Innovation @ BBG » Apps http://www.innovation-series.com Fri, 20 Nov 2015 18:47:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.6.1 Usability Research aims to create a better Radio Free Asia website http://www.innovation-series.com/2015/11/20/usability-research-aims-to-create-a-better-radio-free-asia-website/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=usability-research-aims-to-create-a-better-radio-free-asia-website http://www.innovation-series.com/2015/11/20/usability-research-aims-to-create-a-better-radio-free-asia-website/#comments Fri, 20 Nov 2015 16:07:16 +0000 Xi Rotmil http://www.innovation-series.com/?p=6589

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:

DEVELOPED TEST PLAN

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.

CHOSE A TESTING ENVIRONMENT

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.

FIND AND SELECT PARTICIPANTS

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.

PREPARED TEST MATERIALS

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.

CONDUCTING THE SESSIONS

rev-test1

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.

DEBRIEF WITH PARTICIPANTS AND OBSERVERS

rev-survey

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.

ANALYZE DATA AND WRITE UP FINDINGS

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.

OUR FINDINGS AND SUGGESTIONS

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.
]]>
http://www.innovation-series.com/2015/11/20/usability-research-aims-to-create-a-better-radio-free-asia-website/feed/ 0
Radio Sawa selected as a finalist for the 2015 Appy Awards http://www.innovation-series.com/2015/05/26/radio-sawa-selected-as-a-finalist-for-the-2015-appy-awards/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=radio-sawa-selected-as-a-finalist-for-the-2015-appy-awards http://www.innovation-series.com/2015/05/26/radio-sawa-selected-as-a-finalist-for-the-2015-appy-awards/#comments Tue, 26 May 2015 16:36:56 +0000 Will Sullivan http://www.innovation-series.com/?p=6522 Sawa ChatRadio Sawa, the all-Arabic streaming music and news application we created with the team from MBN Digital was selected as a finalist in the 2015 Appy Awards for “Radio/Audio Apps” and it’s competing against Disney’s Frozen Karaoke app and HuMX: Human Mixtape app that uses iBeacons to customize audio experiences.

Radio Sawa just launched version 1.1 a couple months ago and is getting close to it’s one-year anniversary since launching last June. The new version added another live stream, so now there’s 8 total, added push notifications, performance improvements and more audio on-demand podcasts.

Radio Sawa was also selected as a finalist for the GSMA Global Mobile Awards earlier in the year for “Best Mobile Music App.”

Download all the BBG’s award-winning mobile apps at: http://apps.bbg.gov

]]>
http://www.innovation-series.com/2015/05/26/radio-sawa-selected-as-a-finalist-for-the-2015-appy-awards/feed/ 0
How Alhurra drives more mobile, desktop, social shares and app installs, with just a small, strategic ‘Push’ http://www.innovation-series.com/2015/05/18/how-alhurra-drives-more-mobile-desktop-social-shares-and-app-installs-with-just-a-small-strategic-push/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-alhurra-drives-more-mobile-desktop-social-shares-and-app-installs-with-just-a-small-strategic-push http://www.innovation-series.com/2015/05/18/how-alhurra-drives-more-mobile-desktop-social-shares-and-app-installs-with-just-a-small-strategic-push/#comments Mon, 18 May 2015 14:50:45 +0000 Will Sullivan http://www.innovation-series.com/?p=6509 The digital team at Alhurra has found an effective way to easily, free and smartly grow their audience from content they are already producing: Push Notifications.

They sent their first push when Nelson Mandela passed away in December of 2013, and continue to do it at the present time and over time have found that besides driving people to read stories more in the award-winning Alhurra apps, but sending pushes they can generate surges in mobile web, desktop web and social media traffic to stories they chose to push, as well as drive new app installations.

Below is one of the best and unique examples from Alhurra, one of the most digitally-first minded BBG entities, proving a story that did “ok” when it was initially published on the web can explode in popularity 2 days later on the mobile website and social media — from a simple nudge via their mobile app Push Notification.

