Innovation @ BBG » BBG 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.
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The illustrated stories of women struggling for human rights http://www.innovation-series.com/2015/07/01/illustrating-women-struggling-human-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=illustrating-women-struggling-human-rights http://www.innovation-series.com/2015/07/01/illustrating-women-struggling-human-rights/#comments Wed, 01 Jul 2015 17:31:32 +0000 Xi Rotmil http://www.innovation-series.com/?p=6542 Earlier this year, the Office of Digital Design and Innovation (ODDI) collaborated with Radio Free Asia and created  “It’s not Ok” – a collection of portraits of Asian women caught in the struggle for human rights in their communities, some willingly, others forced by circumstances.

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

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

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

Why did you use illustrations instead of photos?

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

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

 

Challenges

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

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

jiao_xia

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

Process

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

IMG_7286

Work in progress.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

How long did the whole process take?

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

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

 

What’s your favorite piece?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s next?

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

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

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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

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The new digital storytelling: BBG’ e-books on immigration, human Rights, freedom, and love http://www.innovation-series.com/2014/11/25/the-new-digital-storytelling-bbg-e-books-on-immigration-human-rights-freedom-and-love/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-new-digital-storytelling-bbg-e-books-on-immigration-human-rights-freedom-and-love http://www.innovation-series.com/2014/11/25/the-new-digital-storytelling-bbg-e-books-on-immigration-human-rights-freedom-and-love/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 20:35:59 +0000 Xi Rotmil http://www.innovation-series.com/?p=6383 E-books offer new channels to engage with an audience and tell great stories, whether it is with a serialized collection of text-based stories for small e-readers or an interactive audio/video/photo magazine for tablet devices.

With access to RFA and VOA’s websites restricted in mainland China and some other Asian countries, short-wave broadcasts jammed and other filters hampering access to the broadcaster’s output, e-books also has the potential to circumvent the firewall – once it has been downloaded on to a tablet device, it can be shared easily among friends, relations and colleagues.

To test the feasibility of using e-books for BBG, the Office of Digital Design and Innovation collaborated with RFA and VOA on the creation of four e-books using different tools.

The four ebooks in the pilot project featured topics ranging from immigration, Asian women fighting for human rights, China’s pro-democracy movement that ended in tragedy, to a  jailed Uyghur writer’s tale of longing for lost freedom.

Remembering Tiananmen

“Remembering Tiananmen” represents the first foray for BBG into the iBook world of interactive storytelling. The Chinese edition is

aimed at an audience that was not even born when these events happened, and because of censorship, may not have any idea that the turmoil of 1989 ever took place.

The publication leverages previously published audio eyewitness accounts, historic “RFA exclusive” photography and video, archive photos, along with newly created custom maps and diagrams. The heart of the book is an interactive timeline that allows the reader to navigate events chronologically, in addition to traditional chapter-based browsing. Through the multimedia interface the viewer not only reads the narrative facts of events, but also experiences the sights and sounds of Beijing in the spring of 1989.

View RemberingTiananmen in the iTunes Store

 

Caged, The Illustrated Writings of Nurmuhemmet Yasin

In 2013, Radio Free Asia released Caged: The writings of Nurmuhemmet Yasin in the iBook store. The project represents another successful collaboration between RFA and ODDI, following on the success of Remembering Tiananmen.

This e-book features the now banned tale and an essay about love. Nurmuhemmet Yasin was a successful Uyghur author living in western China when he published “Wild Pigeon”. The short fable tells the story of a wild pigeon prince who is captured and caged by men. He ultimately decides that suicide is preferable to a life spent in captivity. After it was published, the Chinese government recognized that the story was an allegory for the Uyghur people living under Chinese rule. The court sentenced Yasin to 10 years in prison for inciting Uyghur separatism.

View Caged in the iTunes store

Unsettled: A Story of U.S. Immigration

Unsettled, a story of U.S. Immigration, produced in partnership with VOA, gives insight into the economic forces, social pressures, and policies that have shaped American immigration and explores where the nation may go in the future.

“Unsettled” presents the triumph, tragedy and contradictions of the immigrant experience through a multimedia exploration of history and economics. It includes interactive charts, maps, info graphics, audio clips, archival films, audio, stills, a U.S. naturalization quiz, and over a dozen video clips totaling more than 20 minutes.

