Innovation @ BBG » RFA 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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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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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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Illustrating “Wild Pigeon,” an allegory of government repression http://www.innovation-series.com/2014/08/18/illustrating-wild-pigeon-an-allegory-of-government-repression/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=illustrating-wild-pigeon-an-allegory-of-government-repression http://www.innovation-series.com/2014/08/18/illustrating-wild-pigeon-an-allegory-of-government-repression/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 12:00:20 +0000 Brian Williamson http://www.innovation-series.com/?p=6222 In 2004, 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.

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

For Caged, RFA wanted to compile their translations of Yasin’s short stories, essays and poems, as well as audio performances of his works.

After he was imprisoned, RFA received a copy of Yasin’s writings and permission from his family to publish and broadcast his works. The Uyghur service recorded an audio performance of “Wild Pigeon” complete with musical score. RFA Uyghur service director Dolkun Kamberi translated the text into English.

In 2013, RFA editors Catherine Antoine and Enver K. Uyghur decided to repackage the audio performance translation into an eBook for the approaching anniversary of Yasin’s conviction. They wanted to publish versions of the book in English and the different scripts of Uyghur: Cyrillic, Arabic and Latin. They approached ODDI looking for creative ways to quickly illustrate the stories, essays and poems.

Three thumbnail sketches for the "Wild Pigeon" illustrations by Brian Williamson.

Creating the illustrations

Before starting the illustrations, I met with Catherine and Enver to discuss possible styles for the illustrations and to define what specifically needed to be illustrated. I created four quick moodboards to provide a starting point for the conversation.

Enver loaned me a book of Uyghur textile patterns and folk art. We decided to try incorporate these patterns into the illustrations.

In addition to the “Wild Pigeon” illustrations, we also wanted small spot illustrations to help break up the poetry, and an author portrait of Yasin.

Initially I assumed that I’d create two or three illustrations for “Wild Pigeon”. But when I laid out the text to create a dummy book, I realized that the story was longer than I’d thought. We needed illustrations throughout the story to help break up the text. To accomplish this, I abandoned the idea of creating hand-drawn illustrations and instead adopted a simpler vector style.

Illustrated portrait of Nurmuhemmet Yasin and Uyghur musician by Brian Williamson for Radio Free Asia's eBook "Caged".

From virtual eBook to tangible print-on-demand hardcover

In addition to releasing Caged in a variety of eBook formats — ePub, iBook, PDF — we also experimented with releasing it as an actual physical book.

Once the illustrations were drawn and the ebook was designed, it was a relatively simple task to repurpose the book for print. We uploaded the book to a print-on-demand service where it can be purchased in softcover and hardback.

By relying on print-on-demand, we’re able to avoid any up front printing charges and the risk of printing too many copies that are left boxed in a closet. Instead, each copy of the book is printed as it is ordered. The service can also handle the distribution of the book and allows the creator to set the profit earned for each book (because of the nature of this project, we didn’t add any additional ‘profit’/expense to the printing cost).

The primary drawback to using print on demand is that individual copies of the book are more expensive. But in this case, it allowed us to experiment and repurpose an existing project at little expense or additional time.

eBooks and USIM

uyghur_book_coverAs Yasin’s 10-year sentence is nearing its end, RFA has received conflicting reports on his health. He is scheduled to be released this November, but RFA has been unable to confirm if he is still alive.

“Caged: The Writings of Nurmuhemmet Yasin” is available in multiple formats and languages from RFA’s bookstore. The ePub and iBook versions of the book also include the audio performance recorded by RFA’s Uyghur service.

ODDI encourages and supports USIM journalists interested in using eBook formats as an alternative distribution method to help circumvent government censorship efforts.

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Radio Free Asia launches apps on Android, Apple IOS http://www.innovation-series.com/2014/02/06/radio-free-asia-launches-apps-on-android-apple-ios/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=radio-free-asia-launches-apps-on-android-apple-ios http://www.innovation-series.com/2014/02/06/radio-free-asia-launches-apps-on-android-apple-ios/#comments Thu, 06 Feb 2014 16:17:33 +0000 Will Sullivan http://www.innovation-series.com/?p=5829 I’m tickled to announce that Radio Free Asia is the latest BBG entity to join our suite of BBG applications for Android and Apple IOS mobile and tablet devices with support for 10 languages from English to Tibetan (including 3 Uyghur scripts).

Our partner in collaboration, Catherine Antoine, Director – Managing Editor of RFA Online, welcomed the launch saying, “These multilanguage applications delivering Asian news will inform the new generation of mobile users, who are tomorrow’s leaders.”RFA Article Page

This project took a lot of extra hard work from superhero developer and all-around nice guy, Michael “Flip” McFadden, as RFA is on an entirely different content management system than other BBG entities so ODDI Mobile marauders, Bo Kostro and Danish Ahmed, had to do a lot of testing, localizations and custom development work to get all the framework connected and working.