Alhurra published this story about how ISIS makes its money on August 25th:
http://www.alhurra.com/content/where-isis-get-its-funding-from/256556.html

Two days after publishing it on originally on the web, they sent it out by Push Notification through the Alhurra app and it drove:

  • 112,000 more pageviews on mobile

  • 25,000 more pageviews on desktop

  • There were more than 12,700 social shares for the story on Facebook and Twitter

How did they start engineering these social and mobile web surges? 

1- First, create the audience expectation by being consistent and regularly deliver value with your pushes. The Alhurra web team sends out a Push Notification for a relevant and important news story at a strategic time during the day when the audience is awake and active (Some days they’ll send several Push Notifications to different stories, especially as important news breaks on busier days or as a huge story is updated with new information). The critical part of this is to be consistent and make sure you’re not just pushing every story to push stories. They should be important and interesting stories that deliver value for your audience or they will turn off notifications. Push is a very personal tool, so be careful and mindful of your audience’s needs, interests and time of day.
site.png

2- Alhurra App audience members get the breaking news Push Notification on their device and read the story in the Alhurra application.

3- If the audience members like the story or think others would be interested, they easily share it on their social networks, like Facebook and Twitter, and through email using the Alhurra application.

4- The audience member’s friends and followers then see the story, interact with it and potentially share it too, creating an amplifying effect. Bonus incentive: Also, if audience members open the story on a mobile web browser, they will be prompted to install the Alhurra App, which also helps grow the App audience.

5- This snowballs and helps drive more and more traffic by social media, mobile web sharing and app installs — all originating from Alhurra’s smart and very engaged Push Notification strategy, and also driving new app installs to interested users.

Bonus Alternative Method for Re-Engaging App Users: Another way to get users to re-engage with the application after installing it is promoting the apps Home Screen Widgets, which allow users to get the latest headlines from their preferred service easily, without launching the app. Users can even customize which category sections and how frequently the Home Screen Widget should update. Android is currently live and supports this and in the Umbrella 3.1 version of the apps, we’ll add support for automatically feeding our news into the Apple Notification center widgets for Apple devices, further expanding the reach of the BBG entity’s content.

All of the BBG entities (and anyone building apps) can learn and optimize their workflow for this tool to create a force multiplier of audience growth. Learn more about the BBG mobile products at:
http://apps.bbg.gov

ODDI Mobile Release Manager, Bo Kostro, and Billy Sabatini, Marwan Sadiq and the MBN Digital team helped with the creation of this best practice report. 

 

]]>
http://www.innovation-series.com/2015/05/18/how-alhurra-drives-more-mobile-desktop-social-shares-and-app-installs-with-just-a-small-strategic-push/feed/ 0
ODDI Mobile team selected to present at Government Mobility Application Fair http://www.innovation-series.com/2015/05/06/oddi-mobile-team-selected-to-present-at-government-mobility-application-fair/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=oddi-mobile-team-selected-to-present-at-government-mobility-application-fair http://www.innovation-series.com/2015/05/06/oddi-mobile-team-selected-to-present-at-government-mobility-application-fair/#comments Wed, 06 May 2015 17:46:56 +0000 Will Sullivan http://www.innovation-series.com/?p=6470 The ODDI Mobile team has been selected as one of 10 government agencies to showcase their work at the 2015 ACT-IAC Mobility Application Fair in Washington, DC on Wednesday, May 27th at the Renaissance Downtown.

Mobile Release Manager Bo Kostro shows off the VOA AppMobile Release Manager, Bo Kostro, and Director of Mobile, Will Sullivan, will be showcasing the team’s work along side more than 40 exhibitors and 25 federal agencies to demo their products and digital work. There will also be an event keynote delivered by Greg Godbout of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The official announcement details more of the mission of the ACT-IAC group:

Federal agencies are continuing to embrace the use of not just mobile devices, but wearable technology for mission execution. With the increased use of all things “mobile” in the government, there has been a surge in the development and use of mobile applications in order to enhance operations. The American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council is pleased to announce that its Advanced Mobility Working Group (AMWG) will be hosting the 2nd Annual Mobile Application Fair on Wednesday, May 27 at the Renaissance Washington in Washington DC.

