that the data all meant the same thing, even though it came from different places. It’s hard to make business and content decisions based on shaky data.

Planning for the new web analytics tool revolved around answering those questions, and making nearly instantaneous feedback about people finding and engaging with our content accessible to everyone–journalists (content reports by byline, so writers can see how their content performs), editors (content reports by topic, so it’s easier to get a feel for topical interest in a target region), marketers (everything that the BBG does, as consumed by a given city or country) and strategists (the whole universe of the BBG’s content, consumed by the whole world).

After lots of hard work, the expertise of some great thinkers and consultants, and really good feedback from our editorial teams, we’re anticipating a really exciting outcome–usable information that tells stories about all BBG entities online that nobody has ever had before.

As with all web analytics tool changes, we anticipate changes in the numbers we get–different tools count things slightly differently, so we may see all traffic increase or decrease by a constant amount. When we start tracking mobile visits too, we’ll see another change in traffic. I’m already looking at how our new setup is getting different numbers than the tools we have been using.

None of these changes mean that our audience has changed how it behaves. It just means we’re recording it differently. And the specific number isn’t the most important thing in web analytics; the stories the data tells and the information it can help you find are the valuable insights.

When you move to any new tool, you have a new baseline and a new normal daily or weekly number. You want to keep your eyes out for changes–good and bad ones–and determine what caused them. You want to monitor projects you’re putting effort into to see if you’re getting the outcome you want. And if you’re targeting a certain audience, you can get to know them based on what they do, and try to get to know more about what they respond to by testing things that you think they’ll respond to. For example, this might be a slightly different headline, a different angle, using more or less pictures, or promoting a story with a different hook on social media.

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If you’re planning an enterprise web analytic tool rollout, here are some tips:

1. Find great experts to advise you. We were lucky to get to work with outside consultants who helped us define reporting requirements before we selected a new tool, and to work with great vendor specialists who helped us turn those into reality. We not only have a setup with best practices, we learned a lot about the tools and their uses by working with industry leaders.

2. Thoroughly assess what information is most useful to stakeholders across your organization before you start setting up or selecting a tool. We had consultants come in and hear from our internal key stakeholders what they wanted to know. They assembled the organization-wide feedback and made expert judgement calls on what data we needed to gather and how we should present it.

3. Decide whether to use a tag manager. We had the luxury of choosing whether or not to get a tag management tool. We chose to get one because we have many different groups managing the technical side of our digital properties but wanted to maintain a unified analytics/measurement system. Using a tag manager centralizes our web analytics management.

4. Plan a clear, specific structure for naming and tagging. We worked closely with the technical teams to create a data layer on all of our websites containing uniform information about the page and the site. This means the data in our web analytics tool is clearly named across all of our web analytics report.

5. Keep a list of priorities. Know which reports or platforms you’re tracking are most important or most time-sensitive. Knowing what’s most important makes it easier to pick the elements that won’t get built when resources run low. Clear priorities make it easier to move forward to an actual release by instead of waiting to complete everything perfectly.

6. Know the field limits for your analytics tool and any tag manager. The last thing you want in your reports are awkwardly truncated page titles or worse – gibberish. Multibyte languages have more bytes than characters, and automatic truncation may garble them. One of our developers alerted me to this, and we made wiser decisions knowing exactly how much information we could track (Further reading on truncating multi-byte languages here from RFA Developer, Flip McFadden :

7. Find out what’s easy to set up but hard to change. Some things, like profile names, report suites, reporting heirarchy, and default values are better to set correctly at the beginning. Other things, like dashboards, are easy to change later. Know what to commit to early, and what you can wait on or change later.

8. Organize page-level and site-level variables early. This really only applies to implementations where you need multiple content management systems to track the same way in analytics. We created a matrix of all variables for each type of page on each CMS with sample values and notes for the developers. We also created a matrix of all site-level variables for each property. Both of these reference documents continue to be invaluable.

9. Make sure you know exactly which things happen in tool configuration and which things are coded onto your site. This is particularly important if you’re not technical. If your tag manager is separate from a web analytics tool, just give the developers tag management documentation. You’ll set up the web analytics tracking inside of the tag manager. If you conflate these, you’ll confuse yourself, and probably slow down development work.

10. Prepare to spend a lot of time checking that your new tool is configured correctly. Good documentation, including what domains you expect to see in what reports and a complete list of all reports, is really helpful to have  here.

Special thanks to Ahran Lee, Designer at BBG, for creating the artwork for this post.

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Going Old School: Telling Digital Stories in Analog Media Fri, 14 Jun 2013 19:10:09 +0000 robbole Recently, I had the privilege of speaking at the inaugural DC-region Digital Analytics Association Symposium.  It was a great event with a lot of incredibly impressive folks doing interesting things, both inside the Federal Government, as well as leaders from NPR, PBS, NatGeo among others.  I would recommend anyone with any thoughts of learning more about how analytics are evolving to seek out and join the DC Chapter.  (Find more information about the DC Digital Analytics Association Symposium.)

I spoke the problem of constructing stories that start in one place (i.e. Radio) and extend or even end on another (i.e. mobile).  Just tune into any breaking news story and you can see how there is a confusing interplay across multiple channels.  An event, such as the recent Boston bombing, or even the Iranian elections today, exist in many places at once; on television, radio, social media, websites, SMS and the list goes on.  But how do you proactively use these channels – and the special qualities of each – to manage a coherent, interactive, engaging, relevant story?