RFA joins RFE, VOA, Alhurra and Marti Noticias on the Umbrella App framework, which going forward we’ll be able to build features for all five entities in parallel providing innovative, enterprise-quality news experiences customized for the challenges that our audiences in emerging markets face.

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Creating “Remembering Tiananmen”: iBook Allows Long-Form Journalism to Cross Closed Borders http://www.innovation-series.com/2013/07/22/creating-remembering-tiananmen-ibook-allows-long-form-journalism-to-cross-closed-borders/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=creating-remembering-tiananmen-ibook-allows-long-form-journalism-to-cross-closed-borders http://www.innovation-series.com/2013/07/22/creating-remembering-tiananmen-ibook-allows-long-form-journalism-to-cross-closed-borders/#comments Mon, 22 Jul 2013 17:04:00 +0000 Steve Fuchs http://www.innovation-series.com/?p=3788 It is a cliché: you are walking down the street and a friend comes up holding a book and says: “Read this book. It changed my life!”

As with all clichés, there is a nugget of truth at its core.

A book, whether it is analog or digital, is a special thing. People have great expectations when they open a book. Readers are looking for a comprehensive, thoughtful, and immersive experience.

Whether it is a serialized collection of text-based stories for small e-readers, or an interactive audio/video/photo magazine for tablet devices, eBooks offer new channels for journalists to engage with an audience and tell great stories.

On June 4th, the 24th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, Radio Free Asia (RFA) released an iBook account of the 1989 protests in both Mandarin and English.

Remembering Tiananmen is RFA’s first fully interactive book for the tablet market. Produced in Mandarin and English, the publication gathers audio eyewitness accounts, historic “RFA exclusive” photography and video, as well as archive news photography; and pairs these previously published items with specially commissioned text, 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 multi-media 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.

The Process.

As Director of the Office of Digital & Design Innovation (ODDI) studio I led the team that matched our creative and technical resources with RFA content and editorial resources. The two teams worked intensely and collaboratively over a 3 month period.

Once an initial direction was decided and content was collected, the design and editorial team began to storyboard out what a book might look like. An interactive timeline was devised to anchor events in place and assist the reader in navigating the book. The events of the Spring of 1989 were also divided into 5 phases (The Protest Begins, The Politburo Splits, Tension Rises, Crackdown, and Aftermath) each of which would constitute a chapter of the book, and have its own section of timeline.

Decks of copy were needed to stitch the chapters together, along with an introduction and closing section. Video and photos needed to be at the higher qualities allowed on tablets. Chinese material needed to be translated to English and vice versa. At this point in the process a diagram of Tiananmen was commissioned, as well as a map of central Beijing, since many of the actions happened in the surrounding area.  Luckily, RFA had experienced editors who covered the Tiananmen from the ground, including Dan Southerland, now Executive Editor of RFA, but then China Bureau Chief from the Washington Post and Feng Xiaoming, now the Mandarin Service Director of RFA, who was a co-anchor for CCTV.

We used iBooks Author, as  well as Adobe CS6 tools, to layout and create the book. Part of the power of iBooks Author is that it allows editors to quickly assemble an interactive publication with no coding and minimal graphic knowledge.

But this same functionality makes iBooks Author a mixed bag for graphic designers, since templates are more complex to adapt and change than one-off pages. We found that the existing templates were too generic: our designers created a set of branded templates to give all RFA iBooks a distinctive look. We also invested technical and design time to create the custom timeline.

The good news for designers is, once the template and custom graphics are done, a trained editor can make all the picky text corrections, changes, and updates. This is a huge plus in a multi-lingual environment.

New devices create new challenges. While eReaders have been around for many years, tablet devices are relatively new. The iPad displays dozens of languages and a broad array of fonts, but  iBook Authur supports only a few languages in multi-touch format, and even fewer fonts. This currently results is real challenges in placing these native functioning books in iBook stores around the world. PDF and ePub formats are more universally accepted, but far less functional.

The “ah ha” Moment.

The first rough draft that could be loaded on a iPad was a considerable milestone, since the entire team finally experienced how the book actually “felt.” iBooks are meant to be experienced through multiple channels (and possibly in a nonlinear manner), and this working prototype generated a lot of crucial feedback on everything from how a slideshow was styled and how videos launched, to the size of touch targets on the timeline.

Journalism without borders.

Tucked inside a phone, or concealed on a USB stick, eBooks allow articulate, immersive, long-form journalism to get around restricted web environments, and across closed borders. This trait is a very significant one for the BBG news entities.

What we have learned.

A great editorial team must be paired with a great design team in order to turn previously published material into a meaningful new experience.  With all the multimedia components, an iBook is still a book, and good copywriting is a must. Edits need to be made to archival material to trim away elements that, with the passage of time, have become less relevant. Readers expect high quality graphics, interactive elements, as well as video and audio to yield an immersive storytelling experience. It is also crucial to take advantage of the native storytelling and navigation attributes of any particular device, and to do this you will have to prepare different editions of the same book for various platforms.