Learn more about the award-winning mobile products from the ODDI Mobile team at: http://apps.bbg.gov

]]>
http://www.innovation-series.com/2015/05/06/oddi-mobile-team-selected-to-present-at-government-mobility-application-fair/feed/ 0
ODDI Mobile Team pioneers new BBG Java mobile apps for low-bandwidth users http://www.innovation-series.com/2015/03/27/oddi-mobile-team-pioneers-new-bbg-java-mobile-apps-for-low-bandwidth-users/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=oddi-mobile-team-pioneers-new-bbg-java-mobile-apps-for-low-bandwidth-users http://www.innovation-series.com/2015/03/27/oddi-mobile-team-pioneers-new-bbg-java-mobile-apps-for-low-bandwidth-users/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 16:03:13 +0000 Will Sullivan http://www.innovation-series.com/?p=6415 The ODDI Mobile team is proud to announce the launch of the a new fleet of mobile applications for low-end Java phones for VOA, RFE, RFA, Alhurra, Marti Noticias and Radio Sawa, supporting more than 60 languages and more than 80 language news services.

This pioneering effort to reach low-tech devices uses Javascript-based applications for “feature” phones, especially the old Nokia phones that still have a stronghold in African, Middle East and Asian markets.

The apps are built using technology from BiNu, a popular caching and proxy service used by other services like WorldReader, to deliver content faster to very low tech and low bandwidth communities who often don’t have phones equipped with modern or fast-performing web browsers. For example, Wikipedia is 10x faster on the BiNu platform than their Wikipedia-optimized mobile website.

Danish Ahmed, from the ODDI Mobile Team who pioneered the Java app effort, said, ”Its amazing how surprisingly fast the application is on older phones. You can navigate through articles without any lag or long downloading.”

These Java app’s content is limited to text and photos but through at a smartphone-like interface, and in these markets and with limited bandwidth text and photos is a great place to start. The platform also uses a proxy, which helps get content into closed and censored markets around the world so it’s a win-win for audiences. These low-bandwidth apps will compliment our current fleet of multimedia-rich Android and Apple mobile and tablet apps for all entities.

  • Download and learn more about the BBG Java apps and all the other ODDI mobile products at:
    http://apps.bbg.gov/
]]>
http://www.innovation-series.com/2015/03/27/oddi-mobile-team-pioneers-new-bbg-java-mobile-apps-for-low-bandwidth-users/feed/ 0
Radio Sawa & VOA News Apps honored by GSMA Global Mobile Awards http://www.innovation-series.com/2015/03/27/radio-sawa-voa-news-apps-honored-by-gsma-global-mobile-awards/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=radio-sawa-voa-news-apps-honored-by-gsma-global-mobile-awards http://www.innovation-series.com/2015/03/27/radio-sawa-voa-news-apps-honored-by-gsma-global-mobile-awards/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 15:44:36 +0000 Will Sullivan http://www.innovation-series.com/?p=6412

Two of ODDI’s flagship mobile products launched in the past year were selected as finalists for the prestigious GSMA Global Mobile Awards: the VOA News relaunch was selected for “Best Mobile Media & Publishing App” and Radio Sawa was selected for “Best Music App.”

The GSMA is the largest global mobile industry group and they operate Mobile World Congress,  Mobile World Congress, the largest mobile event in the world with more than 93,000 attendees from 200 countries.

VOA News serves users in more than 200 countries and is available for Android and Apple IOS mobile and tablet devices in 44 languages and for Symbian mobile phones in 4 languages. The industry-leading application has also been recognized as a finalist in the Appy Awards for “Best Multicultural App” and in the Mobile Ecosystem Forum’s Meffy Awards for “Best Mobile Service.”

“It is amazing that ODDI has created apps for over 87 language services on different operating systems,” said Bo Kostro from the ODDI Mobile Team, “We could not have done it without the support of all the BBG language services”

Radio Sawa is a youth-oriented mobile streaming app for Android and Apple IOS devices offering more than a half dozen music streams, podcasts, news and user-generated chat feedback through an beautifully designed application.