View Unsettled in the iTunes Store

 

“It’s not OK.” Women struggling for human rights

“It’s not Ok” is a collection of portraits of Asian women caught in the struggle for human rights in their communities, some willingly, others forced by circumstances.

This e-book is based on reporting and interviews conducted by the RFA language services in Burmese, Lao, Khmer, Korean, Mandarin, Cantonese, Tibetan, Uyghur, and Vietnamese.

Each story is a testimony to the courage and determination of these women. The title, “it’s not OK,” comes from the public cry by one of them, in court, as she heard that her husband’s sentence had been extended by eight years.

These women urge us to look closer and peer into the reflection of their world. Only when we open our eyes to their struggle can we realize it is a shared, universal struggle for justice, fairness, and compassion. Their lives are made even more beautiful by the weight of their tireless convictions. When the light of the world’s attention shines on them, these women like hidden gems brighten, dazzle, and amaze,” president of RFAS Libby Liu wrote in the foreword.

View “It’s not OK” in the iTunes Store

One e-book in the pilot program, Tiananmen Square Remembered, won the International Media Excellence Award, held by the Association of International Broadcasters last year.

In addition, VOA News mobile application “Unsettled” has been selected as a winner for the 2014 W3 “Silver Award.”

 

 

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VOA Indonesia trip: BBG Direct and Affiliates http://www.innovation-series.com/2014/11/05/voa-indonesia-trip-bbg-direct-and-affiliates/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=voa-indonesia-trip-bbg-direct-and-affiliates http://www.innovation-series.com/2014/11/05/voa-indonesia-trip-bbg-direct-and-affiliates/#comments Wed, 05 Nov 2014 16:00:14 +0000 Xi Rotmil http://www.innovation-series.com/?p=6324

During the conference in Indonesia, VOA’s booth placing participants in front of a poster of the Capitol to give a 60 second broadcast was very popular.

Recently, the amount of news & information programming from the BBG broadcast entities listened to or watched through our global affiliates exceeded the amount distributed directly to our audience for the first time. A recent trip to Indonesia highlights the diversity among BBG affiliates, including Suara Surabaya Media, Dreamers Network, Baranews and KPK.

Indonesia is a collection of 922 permanently inhabited islands spread over three time zones. The needs of Indonesian affiliates are as diverse as the islands themselves.  For instance, in the competitive, dense media environment of Java, affiliates are looking to enhance their existing content with interesting short audio and video specialty pieces. In less populated islands, media entities are interested in large chunks of content, even entire shows.

In May, Steve Fuchs, our UX Studio Manager, traveled to Indonesia to show affiliates the new BBG Direct content distribution website.  While in Indonesia, Fuchs attended the 20th Annual Conference of Independent Journalists.

About 40 organizations participated in the conference. Other networks were also there. Many them were our affiliates. There were workshops on content creation, movie making, and citizen journalism. The crowd was young and enthusiastic.

A breakout session on environmental studies taught with comics: kids made their own green themed comic stories with typing paper and number 2 pencils.

A snapshot of affiliates who aim to engage, inform, and inspire.

Dreamers Network, one of our affiliates,  does a great job of engaging its audience.  In three years, Dreamers Network founder Daniel Hartono has built a streaming only radio website focused on giving young people what they want, when they want it. The station is ranked number one in Korean-pop in Indonesia with Dreamers’ coverage of k-pop even being picked up by Yahoo.

Dreamers also has a very active social network. The office sits above its own branded cafe and listeners are invited to come and eat. Listeners also get to network with each other via radio (cos-play, zombie groups etc). Dreamers also has a glass studio facing the street so people nearby can see when guests do a broadcast. The station now has a dating site which allows members of the listening audience to see each other and chat online. Dreamers will also add there own job search where listeners will be allowed space to demo their skills. For instance, a barista can do a quick video of themselves making a cup of java, or an artist can show their work. Dreamers has allotted space for bloggers to do fan fiction and this has been picked up by a publishing firm and made into print books.

Dreamers uses VOA for breaking news (Korean Ferry, Chinese claims to the Spratly Islands, and missing Malaysian plane were popular topics) but also looks for entertainment, music and film content.

Suara Surabaya Media focuses on meeting their audience’s needs and being the most relevant station in the region. Listeners send the station pictures of fires, traffic accidents, and other local events. Suara then posts these pictures, along with advice on how to detour, or best cope with the conditions. They also makes sure the proper authorities are called. Suara has an FM radio station and runs the website suarasurabaya.net.  Suara Surabaya uses VOA content on business, entrepreneurs, green sites and urban farms. Inspirational news and features on Indonesians in America are also very popular.