While part of the issue is our relative inexperience in managing news over the plethora of platforms and channels, there are a few that are taking on the challenge of creating a new type of story for a multi-platform world.  These are the new storytellers, documentary film makers, and artists that are expanding their craft by bending, breaking and remixing narratives over traditional, digital and ever emerging channels.

For me the start of these new narratives began with Orson Welles’s Mercury Theater War of the Worlds.  It was a radio story, but felt so real to the audience that mass panic set in among many of the listeners who believed the events were real.  This not only demonstrated the power of great storytelling over broadcast – perhaps the ultimate of what NPR calls “Driveway Moments” – but how a narrative actually had people driving to New Jersey to see if the aliens had actually landed.  Fast-forward to 2004 and the next leap forward was the series Lost, which broke out of the television format to continue the narrative arch, or the ‘mythology’ through multiple digital puzzles and hidden sites.  These are the foundations for what we are seeing today in multi-channel story-telling.

As I have thought more about the new narrative it is apparent that analytics must become an important tool for the story-tellers.  Rather than the old way of “more is better” as a proxy for quality (more audience = bigger success), the digital world allows story-tellers to hone their craft through nearly real-time feedback across multiple channels that can result in quick shifts, additions and changes to narratives depending on pockets of audience behavior and interests.

In my presentation, I choose to categorize how I am observing these story-tellers in three main buckets:

  • The Hand-Off where narrative arcs start in one place, but are continued on other channels that exploit the characteristics of that platform, such as interactivity of the web, or social of Facebook.
  • The Layering of information, each related to a central storyline, but different levels of information about that story.  The classic “For more information on this topic…” hand-off to a website is the ancestor of Layering.
  • The Extension is related to both above, but it is where a narrative starts and ends on one platform, but elements of the storyline, or minor story lines are ‘extended’ for fuller explanation on other channels.

Great places to see stories that exhibit this kind of narrative, such as Hand-Off stories include the whole “Expanded Star Wars Universe” of movies, books, games, comic books, videos, fan fiction, conventions, etc.  (I saw the original, but have become more immersed through the eyes of my 11 year old son…the joy of Star Wars Legos)  Lost is still, for me, the most fully realized version of the Layered story, though NY Time’s Snowfall: Avalanche at Tunnel Creek is another beautiful example.  Finally, Frontline’s collaboration with Pro Publica, especially their A Perfect Terrorist, is a wonderful example of Extension story-telling.

However, story-tellers, as mentioned above, need analytic tools to help them tell those stories.  The bulk of my presentation was my thinking about how we need to shape metrics and analytic tools to help us understand how things are working across multiple platforms.  I sketched out some categories of metrics I would love to have in my portfolio, as well as discuss the “one customer ID” problem we all face.

The best thing about my somewhat meandering talk was that after the presentation (see below) I got loads of questions, thoughts and critiques of how analytics needs to evolve to help support this emerging type of story-telling.  I am along for the ride like everyone else and look forward to working on these thorny problems together.


Download (PDF, 1.87MB)



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#Job! – Apply today: Data Analyst / Developer Tue, 16 Apr 2013 20:46:05 +0000 April Deibert

The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) is seeking a Data Analyst/Developer with skills in database development and web development to work with and support our digital media analytics team. This team is responsible for gathering, analyzing, and presenting online performance data across BBG and its entities’ (VOA, MBN, OCB, RFA, RFERL) news websites, social media, and digital platforms (including mobile and audio/video platforms).  (Job Announcement Number: DE-13-120, USA Jobs Control Number: 341539100)

About the Position:
This position works with the senior analyst and will be the technical brains within the Analytics team, supporting database and programming needs.The position has the latitude to recommend approaches to dealing with structured and unstructured data, identify data to collect or use, make new ways to present and analyze it, and get their hands dirty in the data.Programming and database experience and quantitative analysis skills are a must.Web analytics and server log analysis skills are a bonus.

What We Offer:

  • A start-up environment that rewards creativity and innovation.
  • An agile approach built on collaborative teamworkThe right software and tools to get things done.
  • An opportunity to work with innovative, passionate, creative individuals developing the next generation of media products for a globally diverse digital audience.


About Broadcasting Board of Governors

The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) is seeking a data analyst/developer with skills in database development and web development to work with and support our digital media analytics team. This team is responsible for gathering, analyzing, and presenting online performance data across BBG and its entites’ (VOA, MBN, OCB, RFA, RFERL) news websites, social media, and digital platforms (including mobile and audio/video platforms).  (Job Announcement Number: DE-13-120, USA Jobs Control Number: 341539100)


How to Apply

You must apply on USAJobs by submitting all required information:

Read ALL of the instructions. Note that you can apply to the position as any (or all) of the three GS levels separately.Contact Audrey Adams with questions about this job - Phone: (202)382-7543; Fax: (202)382-7542; Email: AADAMS@BBG.GOV.