“We are very proud of the Radio Sawa app and were honored to have been recognized by the Global Mobile awards,” stated MBN President Brian Conniff. “The app encourages user participation through the network’s popular Sawa Chat feature, as well as making Radio Sawa available to cities and countries where there are no Radio Sawa transmitters.”

 

 

 

 

 

]]>
http://www.innovation-series.com/2015/03/27/radio-sawa-voa-news-apps-honored-by-gsma-global-mobile-awards/feed/ 0
BBG Mobile News apps get a huge update and redesign http://www.innovation-series.com/2014/08/27/bbg-mobile-news-apps-get-a-huge-update-and-redesign/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bbg-mobile-news-apps-get-a-huge-update-and-redesign http://www.innovation-series.com/2014/08/27/bbg-mobile-news-apps-get-a-huge-update-and-redesign/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 22:29:25 +0000 Will Sullivan http://www.innovation-series.com/?p=6286 The ODDI Mobile team is excited to announce we’ve begun rolling out the 3.0 redesign and functionality update to the BBG mobile news applications on the Google Android and Apple IOS mobile and tablet platforms. The platform that was awarded as 2014 finalists for “Best Mobile Publishing Platform or Service” by the GSMA Global Mobile Awards and “Best Multicultural App” by the Appy Awards is getting a big refresh.

Alhurra Android mobile app version 3.0Alhurra and Martí Noticias are already live for Apple IOS in the app stores and the Google Android version should be submitted soon after we iron out some last bugs and the analytics integration.

The mobile and tablet apps 3.0 version features:

  • Redesigned for all platforms to feature bigger, bolder images and typography
  • More easily accessible and usable navigation with a deep, touch-friendly side-loading feature
  • A new tablet-optimized version for larger format Androids and iPads to take advantage of the extra screen real estate
  • Much richer analytics suite to track usage and learn how to improve what our audiences demand
  • Related story suggestions to give audiences more information about the stories they’re interested in
  • Social media sharing improvements and Google+ support added
  • More prominent user-generated content submission on the app home screen so audiences can report news tips, photos, video and audio and send it directly to our service’s content management system
  • Language service UGC submission available directly in the Android system sharing tray for easy access to send multimedia content and news to our services
  • Android Home Screen Widget support with customizable categories, sizes and refresh intervals
  • Additional languages added for VOA (now supporting 44 language services) and RFE (now supporting 29 language services)
  • Google Chromecast streaming support for audio and video content
  • Tons of bug fixes

Marti Noticias on Apple IOS

We’ve done all this while still maintaining an app that is amazingly optimized for emerging market audiences with a small binary size (around 5 mb), offline saving of content, low-bandwidth mode, proxy integration, and a wide range of Android and Apple OSes supported going back more than 5 years (equivalent to decades in mobile technology history).

All of this wouldn’t have been possible without the tireless work of hundreds of language service producers (too many to name), their digital leaders Matthew, Hutch, Billy, Alen, Iscar, Mark, Martha, Steven, Rohit, Saeed, Catherine, Enver, Arkady P., Arkady B., Sasha, Martina, Natalia, Matilde, Kim and the Pangea team, our amazing analytics czar, Rebecca, and Ashley and Tyler, and last but not least the marauding ODDI mobile team of Ashok, Danish, Bo, Mo, Marian, Marek, Pavol, Pauli, Stan, and Al for his help last minute on screenshots and Adam and Rob for their support and leadership.

Over the next month (depending on final qa, analytics and localization testing), we’ll be submitting the VOA, RFE and RFA updates too. Get them all and learn more about our award-winning apps at:
http://apps.bbg.gov

 

 

]]>
http://www.innovation-series.com/2014/08/27/bbg-mobile-news-apps-get-a-huge-update-and-redesign/feed/ 0
VOA West Africa Trip: What I Learned… #Africa2014 http://www.innovation-series.com/2014/03/24/voa-west-africa-trip-what-i-learned-africa2014/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=voa-west-africa-trip-what-i-learned-africa2014 http://www.innovation-series.com/2014/03/24/voa-west-africa-trip-what-i-learned-africa2014/#comments Mon, 24 Mar 2014 19:12:07 +0000 Adam Martin http://www.innovation-series.com/?p=5982 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

Innovation

  • 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

Culture

  • 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.