Remembering Tiananmen represents a powerful 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. Will this iBook change anyone’s life? Possibly not, but it may start some very interesting conversations.

For more information:

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Website Showcasing News From Around the World Debuts Today http://www.innovation-series.com/2013/03/18/website-showcasing-news-from-around-the-world-debuts-this-week/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=website-showcasing-news-from-around-the-world-debuts-this-week http://www.innovation-series.com/2013/03/18/website-showcasing-news-from-around-the-world-debuts-this-week/#comments Mon, 18 Mar 2013 21:06:42 +0000 April Deibert http://www.innovation-series.com/?p=2792 —————-

[Source: Cross-posted from BBG.gov's Press Releases, 18 March 2013]

Washington, DC – Breaking international news gathered by one of the world’s most extensive networks of journalists can now be found in one place thanks to a new online initiative by the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

Today marks the launch of the BBG’s Global News Dashboard, which pulls together the English-language news from the more than 50 bureaus, production centers and offices supported by the agency’s staff journalists and more than 1500 stringers around the globe.

“This site showcases the depth and reach of the high-quality journalism that the BBG produces,” said Richard M. Lobo, director of the BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau.  “There are millions of English-speakers worldwide who get their news from the individual websites of our broadcasters.  It makes sense to pool our resources and put them to work to serve our audiences even better.”

The new site’s English-language content will come from Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Radio Free Asia. Users who access stories will be directed to the original content on the sites of the three broadcasters. The Global News Dashboard also will include links to original content in Spanish of Radio/TV Martí and the Arabic-language online offerings of the Middle East Broadcasting Networks.

Before development of the Dashboard, people interested in the work of the BBG would have to visit the websites of five separate broadcasters. This tool, built on the Pangea content management system developed by RFE/RL and used by the majority of BBG’s broadcasters to power their websites, makes that search easier.

“It’s such a simple tool, but it will have a resounding effect,” said Robert Bole, director of BBG’s Office of Digital and Design Innovation. “Bringing all these sources of information together makes a powerful statement about this agency and the way we do business.  We’re so much greater than just the sum of our parts.”

The Global News Dashboard can be found at http://www.globalnewsdashboard.com.

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Innovation Strategy on a Global Scale, 2013 http://www.innovation-series.com/2013/02/26/innovation-strategy-on-a-global-scale-2013/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=innovation-strategy-on-a-global-scale-2013 http://www.innovation-series.com/2013/02/26/innovation-strategy-on-a-global-scale-2013/#comments Tue, 26 Feb 2013 06:24:52 +0000 robbole http://www.innovation-series.com/?p=2563 The Office of Digital & Design Innovation launched roughly a year ago with a very straightforward mission: the expansion and usage of digital platforms to grow our global online audience.  We do that by working with our partner media networks to bring best-in-class platforms and services, as well as experimenting and launching innovative new technologies that speed our transition in serving increasingly online audiences.

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

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

Here is our plan for 2013.

 

2013 Strategy & Goals

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

Digital platform highlights include:

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

 

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

Mobile highlights include:

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

 

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

Audience engagement highlights include:

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

 

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

Digital affiliate highlights include:

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

 

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

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

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

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How Federal Agencies Can Enhance Their RSS Feeds For Free http://www.innovation-series.com/2013/01/11/how-federal-agencies-can-enhance-their-rss-feeds-for-free/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-federal-agencies-can-enhance-their-rss-feeds-for-free http://www.innovation-series.com/2013/01/11/how-federal-agencies-can-enhance-their-rss-feeds-for-free/#comments Fri, 11 Jan 2013 13:50:28 +0000 April Deibert http://www.innovation-series.com/?p=2442 [Article cross-posted from AOL Government's Judi Hasson showcasing the work that ODDI's Randy Abramson and Addie Nascimento are doing to utilize Google Currents.]

How Federal Agencies Can Enhance Their RSS Feeds For Free

Published: January 10, 2013

The federal agency responsible for thousands of international radio and television broadcasts is using Google Currents, a free tool that potentially could be the blueprint for every federal agency distributing RSS feeds to big audiences.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors — which oversees Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio and TV Marti, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks — launched the Google Currents platform last October to disseminate its content easily and swiftly to its weekly audience of 175 million in 59 languages.

“We’re fortunate to be one of the early publishers on the platform,” said Randy Abramson, director of products and operations at BBG’s Office of Digital and Design.

“Our timing was good because just as we were set to launch, Currents became a pre-installed app on most Android Jelly Bean-enabled devices,” he added.

Google Currents is an app that provides a magazine-like experience allowing users to swipe through content on mobile phones and tablets, as if they were flipping through the pages of a magazine. The Currents application comes preinstalled on many Google Android devices and can give government agencies enhanced access to audiences on all mobile platforms. …

[Read the full article here...]

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