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Interview with Andrew Golis, PBS FRONTLINE Tue, 05 Mar 2013 01:11:21 +0000 April Deibert Andrew Golis is the Director of Digital Media/Senior Editor at PBS FRONTLINE.  In September 2012, he and the rest of the FRONTLINE team won the General Excellence Award for Online Journalism from the Online News Association.  In December 2012, Golis was listed by Forbes in their annual “30 under 30” list for media.  He expanded FRONTLINE’s digital-first original reporting and analysis, and grew its digital audience by over 50% while launching a series of experiments in interactive video.  During this interview, Rob Bole (Director of Innovation at ODDI) and I speak with Golis about how he is continuing to help steer FRONTLINE’s traditional broadcast toward their digital future.


Full Video Interview [33min 42sec]


Key Takeaways

– Thinking about and producing content for the ‘Bored at Work’ Network vs. the ‘Lean Back at Home’ Network is equally important. Referring to phrases by BuzzFeed Founder/CEO Jonah Peretti, Golis notes that there tends to be a ‘bored at work’ network of users (those who like to access quick, bite-size pieces of information through video or easy-to-read articles in between other tasks) and a ‘lean back at home’ network of users (those who enjoy kicking back at home to watch a thought-provoking documentary).   The ‘bored at work’ network likely browse places like Buzzfeed, Gawker, Huffington Post, or Yahoo News/Blogs, while the ‘lean back at home’ users are likely to enjoy traditional evening broadcasts.

Within each of these networks are different ‘tribes’, or communities of thought.  Golis notes that FRONTLINE’s tribe is a uniquely difficult ‘tribe’ to organize, because it has to be built around “abstract and high-brow things such as transparency, accountability, fairness and the importance of narrative.”  Whereas most other tribes can be built around simple things like political party or niche interest.

Overlap in viewing and engagement practices between these audience networks is expected.  There are over 150 FRONTLINE shows streaming for free on the website.  Those who tend to be part of the ‘lean back at home’ network can also easily browse through the guilty pleasures of the ‘bored at work’ network. There is a seemingly endless supply of digital content linked to each documentary including full-length interviews, news about ongoing investigations, digitized official documents from archives, transcripts and more.  Golis notes that this strategy has encouraged engagement with a core group of FRONTLINE fans that continues to grow.  People tend to want to know more about issues that intrigue them and are eager to read follow-up threads about what happens with individuals, companies and organizations that FRONTLINE investigated.


– Creative audience engagement is keyTo build up your ‘tribes’, sometimes you must go to other ‘tribes’ and show your goods.  Sometimes there are scheduled live chats where the FRONTLINE producer and a reporter from a major news outlet take questions from the audience about the show (as was done for Cliffhanger).  FRONTLINE’s audience (a tribe) is made privy to the upcoming chat and the major news outlet (the other tribe) is made privy as well.  Thus, there is a pooling of two audiences that may be interested in what the other has to offer.  Golis explains that this is a great time to show your best content to the ‘other tribes’ so their audience will come on over in the future.  This may translate into converted users and a potential uptick in Facebook followers or newsletter signups.

Live-tweeting is another way to engage the filmmakers, reporters, commentators and audience members during broadcast.  This practice encourages all viewers to converse about the program as it’s happening.

Audience engagement can also come in the form of being receptive to groups most directly affected by the documentaries.  For example, Golis points out that after Flying Cheap aired, a lot of airline pilots contacted FRONTLINE to say that the investigative piece was missing a huge issue relating to the subcontracting of maintenance.  With a commitment to expanding on the comments to develop a story worthy of nearly an hour of television, the pilot’s comments facilitated the follow up show, Flying Cheaper.


– The depth of audience engagement means more than measuring the face value of web analytics.  Golis says that it is indeed important for FRONTLINE to know how many people they reach, but it is particularly important to understand the depth of that engagement.  While it may be great to reach a couple million unique users, Golis and his team are interested in keeping people engaged for a proper amount of time—either by watching the full-length documentaries or by getting them to click through all the other videos and documents on the FRONTLINE site.


– Design is important to create a natural stream of ongoing reporting for the audience to follow-up on.  Golis acknowledges the uncommon practice of FRONTLINE reporters publishing reports ahead of and after commissioned broadcasts.  For example, Law & Disorder reporters produced lots of follow up threads due to the huge interest in what happened following the broadcast.  After all, the original documentary resulted in the arrest of eight New Orleans police officers for corrupt conduct and boosted police department oversight policies.  Golis and the editorial staff have learned that the production of interactive reports (artifacts, transcripts, other documents) before and after a broadcast really creates a core demographic of interested followers.  Golis believes that “the more material that surfaces to show transparency, the more credible the reporting and the more interest it drives.”


– Storytelling with interactive artifacts counts for extra.  The process of developing the David Headley piece for A Perfect Terrorist evolved through several stages.  Golis expresses that YouTube is great, but it lacks interactivity to turn it into a real digital artifact.  To figure out how a story would look as an interactive video story, FRONTLINE invited several creative filmmakers to come up with new techniques.

One gentleman, Tom Jennings (FRONTLINE Producer for Law & Disorder, Doctor Hotspot, A Perfect Terrorist, and Money, Power & Wall Street), suggested that the Headley story should be told as a web of relationships.  For those who are not familiar with this story, Headley was the American who masterminded the terrorist attacks in Mumbai.  He was a former heroine smuggler and a DEA informant.  According to Golis, Jennings knew that “Headley’s life was only made possible by this really complex web of relationships that he was able to play.”  Jennings laid out his vision for what this may look like as an interactive.