]]>
http://www.innovation-series.com/2014/03/24/voa-west-africa-trip-what-i-learned-africa2014/feed/ 0
VOA Symbian App Launches for North Africa & Middle East Markets http://www.innovation-series.com/2014/01/14/voa-symbian-app-launches-in-four-languages/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=voa-symbian-app-launches-in-four-languages http://www.innovation-series.com/2014/01/14/voa-symbian-app-launches-in-four-languages/#comments Tue, 14 Jan 2014 21:00:49 +0000 Will Sullivan http://www.innovation-series.com/?p=5613 In the new year, we launched a new application on an old platform — VOA for Symbian OS.

The VOA Symbian app is focused on VOA‘s networks English, French, Hausa and Persian, specifically for North Africa and the Middle East regions, and it features multimedia news, photo, text and video content from the Voice of America news services.

Why Symbian? Because the decade-old Nokia platform is still strong in the African countries, still maintaining a top 4 Operating System ranking in many markets jockeying for position between Google Android, Apple IOS, and Nokia S40 OS. Of all those systems, Android is slowly taking the most market share from the older Nokia platforms, but it’s a slow churn rate due to Nokia’s rock-solid industrial designs — their phones are notorious for lasting forever — and because of the financial and technical challenges in the area, users aren’t upgrading their phone every 2 years (or less) as many people do in the more developed world.

The timing of the app launch will also help us with our surge efforts to help spread news and safety information in the Central African Republic, where there’s currently a humanitarian crisis going on. Symbian holds a stable 10 percent market share in the country, behind Android (42%) and Apple (18%) for the top three mobile operating systems.

The VOA Symbian app joins the Google Android and Apple IOS mobile and tablet applications already released which support 43 languages each.

]]>
http://www.innovation-series.com/2014/01/14/voa-symbian-app-launches-in-four-languages/feed/ 0
How We Made KettleCorn: NodeJS, CKEditor and Bing’s Translation API http://www.innovation-series.com/2013/10/26/using-nodejs-ckeditor-and-bings-translation-api-to-customize-popcorn-maker-for-journalists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=using-nodejs-ckeditor-and-bings-translation-api-to-customize-popcorn-maker-for-journalists http://www.innovation-series.com/2013/10/26/using-nodejs-ckeditor-and-bings-translation-api-to-customize-popcorn-maker-for-journalists/#comments Sat, 26 Oct 2013 15:45:39 +0000 Joe Flowers http://www.innovation-series.com/?p=5032 The Office of Digital and Design Innovation (ODDI) development team always looks for ways to empower journalists to tell their stories with ease and elegance. The 1.0 release of the PopcornJS standalone JavaScript library at MozFest 2011 immediately intrigued us because it enabled anyone on our team who was comfortable writing JavaScript to annotate the organization’s audio and video productions with content from a wide variety of internet sources.

As developers, it was very easy for us to understand the power and flexibility of PopcornJS, so we wanted to get involved. We got our feet wet contributing by building a PopcornJS Storify Plugin. We had high hopes to use PopcornJS early and often. However, it was difficult for us to sell PopcornJS outside of our team because of the required programming skills.

We closely followed the development of Popcorn Maker, and we even set up our own instance of one of its alpha releases. When version 1.0 of Popcorn Maker shipped at MozFest 2012 we were thrilled because we hoped it would solve the ‘coding required’ problem. But as KettleCorn product owner Brian Williamson recently explained, we weren’t able to reach the level of adoption we were hoping for a number of reasons, so we began developing a version of Popcorn Maker tailored to the needs of journalists: KettleCorn.

Brian recently outlined KettleCorn’s rich featureset and I’ll use this opportunity to share some of the interesting technical experiences we had when building some of those features.