As an anti-corruption group, KPK  is very interested in providing VOA news on corruption, economics, and environment to its audience. On the day Fuchs was visiting, the office was surrounded (peacefully) with protesters and local police. Besides exposing corruption, KPK is most interested in VOA providing inspiring content such as “positive role model coverage” of life in other countries.

Baranews  has  also launched a website promoting reform issues. Like KPK, Bara was interested in progressive political news, economics, technology and environmental reports and positive stories from around the world.

Bara will soon launch a live streaming TV app for smart phones in Indonesia, Singapore and Beijing. This is an on-demand and live streaming TV app with integrated social media components where people can chat and share while watching. Users will also be able to record and play later, as well as create their own channels.

Republika.co.id is the online version of the popular Muslim daily newspaper. They are an old line media firm (in 1992, they had a linotype machine in their lobby) with a large campus in the city. They have a strong interest in a mobile-first small bites approach to reaching new audiences and say they are most interested in reports on economics, science, technology, and the United States.

BBG Direct works to meet the needs of today’s affiliate.

BBG Direct is specially designed to reach the broadcast affiliates and digital partners of the BBG. You can download content, find satellite information, schedules and much more. Our suite of digital services includes free, fast, and reliable live streaming, a hosted, branded digital player optimized for mobile, and online support.

Overall the new BBG Direct site was well received in Indonesia. Despite regional and other differences, all affiliates said they hope VOA will continue to supply them with materials that can be used to engage, inform and inspire their audience.

 

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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

 

 

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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.

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Relay Gets Two Major Functionality Upgrades, More Features On the Way http://www.innovation-series.com/2014/02/24/relay-gets-two-major-functionality-upgrades-more-features-on-the-way/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=relay-gets-two-major-functionality-upgrades-more-features-on-the-way http://www.innovation-series.com/2014/02/24/relay-gets-two-major-functionality-upgrades-more-features-on-the-way/#comments Mon, 24 Feb 2014 16:09:48 +0000 Randy Abramson http://www.innovation-series.com/?p=5948 Relay, the mobile-first, breaking news platform that was released by the Office of Digital and Design Innovation in December, 2013, has been upgraded with two major features:

1. Making Cards Sticky by ‘Pinning’
Previously, Relay displayed content in chronological order on a timeline at the bottom of the interface, with the first card on the left containing the most recent piece of content. However, we anticipated that users would soon request the ability to feature specific content and ensure that selected cards would be the first thing that users see when the Relay interface loads (similar to making content “sticky” on other platforms). With the new ‘pinning’ functionality, featured cards — that hold everything from live video streams to interviews — can be designated to display in the first slot of a card timeline.

2. Photo Card AutoGeneration
For our December, 2013 release, we were excited to offer journalists the ability to generate video, text, and Tweet cards directly from their mobile phone.  In our latest release, the new Photo Card AutoGeneration feature allows journalists to shoot photos on their phones and share them with Relay via Email. We are leveraging the Flickr platform and API for storage and image serving and the ‘Email to publish’ workflow is consistent with easy-to-learn video-Email process that received positive feedback from our field testers.

NASA GSM Launch

Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

What’s Next?

The Relay team continues to prioritize enhancements based on BBG journalist feedback and also suggestions from NASA, who plans use Relay to cover the launch of the NASA-JAXA Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory on February 27, 2014. Features that we expect to release in the coming weeks include:

1. Easy Updates: The Easy Updates feature will allow us to publish new enhancements to existing Relay events without having to erase existing content.

2. Turn-key Language translation: Creating Relay instances for non-English language services is a fairly manual process. With some work, we can create sites in any language based off of a set of defined terms in Google spreadsheets or other cloud based document storage platforms.