So a hack day was set up.  Initially, a radio piece was created.  As the audio progressed, the Headley story moved across a timeline. As the timeline moved along, it elaborated on various individual relationships that Headley had (such as law enforcement or terrorist cell connections).  Jennings then drew the Hadley network out on a whiteboard to create a visual.  The hack team felt that it would be ideal to be able to click on each item to watch video–then pause the video to look at other related bits of information.

The team then thought about a viral YouTube video of Picasso painting on glass.  So the team bought a giant piece of glass, set it up and they filmed Jennings talking to the camera while drawing the interactive web of relationships.  To create the interactive portion, FRONTLINE hired an interactive-focused firm to animate it to have nodes to click on.  The interactive team creatively used Popcorn.js to design custom-made interactive graphics.  Golis credits his editorial team’s success with this documentary to the fact that they developed the script first and then sought out the technology to build the visual form.


– Golis feels that collaboration between broadcast teams and digital teams will lead to some of the best reporting that FRONTLINE has ever done.  Reports are beginning to be posted for a broadcast about the NFL and concussions (scheduled to air later this year).  In it’s current form, their website Concussion Watch aims to continuously update digital artifacts to add to the transparency of the interactive publishing and broadcasting format.

With the adaptation of interactive reporting, FRONTLINE has also attracted new talent to the team through their broadcasts who are interested in expanding on the design of interactive materials.

And, to make videos more accessible and user-friendly, the FRONTLINE tag management system has been improved so that things can be easily sorted and found.  As an example, Golis specifically references the way they broke down the oral history site for The Choice 2012 by allowing for keyword/phrase searches like “Obama and Drones” or “Romney and Abortion.”


No time to watch the whole interview?  Here’s a couple snippets.

1. Golis on producing content for different types of audiences [3min 14sec]


2. Golis on the creative, editorial and technical process behind the interactive David Headley piece, A Perfect Terrorist [7min 41sec]:


For more information:


- – - – -

(Thank you to Andrew Golis (@agolis) and Rob Bole (@rbole) for their contributions to this post.)

(The foregoing commentary does not constitute endorsement by the US Government, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, VOA, MBN, OCB, RFA, or RFE/RL of the information products or services discussed.)

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Innovation Strategy on a Global Scale, 2013 Tue, 26 Feb 2013 06:24:52 +0000 robbole The Office of Digital & Design Innovation launched roughly a year ago with a very straightforward mission: the expansion and usage of digital platforms to grow our global online audience.  We do that by working with our partner media networks to bring best-in-class platforms and services, as well as experimenting and launching innovative new technologies that speed our transition in serving increasingly online audiences.

Over the last twelve months we have been working on the “ground game”, by migrating off of old platforms, adopting new agile software frameworks and generally preparing the ground for faster innovation.  I am very proud to say that with our close partners, especially with Radio Free Europe’s digital team, we have fully turned over all of our core infrastructure on-time and on-budget.  And in an unprecedented event, we will be able to take some operational savings and invest in new areas, such as expanding our mobile presence and improved digital syndication.

In this current year we are going to expand our presence and quicken the pace of introducing new products and services.  We have a mandate for change and now are fully ready to drive innovation that leads to audience growth.

Here is our plan for 2013.


2013 Strategy & Goals

1.  Integrate Digital Platforms: Develop our new core digital services to an effective “run” state in order to provide normal enterprise operating services to all of USIM.  ODDI is working closely with our colleagues in RFERL Digital, as well as with RFA, MBN, VOA and OCB, to ensure that our core services, such as the online video/audio platform (OVAP), mobile web and mobile applications, are effectively established for all of USIM.  In many places we believe that integration into the “Pangea core” and RFA’s system will enable important improvements in our operating efficiencies.

Digital platform highlights include:

  • Full integration of the Kaltura online video/audio platform (OVAP) into Pangea: ensure that video and audio management becomes a ‘back office’ function to a user of the Pangea CMS and enable seamless distribution to all USIM accounts, including external accounts like YouTube and SoundCloud.  We also want to do a complete implementation of mobile-compliant audio/video players for iOS, Android and other mobile devices.
  • Deliver enhanced live streaming capabilities for 24-hr “true” Mp3 audio playout: create capabilities for streaming services on digital channels such as Apple iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher and other radio streams.
  • Expansion of Direct to provide services to all entities and all content types: provide technical connectors to allow all entities to seamlessly publish a wide-range of content types (broadcast-quality to Internet-quality rich media, text, photos, etc) for a range of broadcast and digital affiliates.
  • Launch “measure everything” platforms: launch new platforms and technical services to ensure cross-agency tag management, web analytics, social media analytics and video analytics.  In addition, launch a powerful analytics application programming interface (API) and customizable dashboards of real-time analytical data for all levels of the organization–from the Board down to the editor and reporter levels.


2.  Grow Mobile: Drive future (“road map”) improvements and expansion of our mobile platforms and services to increase our global audiences.  Mobile is the single most important method for USIM to be able to reach audiences.  Statistics often point to the fact that mobile adoption has a lot of room to grow or that there is a clear ceiling on the use of fixed-line broadband in different regions.  Our goal is to deliver the platforms and services that enable all entities and language services to deliver content across all mobile devices–from high-bandwidth IPTV applications down to simple feature phones.  And, just as important, we want to facilitate the use of voice/audio over local phone calls.