Rich Text Editing

We chose the open source CKEDITOR as our WYSIWYG editor. We wanted it to be optional for any given text field, so we added an “editor” option to the plugin manifest. There were a couple of interesting considerations to make this work:

  • Popcorn Maker sanitizes text content because it doesn’t allow HTML tags. We had to disable that in cases where the field had a CKEditor in use for input.
  • Popcorn Maker allows on-stage editing for its text fields, but doing so was causing us to lose the formatting that we were doing in the CKEditor. Due to the elegant architecture of Popcorn Maker, this was pretty simple and could be done on a per-plugin bases. We simply commented out calls to EditorHelper.contentEditable()

Translation

We looked at a number of machine translation API’s and settled on Bing Translator because Microsoft provides a free plan that allows for up to 2 million characters per month of translation.

We then set about writing the code to allow us to consume their service. First, we retrieved the list of available languages via a one-time call to the GetLanguagesForTranslate endpoint. At that point, all we needed to do was be able to use their Translate endpoint on a regular basis within the KettleCorn authoring environment. We tried the following approaches:

  • Microsoft’s AJAX examples were quickly ruled out because they require ASP.NET.
  • Microsoft’s PHP Client is excellent and we quickly made it work, but running PHP and NodeJS on port 80 on the same server could prove to be difficult.
  • We found our final solution when we stumbled upon Kenan Shifflett’s MsTranslator NodeJS library on GitHub. We installed this in KettleCorn’s node_modules folder, added a route for /translate, and accepted POST parameters for the phrase and target language.

Screenshot of the new KettleCorn maps plugin showing multiple locations.

GoogleMaps+ Plugin

If you click “publish to the web” on a Google Spreadsheet, you are presented with a variety of options for what format you want to retrieve a public link to. We were hoping that we would easily be able to consume JSONP (to avoid any CORS issues), but that option isn’t offered via the public interface. After digging through a number of blog posts and threads about the topic, we found our solution. Every Google Spreadsheet has a key that you can parse from its URL, and you can use that key to obtain JSONP as follows:

https://spreadsheets.google.com/feeds/list/ENTER_SPREADSHEET_KEY_HERE/od6/public/values?alt=json-in-script&callback=jsonp

We didn’t want to require authors to format their links, so we allow them to enter a normal spreadsheet link, and then we parse the value of ‘key’ from the query string and plug it in. The only downside to this data is that it doesn’t seem to reflect the values from the first column, which is why we have an entire red “do not touch” column in our spreadsheet template.

Lower Thirds Plugin

Our Lower Third plugin allows the user to display an entity logo. In the context of the authoring environment, we wanted the default logo display to be based upon the user’s organization. However, someone who is viewing the published project on a website will not be logged into KettleCorn. We ended up checking for the existence of the window.Butter variable and setting the value of the logo based on the user’s profile when it exists.

End Card Promo Plugin

Getting the end card “90% done” happened pretty quickly, but we wanted the thumbnails and text to be responsive. We initially attempted to do this using just CSS, but getting the layout and images to scale the way we wanted ended up being difficult, so we settled on a table with three equally sized cells.

User Profiles and the Project Showcase

We added a table for user profiles to enable us to customize the presentation and save preferences on a per-user basis. If we were using PHP and MySQL, querying the database for all projects authored by a user would be as simple as writing an inner join and iterating through the results set. However, Popcorn Maker uses Sequelize as an ORM for data persistence, which greatly simplifies data access from NodeJS. Unfortunately, it wasn’t immediately obvious how to join our two tables together using Sequelize.  It’s clearly something that can be done based on the documentation, but we ran out of time researching it, so we had to settle for a limited functionality in the showcase for our release, and we will revisit this functionality later.

There’s More!

We would be more than happy to share more technical information and experiences with any interested developers. Feel free to tweet us @bbgKettleCorn or leave a comment below!

]]>
http://www.innovation-series.com/2013/10/26/using-nodejs-ckeditor-and-bings-translation-api-to-customize-popcorn-maker-for-journalists/feed/ 1