3. Enhanced Alert Messaging: We’re re-working the flow and design for how users can sign up for Email alerts and will be rolling out SMS alerts in the coming weeks

4. SEO and Page Load Optimization: We’ll be re-architecting code to ensure that search engines can see our content and also provide for faster download times to mobile and desktop platforms

5. Audio Card Generation: We’ll be leveraging the SoundCloud API to allow journalists to record audio interviews from their mobile devices and publish that content to Relay

6. Designing For Multi-day/Multi-week Events: We are working with an information architect to design interfaces and user flows for events that go on for several days/weeks. We plan to make use of this new design for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

At the Yesterday and Today Beatles 50th Anniversary show in Washington, DC with Carolyn Presutti (donning Google Glass) and Jose Vega (center)

At the Yesterday and Today Beatles 50th Anniversary show in Washington, DC with Carolyn Presutti (donning Google Glass) and Jose Vega (center)

7. Continued Experimentation With Google Glass: Wearable technology is the shiny new toy that journalists are dreaming about for the collection and broadcast of on-the-ground content and Google Glass is the ‘must have’ gadget of the moment.

I joined VOA’s Carolyn Presutti and BBG’s Jose Vega to test Glass and to see how it would integrate with Relay at a tribute show for The Beatles in Washington, D.C. at the venue where they first played in the U.S., 50 years ago. Glass was able to transmit photos and video to Relay via Email, but, without some serious hacking to Glass, live video streaming is restricted to private Hangouts that can’t be embedded into Relay or other Web pages. We’re excited to monitor the evolution of Glass’ live broadcast functionality and see how it can be integrated into the set of Relay feature offerings.

What features would you like Relay to have? Mail Randy Abramson and let us know!

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Top Writing Tips for Journalists Writing to Video, Multimedia http://www.innovation-series.com/2014/02/14/top-writing-tips-for-journalists-writing-to-video-multimedia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=top-writing-tips-for-journalists-writing-to-video-multimedia http://www.innovation-series.com/2014/02/14/top-writing-tips-for-journalists-writing-to-video-multimedia/#comments Fri, 14 Feb 2014 17:48:43 +0000 Erica Malouf http://www.innovation-series.com/?p=5910 Have you ever watched a news segment or video and been completely and happily absorbed in the story? Or conversely, have you ever been so distracted by the choppy audio and unnecessary narration that you didn’t enjoy it?

As many a broadcast and multimedia journalists know, achieving “happily absorbed” is a skill and an art. But as with any kind of writing, we can study what the pros do.

I’ve adapted most of these tips from a webinar given by a master: Al Tompkins, Senior Faculty, Broadcast and Online at The Poynter Institute. (With some notes of my own.)

TOP TIPS

When writing to news videos, whether for broadcast or a digital platform, it’s important to keep your writing tight! As Al Tompkins says, ‘the biggest sin is wasting the time of the audience.’

#1
Understand Storytelling: Engaging stories usually follow a tried-and-true formula because…it works. I like to think that the basics of such formulas were figured out during the campfires of cavemen. Storytelling is a defining characteristic of humanity, and your audience is definitely familiar with common story structure even if they aren’t conscious of it. Generally speaking, the audience will like it when a story starts with conflict and ends with resolution.

#2
Pick a Formula: Tompkins recommends the “Hey! You, See, So” structure for news videos. Meaning, start with “Hey!” (the attention grabber), then “You” (the WIIFM—why this is relevant to the viewer), “See” (show evidence), and “So” (the point—what this is all about).

#3
Start Strong: For a news story, jump into the information—don’t waste time with a fluffy introduction. For a narrative, create tension right away.

#4
Remove Redundancies: When you’re editing the accompanying narrative to a video, Tompkins says to “train yourself to spot redundancies.” And cut sound bites that repeat what was said earlier.

PRO TIPS:

  • Ask yourself, ‘Do I need that word for people to understand?’
  • Read your sentences backward in order to catch superfluous words.

#5
Prioritize Video Over Narration: Use narration only for what cannot be shown in the video or told in sound bites and ambient audio. For example, if the video is a man walking down a dirt road, don’t waste time telling us “a man walks down a dirt road.” Instead, explain what can’t be understood from the visuals or audio but is critical to the story. Let the viewer figure some things out on their own.

#6
Use Sound Selectively: Sound—ambient noise and sound bites of people speaking—should not stop the action or cut into the narration in a choppy or jarring way. Tompkins says that “popcorn audio” (described as sound that comes from no where and stops the story for no good reason) is a fad in editing that should be forgotten because it’s distracting. When woven into the story carefully, sound can add credibility to the action and bring the viewer into the scene.

#7
Write the Facts: Narration should be almost all factual. Let the emotion and drama come through sound bites and visuals. I once had a professor tell me to “write flat to drama,” meaning let the action speak for itself and leave out subjective opinion.