Mobile highlights include:

  • Launch of new news “Umbrella” applications for all five entities.  In conjunction with the entities, we will be launching and improving a range of mobile news applications.
  • “Responsive+” on core digital platforms.  Re-development of our core digital sites to utilize both responsive web design and progressive enhancement with server-side detection through a mobile-first strategy.  This change will enable us to provide digital content across a wide range of devices and bandwidths, customizing the content for the user, based on their device’s hardware and software capabilities and network connection.
  • Expansion of IVR and other low-bandwidth mobile publishing.  Improving existing open source frameworks to enable enterprise Interactive Voice Response (IVR) services to enable low-cost local calling for the audience, and low-cost operational costs for BBG.
  • e-Book, magazine publishing improvements.  This year we will be piloting a number of design templates and easy workflows to create interactive books and magazines for the distribution of collections of content both in static (text) and dynamic, rich media formats.


3.  Expand Audience Engagement: Implement an innovative initiative that builds a USIM-wide, audience-centric sourcing, storytelling and distribution service. We are focused on elevating the role of the global audience in our work as journalists, from enhancing simple commenting and discussion tools to supporting direct audience participation while covering events. Audience engagement occurs within a news organization when three critical pieces align: business strategy, technical capabilities and editorial management.  Our office will elevate the notion of audience engagement throughout our language services while simultaneously increasing our digital capabilities.

Audience engagement highlights include:

  • Strengthening core content (text/audio/video) platforms.  Working closely with RFERL and TSI, we will focus on enhancing our current infrastructure, as well as adopting or building enhancements to platforms and services that enable audience members to participate in our journalism.
  • Interactive storytelling expansion.  We are introducing a number of new JavaScript and other frameworks to enable new types of storytelling by our journalists.  Our goal is to identify, seed and then support a core group of video and audio producers to understand and use Popcorn.js, Timeline.js and other frameworks to publish interactive content–especially using audience-generated materials.
  • Audience engagement testing.  In order to engage with audiences, we need to understand their interests, preferences and cultural lense in order to present compelling content and product that encourage their participation.  We will be partnering with BBG Research to identify and test digital products in-country, especially to discover better ways to create and develop content with audiences.


4.  Grow Digital Affiliates: Expand the number of websites and digital services that carry USIM content through new API and other syndication services.  Our goal is to: 1) replace expensive satellite distribution for lower-cost Internet-based distribution wherever possible; 2) increase the ability for ALL entities to share, distribute and create content with local partners; and 3) build a new class of “digital affiliates” in the form of syndication points (i.e. Google Currents), blog networks, emerging all-digital news organizations, etc.  Our goal is to build an expanded “affiliate storefront” using a robust application programming interface (API) strategy.

Digital affiliate highlights include:

  • Increased syndication partnerships.  This includes regional goals whereby we will launch two to four quarterly syndication agreements with global partners, as well as targeted regional syndication deals in Eurasia, Africa and Southeast Asia.
  • Direct API/digital affiliates program.  We have three goals in this area: 1) the integration of Direct with our Kaltura OVAP system for the inclusion of Internet-quality video and audio content in affiliate distribution; 2) integration with OSD’s customer relationship management system to enable affiliate information to flow between the two systems; and 3) a public-facing API to enable existing affiliates, as well as the potential for a new class of “digital affiliates”, to have our content delivered to them dynamically.
  • Strong syndication analytics system.  This includes the expansion of our analytics platforms, as well as offering training and simple dashboard tools, to enable a more robust tracking of digital content usage by existing and new affiliates. We hope to provide business/editorial managers with more information on the use and consumption of their content by third-parties.


In order to accomplish these goals, ODDI is going to continue to evolve its operations and capacities.  We have been replacing remote vendors with an increasing number of “makers” at the staff level, or through full-time, in-office, contractors.  As resources become available we will be adding additional capabilities to the office.  We will be continuing to balance an expanded, full-service, in-house capability to build, maintain and grow a range of new digital platforms with a rational number of high-quality, best-in-class vendors.  In particular, we will focus on expanding our capacity in three critical areas: technical development/programmers, user experience design/storytelling support and increased services for doing digital data analysis in support of product development and strategy.

If you have any questions, comments or thoughts in improving our 2013 strategy please let us know!  [You can leave a comment below or contact us on Twitter (@BBGinnovate).]

- Robert Bole, Director of Innovation, Office of Digital & Design Innovation

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Content Delivery Network (CDN) Management and the Cost of Success Fri, 08 Feb 2013 22:14:23 +0000 Doug Zabransky Recently the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) awarded a new CDN contract.  The previous CDN contract was fixed price–regardless of usage.   The newly awarded contract is not fixed price–it’s usage based.  As a result, BBG must quickly adapt a central strategy to better manage its CDN.


The 24 Petabytes Served Club

CDN contracts are generally usage based, priced per gigabytes delivered per month.   Years of being on a fixed price contract left us not so concerned about tracking total delivery volume every month.  After all, gigabytes served are not necessarily a key metric for success.  For example, video content bit rates have increased thanks to bigger last mile connections and consumer demand for HD-quality video over the web.  Your CDN bill may have exponentially grown over time while viewer numbers remained static.

Now on a traditional usage based contract the first question was, “How much have we been delivering?”  The next question was, “Based on past delivery volume growth, can we estimate our future growth?”

Delivery Volume (GB)

Delivery Volume (GB)

Delivery Volume (GB)







Delivery grew 88% and 29% through 2010-2011 and 2011-2012, respectively.  Can we estimate future growth based on the past three years?  Is delivery growth slowing year over year or can we more carefully plan our delivery?


Not all Gigabytes Are Created Equal

The cost model for CDN services is simple.  Like cell phone usage plans there is generally a base commitment charge for a set volume of data served.   Overage fees are negotiable and currently range between 5 to 10 cents per GB.  If you are a big media organization monthly commit amounts can be waved while getting the most competitive per GB delivered rate.  However, be aware that not all GBs served are delivered at the same flat rate.

For example, vast enterprise media organizations like the BBG serve many types of content over an eclectic mix of protocols and technologies from legacy to the latest premium services.  An inventory of BBG old and new content delivered through the CDN yielded close to 500 digital properties assigned to different delivery categories.

Delivery groupings with potentially varying costs per GB were as follows:

Delivery Type  Service / Cost
Basic Website Caching Basic CDN Service / Low Cost
HTTP Downloads Basic CDN Service / Low Cost
FTP Downloads Basic CDN Service / Low Cost
Site Acceleration Premium CDN Service / Higher Cost
Legacy Streaming Live & On-Demand
(real, winmedia, quicktime, shoutcast)
Basic CDN Service / Low Cost
Flash Media Server Streaming
(adaptive live and on-demand)
Increasingly Basic depending on CDN contract but you may be still charged more than basic delivery.
HTTP Streaming / Chunking
(Apple IOS and html5 adaptive delivery)
Premium CDN Service / Higher Cost
Mobile Detection and Delivery Premium CDN Service / Higher Cost

Our inventory quickly found that we were delivering basic content like http audio and video downloads using site acceleration.  Site acceleration as defined by our current CDN provider only marginally improves listener/viewer experiences on the web through straight http audio and video progressive downloads.   In other words, paying a premium price for what  should be served through basic delivery is CDN mismanagement.


Future CDN Management and Services

Competing technologies and advancements continue to make CDN management more complicated but always with the promise of simpler days ahead.  For example, the elimination of streaming servers and a myriad of streaming protocols (rtsp, rtmp, mms) will be replaced by http.  In a few years there will be one streaming technology  categorized under a basic, low cost delivery charge.

However, the evolution of html along with the proliferation of web-enabled devices will seed new, unforeseen premium delivery services.  Early adopters will pay-up for a nanosecond of competitive advantage.   As a result, one base delivery charge will remain an unrequited dream for CDN managers.  They will still need to diligently manage the cost of delivering their content.

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Syndication Update: SoundCloud Thu, 10 Jan 2013 01:36:07 +0000 April Deibert Remember our post about Addie Nascimento (ODDI’s Syndication Project Lead) and her efforts to syndicate to everyone, everywhere, on every platform?  Yep, it’s happening.  Wanting to hear more specifically about SoundCloud, I hit up Addie again.  She was happy to explain everything in detail—even though she was concurrently battling a bad cold and had been kept awake at night for a few days by a rogue raccoon that had taken up residency on her roof.  True story!

Startups: Alex Ljung of SoundCloud [Video from YouTube user ThisWeekIn]

Ready to Rock

SoundCloud has been incredibly receptive to BBG’s needs and wants… meaning that a cooperative technology agreement has been reached according to Nascimento, “making sharing media through social media easier”.  Benefits from a mutual agreement between the BBG and SoundCloud include things like an increased audience base for both parties as well as an easy way to share content across Facebook (in fact you can sign up for SoundCloud using your Facebook account).

Early estimates suggest to Nascimento that this mutual agreement has the potential to bring in upwards of 100,000+ more plays per year.  By utilizing SoundCloud’s built-in audience and their metrics tools, BBG entities can easily expand and measure their programming’s reach.


How the Software Works

Maybe you’re thinking that this all sounds great, but have no clue how exactly a BBG-SoundCloud-Facebook interface would work.  Nascimento says it’s as easy as taking a broadcast feed (RSS) or podcast feed, ingesting the files into SoundCloud (they provide storage for the files), connecting the SoundCloud account to your Facebook account, and then checking back in on metrics on your SoundCloud admin page.

VOA’s Urdu Service, Indonesian Service, and Khmer Service are using SoundCloud in a pilot project.  These uploads can take place daily, weekly, or biweekly—but they must be done manually—but once they are uploaded, all content plays automatically and functions like a radio station.  Their staff uploads content to SoundCloud manually pushing metadata-rich podcast feeds (VOA’s Urdu, Indonesian, and ___ are already doing this) to the SoundCloud server.  There are upcoming changes that will allow this process to happen automatically. However, their users are accessing the content through SoundCloud’s main website, through a Play Store app, through an iTunes Store app, as well as directly on Facebook.

Nascimento and her team hope that there will be some live streaming events broadcast via SoundCloud by the end of summer in 2013.  “This will open a lot of doors with the addition of 24-hour streaming media,” she adds.  “But there’s a difference between streaming and downloading,” Nascimento continues, “the streaming experience is great for online radio experience where you can pick up on the conversation mid-event, but the drawback is that it requires a constant Internet connection or mobile device with wifi—which is not always possible.”