#8
Review Grammar: Be judicious with adverbs—try to remove words that end in “ly” because often they are unnecessary opinion.  For example, in the phrase “she cried happily,” happily can be removed, especially if the video or the story indicates that she was clearly happy. Use more active verbs that clearly tell who and what did what.

PRO TIP:

  • I suggest reading the book, “Writing Tools,” by Roy Peter Clark, and “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White, to brush up on grammar.

#9
Write for the Platform: Create the narration and edit each video based on the platform. Keep in mind that TV is still a passive experience (except for the second screen, meaning people using another device while watching TV). The Internet is about interactivity, plus know that people have shorter attention spans online and so are apt to bounce more quickly if a video isn’t interesting right away. (Try this free, journalist-friendly tool for creating interactive videos online called KettleCorn that our team at ODDI created.)

TRY IT

Watch this video about VOA’s use of Google Glass to record concert of a Beatles cover band. Do you hear any narration that could be cut because the visuals tell the story without it? What worked and didn’t work?

See more videos of the concert on the Relay platform.

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Relay Calling: Creating the Next Generation Digital News Experience http://www.innovation-series.com/2013/09/19/relay-calling-creating-the-next-generation-digital-news-experience/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=relay-calling-creating-the-next-generation-digital-news-experience http://www.innovation-series.com/2013/09/19/relay-calling-creating-the-next-generation-digital-news-experience/#comments Thu, 19 Sep 2013 13:34:49 +0000 Randy Abramson http://www.innovation-series.com/?p=4461 Relay is a new ‘mobile first’ breaking and developing news experience from the Office of Digital and Design Innovation

The Inspiration Behind Relay

Although the tools used in reporting breaking news and developing stories have become staggeringly advanced (see LiveStream, UStream, Vyclone, SoundCloud, YouTube Live and Videolicious to name a few), the way in which digital media outlets display breaking news has not had a formal update in quite a while. If you’re looking at a desktop site when a big story breaks, the normal homepage layout is altered by including an extra large photo and a large headline font (read: this is important!). You click in and read a few lines about the story that is developing and see a notation and that you should “check back for updates.” At this moment, most users rush to their TV or dash to Twitter/Facebook to see if they can get more information on the breaking story, never to return to the initial Web or mobile site that they initially sought out. The media outlet that first informed a user about the story missed an opportunity to fully connect and engage with the user.

As the global audio/video lead at the Office of Digital and Design Innovation at the BBG, I challenged myself to create a breaking news product that would rethink how we displayed content around developing and breaking stories. The most basic purpose for this product (which we affectionately have named ‘Relay’) was that it would serve as an invitation of sorts to the user to engage with our coverage for the full development of a story and that its design would be focused on one event, free of distracting ‘related stories’ and trending content modules.

Learnings From the Boston Marathon Bombings And the Recent Navy Yard Shootings

During the Boston Marathon bombing incident in April, 2013, I scanned some of the larger news outlets to see how the story was being covered. Most outlets ran the ‘big story’ format described above: big font, big photo, “check back later” messaging. But Boston.com did something different: they placed a live blog widget on their homepage as the central component. The use of the live blog widget did not provide the most visually interesting experience, but it signified to me that Boston.com was reporting on this story NOW. The message wasn’t “check back later.” Instead, it screamed to me, “DON’T GO AWAY!” (Note: The Washington Post also placed a live blog widget on their home page in the recent DC Navy Yard shootings.)

Washington post site

The Washington Post site included a live blog widget on their site during the recent Navy Yard shootings.

Taking a page from The Washington Post and Boston.com’s playbook, I thought about how we could create a breaking news experience that built on the immediacy of the live blog, but I also wanted it to have new design elements and functionality that are specific to mobile devices and alert systems to keep the user engaged with a story. We also wanted to provide tools that allow our journalists to react and report quickly on a story (also from mobile devices), but also ensure that the digital experience could expand and allow us to continue to add to the story as it develops over time. Finally, the design should immerse the user into the story; the experience should be focused on the most recent developments and be free from other distracting content.