Example of how others are using SoundCloud+Facebook [Demo by YouTube user Keith Everett]


As With Other Digital Tools, Keep Your Audience In Mind

To prepare content specifically for use in SoundCloud, Nascimento suggests that producers “start thinking about their content in general and the advantages of this tool—what kind of package will do well on this platform? What do we already have? What can we create?”  This may require individual file programming to be done, where staff will need to manually post content and then encourage their audience to check out each update on Facebook.

Nascimento knows BBG staff doesn’t have time to mess with lots of new tasks each day.  “We only have so many hours, yet so many things to do—so if you don’t have time for custom content, just post a question or comment on your own SoundCloud posts on Facebook. Ask your audience to add their comment, and always mention it in your programming.”

These things may sound simple, but Nascimento encourages staff to remember that “the products you’re creating are strategically important and should be 100% about engagement”.  For example, perhaps producers can use SoundCloud as an extension for audiences to hear more of an interview, broadcast, or event that was not broadcast on air.  Or, perhaps an entire interview can be conducted with a popular guest and the content is available only through Facebook in order to drive more traffic.  Regardless, think of SoundCloud as a bulletin board and think about what issues your audience is considering important in their localized livelihoods and interests.


For Success, Nascimento Says Remember To…

1)   Get the basics down. Be sure that you have clean metadata. You always need unique titles and descriptions for your media files. Make this a common practice. This will help your content perform better in search engines. This will also help identify one program from another; users will look for a person’s name or topic of which they are interested. Label files so people can find them based off what they are likely to be looking for.  You can’t do number two and three in this list without doing number one.  Users will look through your content and know that you are engaged because you’ve labeled it clearly for them.  She compares having a great digital space to being an awesome party host: make everything look clean and inviting, lay out your best food (content) and have the best entertainment (visuals) so they’ll come back for more. “You are much more likely to eat the food when it looks good and you know what it is than take your chance on ‘mystery meat.’”

2)   Engage your audience: What does this look like?  Make content short and consumable. Clearly labeled, engaging and enticing. Ask for their opinion.  People want to share their ideas, be heard and feel valued. They also want to know what real people think: their peers, their community and people around the world.  SoundCloud can also provide new audiences where content producers are not currently seeing much.  Nascimento hopes content will get more plays and more engagement by leveraging new ways to engage the audience where they already are.  And, remember to talk back when people comment on content.  Think about it: aren’t you more likely to make a comment where you know you’ll get a comment back?

3)   Create specific content:  If you are ready for the challenge, create content specifically for use on this platform. Consider the unique experience to tying broadcast audio or web-only audio with a social media venue. What kind of content would my Facebook audience be interested in? What kind of content would the SoundCloud community be interested in? Again, clear metadata and active engagement are your keys to success.


For more info:


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(Thank you to Addie Nascimento for her contributions to this post.  To contact her: addien at bbg dot gov [or] @addien)

(The foregoing commentary does not constitute endorsement by the US Government, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, VOA, MBN, OCB, RFA, or RFE/RL of the information products or services discussed.)


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How to: Use Social Media Metrics Wed, 05 Dec 2012 21:13:22 +0000 Rebecca Shakespeare The most prominent number on most social media accounts is the reach, number of subscribers, number of followers, or number of likes. But this number doesn’t tell you if you’re achieving your goals with social media. Why? Because social media is about engagement – not about broadcasting or just showing up. This post will walk through one example of a social media goal, the best key performance indicators for that, and how to pick and use other metrics to work towards achieving a goal on social media.


If reach isn’t a KPI for Social Media, what is?

How are you doing on social media? Facebook insights, Twitter (and the many applications that use it), Pinterest, Google+, and even YouTube will give you numbers of followers, people in circles, influencers, likes and dislikes, and views.

But what’s most important? Which numbers will show you whether you’re achieving what you’re trying to do with a specific social media account? Which numbers are the most important ones to tell your peers or your boss? Which are the most useful for helping you improve? This post will address social media metrics from a very social perspective, to help you focus on what you’re really trying to do, the number you want to move or maintain, and what information will help guide you towards success.


What’s a KPI?

A Key Performance Indicator (KPI) is the most important number that demonstrates how well you are achieving your goals OR how well you are doing towards your objectives that support your goals. To start thinking this way, you’ll need to define your social media goals and your approach to achieving them.

Decide on your primary goal

  • How will you know you’re achieving your goal?
  • Identify the best metric or metrics parallel or provide evidence to support your answer to this question.

Determine what you’re going to do to make it happen

  • Identify smaller objectives contribute to achieving your primary goal – these should result from the actions you plan to take.
  • Identify metrics that demonstrate or explain whether you’re achieving these contributing objectives.

You can have more than one big goal. If you do, you should treat them as different goals, because you will be doing different things to try to achieve them.


Social Media is not Broadcast

Social media is, quite simply, a social medium. It’s all based on connections and communication. If you have no friends and like no pages, your Facebook newsfeed will be empty (save for the stray ad). If you don’t know anyone on Twitter, and don’t look for a specific topic, Twitter sounds like a lot of people shouting with no unified purpose.