The Four Pillars of Relay

In thinking about what Relay could and should be, I focused in on four ‘must have’ features that would make the product most useful to both our reporters and users during a breaking news or developing story situation:

1. Mobile First Design and User Flow

BBG mobile audiences are growing. Additionally, developing news events happen in off hours when users are not in front of their desktops but are instead reaching for their mobile phones or tablets for updates. So, ensuring that the Relay experience be optimized for mobile phones and tablets is critical. In ordering our development, we prioritized for tablets first, phones second and desktop last, and, in this case, the desktop and tablet experiences will be the same. Content needs to be responsive to screen size and interfaces need to be clean and focused, with minimal scrolling and navigation. We came up with the idea of using ‘timeline’ navigation on the bottom of the user interface that would eliminate wordy text links, but it would also allow users to go back and catch up with coverage that they may have missed.

Beacon timeline navigation

The Relay timeline navigation allows users to easily go back and catch up with coverage that a viewer may have missed.

Just as important as the responsiveness of the experience and the clean navigation is the need for focused design and smooth user flow throughout Relay. We tried to learn from some of the most popular mobile apps and mimic what works, namely having one piece of featured content per content ‘card’ (very much like the ‘one photo at a time’ experience of your favorite photo viewing program on your mobile device) and to give the user the ability to to swipe to the next piece of content (mimicking iTunes cover flow and the Newsy video app). If we succeed here, Relay should feel familiar and the user should be able to focus in on each individual new piece of developing content without a lot of extra distractions.

2. Speed Over Polish/Input Agnostic

There are countless fantastic news gathering, editing and publishing tools that work on mobile devices (Live Stream, UStream, YouTube Live and our Radio Free Europe’s PangeaGo to name a few of the video apps alone) that allow our journalists to react quickly and report without the legacy need of a film crew and satellite truck. After the fact checking and sourcing process is complete, a reporter on the ground should be able to react to a story and engage with our users. In creating Relay, we wanted to empower our journalists and be sure that it would be wired to accept reports from the latest and greatest tools that are available. That means we need to think ahead and strategically prioritize how we develop to make Relay compatible with the tools that are established now. Since we have reporters on the ground all over the world, we need to consider all the possible inputs as well as the fact that app availability and bandwidth may vary greatly. Making sure we build Relay to accept the full gamut of reporting, from simple text tweets up through rich live video streaming, is key to Relay’s success.

LiveStream

LiveStream is just one example of a technology that can help our journalists react and report on stories quickly.

3. Connect Users To the Story Through Alerts

After our fact checking and source verification, our reporters should be able to shoot and publish in real time using tools like LiveStream, UStream and PangeaGo. But the exciting part of live coverage really happens when users are brought back into the story as the reporting is happening. We are exploring several SMS and email alert solutions that will notify the user when new reports are starting and bring the user back to the experience. The user should also be able to configure how often they’d want the receive these alerts. We believe that if users are alerted to coverage as it is happening, there is an increased possibility that they can help direct our coverage in near real time. Which brings us to our last area of focus for Relay…

4. Engagement

Reporting the news in real time is an exciting proposition, but we’ve learned that simply reporting the news is not enough. Engaging with our audience and ultimately having them participate in news gathering and helping to direct our reporting is baked into the early planning of Relay. Clear placement of Twitter hash tags can help direct users to join the conversation with us and comment functionality allow users to discuss specific pieces of audio, video and photos. Content cards that feature polls can help us survey popular opinion from our users. Poll results will be relayed back to our reporters in the field and hopefully direct commentary and reporting. Relay also features editor message cards that can direct users to other interactive features during times of content editing and fact gathering.

Relay polls and Twitter are  features that will help us engage with our users.

Polls and Twitter conversations are features that will help us engage with our users.

Next Steps

We’ve done a great deal of work around planning out the feature set, design and experience of Relay, but we are also spending time testing the product as we build. Our initial round of testing was extremely helpful in helping us clean up the UI and it gave us insight into how real users would interact with the timeline navigation, content cards and more. Next up, we want to do field testing with our reporters and have them test Relay from the other side: the content creation side. There are still a lot of questions around how this product will be used: at what point do you start a Relay experience over authoring a basic news story? How will Relay experiences be archived over time? How can we make the Relay experience more portable so it can be viewed on social platforms? How will users submit content and have more interaction with our journalists and producers? Even with these questions (and others) outstanding, we feel that there is great promise in the product, both for our journalists covering the most important of stories and for the users who will hopefully become more and more engaged with our reporting.

What features do you think should be in Relay? Be sure to comment–we’re listening!

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