Social structure – relationships and acts of communication – shape social media from noise to something with logic, something you can engage with. Similarly, with more than 7 billion people on earth, listening to or having a conversation with all of them at once would be a mess. So we organize into cities, communities, mailing lists, and topic groups. A simple example of organized people is a party. Like social media, parties are a social medium. To show how to use social media metrics as key performance indicators – and as usable insights – I’m going to use the example of going to a party (or any social event) with a purpose.


Goals for Social Events and Social Media

When you go to a party, you probably have a few specific goals. Some of your goals might be to have fun, hang out with your friends or eat delicious food! But sometimes, you go to a party with a more purposeful goal, like making new friends, spreading the word about a project you’re working on, or finding out what people think about things.

Social media is like that, too. Sometimes you’re on it because everyone else is, because you want to hang out with your friends or see your niece’s baby pictures. Other times, particularly for branded account or as a professional, you have a bigger purpose to engage with social media – to promote something, to talk about something, or to broadcast something you want people to see, react to, and share.


Example of Goals, Objectives, and Metrics


At a Party On Social Media
Provoke interesting conversations, so everyone in the room is gathered around you. Provoke interesting conversations to engage with young people (18-35) in your target part of the world, particularly about a few key topics.

You know you’ve succeeded when:

At a Party On Social Media
Most of the room has something to say, and even the wallflowers are straining to eavesdrop on the conversation you’re moderating. You have many people participating in conversations regularly, starting their own, and bringing their friends. These people come from your target part of the world and are about the age range you’re targeting. Importantly, they are engaged, bringing in new ideas, asking questions of you and each other, and sharing their insights and experiences.

Key metrics:

At a Party On Social Media
If you did this at a party:# of total people at the party you engaged in your conversation Facebook: # of people talking about this, # of weekly engaged users
Twitter: weekly # of @replies, weekly # of new followers
YouTube: weekly # of video replies, weekly # of comments
You can extrapolate this to any other social platform, including blogs, forums, Google+, Vkontakte, etc


Some Objectives, and How You’ll Know They’re Happening

Objective 1: Get at least one person to talk with you – you have to start the conversation somewhere.

At a Party On Social Media
You know you’ve done this once you’ve found a person to talk to who will talk back. Look for posts with 1 or more comments, Tweets with an @ reply.


Objective 2: Invite other people to join in the conversation.

At a Party On Social Media
To do this, you’ll need to open the conversation for others to participate – ask questions, invite them to join, even just scoot over to open up enough space for another person to mingle in. You’ll know you’ve done this when you see the number of people participating in the conversation grow from just 1. Look for response to calls-to-action: # of likes in response to “like this!,” # of comments or replies to a question or survey.


Objective 3: Keep the conversation going so many people are able to join.

At a Party On Social Media
You’ll need to keep stimulating the conversation with new ideas, angles, and information. People go to where the action is, but if the interest is over in 5 minutes, many people won’t make it there. You’ll know you’ve done this when you see steady growth in the number of people participating in the conversation. In the short term, look for the time between first and last comment on a post or @ reply velocity (# of @ replies / hour). In the longer term, look for an increase in the number of people commenting, liking comments, and sharing the post, increase in the number of retweets, favorites, and @ replies.


Objective 4: Make sure that the conversation stays relevant to the people at the party/your target audience

At a Party On Social Media
You will need to moderate the conversation, politely aligning irrelevant comments towards the theme, and redirecting people who are detracting or offending. Great conversations include many perspectives, but do revolve around a core theme. You’ll know you’re doing this when more people say things and react to each other. This is a subjective measure, but the indicators that you’re doing a good job are that your number of engaged people does not decrease, and the number of comments/likes remain at expected levels. A decrease in these indicates that the post or topic is no longer relevant, no longer interesting, or has become offensive. Sometimes, a huge increase in engagement indicates that something IS offensive or incorrect…and everyone is showing their friends. Be suspicious of huge changes and try to figure out why they happened.


Objective 5: Encourage people to involve their friends.

At a Party On Social Media
You may need to direct people to invite their friends to participate, but you’ll know this is happening when people come from across the room, not to hear what you have to say, but to see what their friends are up to. Similar to the response to calls-to-action, this should focus on seeing that people do involve their friends (RT with comment, or share of post), as well as the outcome of more people engaged (people talking about this).
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The Growth of USIM Mobile Web Thu, 13 Sep 2012 21:36:05 +0000 Rebecca Shakespeare Mobile devices are on the rise and have projected growth in the future.

A recent World Bank report finds that nearly 75% of people on earth have access to a mobile phone.

BBG’s own research finds that 3 out of 4 people in Nigeria have access to mobile, and most internet users in Nigeria use mobile devices to access the web.

In addition, mobile service providers are growing their networks to expand mobile broadband coverage to cover 85% of the world.

This kind of information describes the world in terms of how many people have devices and cellular access, but we have our own information about how much mobile platforms are being used to consume our content.

This short video shows the growth in mobile visits to VOA websites as a percentage of total visits on a weekly basis. The bar on the left shows total visits to all VOA sites that week, and the number of mobile vs. desktop visits. It’s not a complete snapshot of USIM mobile use, but it does give an idea of how mobile devices are becoming a substantial part of the USIM digital experience.

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(The foregoing commentary does not constitute endorsement by the US Government, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, VOA, MBN, OCB, RFA, or RFE/RL of the information products or services discussed.)

(Music in the video provided royalty-free at:

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