Innovation @ BBG » Social Media Fri, 20 Nov 2015 18:47:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 How Alhurra drives more mobile, desktop, social shares and app installs, with just a small, strategic ‘Push’ Mon, 18 May 2015 14:50:45 +0000 Will Sullivan The digital team at Alhurra has found an effective way to easily, free and smartly grow their audience from content they are already producing: Push Notifications.

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

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

Alhurra published this story about how ISIS makes its money on August 25th:

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

  • 112,000 more pageviews on mobile

  • 25,000 more pageviews on desktop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

What I learned…

Media & Technology

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

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

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

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

Adam Africa trip

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

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

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

Adam Africa radio

Radio Kledu FM and digital news teams preparing the afternoon rundown


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

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

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

Adam Africa Photo Radio

A look inside a Ghanian broadcasting company


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Relay Gets Two Major Functionality Upgrades, More Features On the Way Mon, 24 Feb 2014 16:09:48 +0000 Randy Abramson 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.


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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It’s a Mobile World: How Public Diplomacy at State Department is Adapting Tue, 11 Feb 2014 18:24:50 +0000 Erica Malouf During a recent visit to IIP’s OIE, we talked of Agile at ODDI, GitHub, PAOs, andDID I LOSE YOU YET?

When I moved to DC from the West Coast, I initially found the government agencies in the area to be a massive tangle of alienating acronyms. But in all fairness, it’s no different from every other industry or niche.

Boy, was there a jargon learning curve where I started my career in the mobile entertainment division of 20th Century Fox. Let’s flip the track to the year 2007 when mobile websites were “WAPs,” only Blackberry-toting suits had data plans, I had a flip phone, and “widget” was a new term that made me sound savvy in meetings. My brain is thankful that digital advertising acronyms and concepts, like CPM, CPC and PPC, have stuck around.

Remember Verizon’s VCAST? There’s a relic from mobile’s early days. Cutting clips for VCAST from shows like Family Guy and The Simpsons, and managing SMS voting for American Idol, was how my office justified its existence. But the buzz was around creating original content for digital platforms (nope, Netflix didn’t invent it), called “mobisides” and “webisodes.” And this all before contracts included royalties for mobile syndication (well, the lawyers and unions were starting to squawk). It sounds exciting, but my day-to-day was rather un-glamorous.

So last week, when Hilary Brandt mentioned GSMA’s Mobile World Congress, and asked whether I’d heard of it, I smiled (wryly, with a note of nostalgia) while recalling my time at the bottom of the Hollywood totem pole, which included planning other people’s travel to said conference.


Hilary Brandt is the director of the Office of Innovative Engagement at State Department

You might be saying: ’Wait a minute, why do people from the State Department — a federal agency focused on public diplomacy – care about Mobile World Congress (the CES of the global mobile industry)?’

I shall tell you! Using as little jargon as possible.

The State Department, more accurately called the Department of State, is a large organization with an ambitious mission: to “shape and sustain a peaceful, prosperous, just, and democratic world and foster conditions for stability and progress for the benefit of the American people and people everywhere.” As a part of this mission, the agency is tasked with explaining U.S. foreign policy to the world.

Because increasingly its international audience is primarily accessing digital content on mobile phones – especially people in developing countries, who often have very limited access to the Internet at all – it behooves them to think carefully about mobile.

“Throughout the world mobile phone ownership has exploded. And while many use mobile phones only for voice calls – itself a huge revolution for previously isolated rural populations in particular – mobile is increasingly the gateway to the Web,” said David Endsor, Director of BBG’s Voice of America, during a recent speech about the role of journalism in public diplomacy.

During our conversation, Hilary offered up some insight, gathered while at Mobile World Congress last year, on the changing relationship between social media and mobile carriers that further explains why the State Department pays attention to such trends.

“Facebook has been really good at adapting to low-bandwidth, mobile situations in that sort of race to get new users,” she says. Hilary notes that in emerging markets like Africa, Facebook is the Internet for many people, and this new role of social media is forcing mobile carriers to rethink their approach.

“So you have what was previously an “unholy alliance” between Silicon Valley and the mobile carriers that is changing because they need each other now, especially in emerging markets. It’s no longer just Silicon Valley companies taking up mobile data and not paying anything into the [mobile industry], which was the previous tension. Now, if a company like Nokia wants people to buy their handsets, they’re going to need to offer Facebook on that dumb phone. This is exciting and interesting for our embassies, for the tools that they’ll be able to use to communicate with as the industry grows.”

Any innovation in technology that changes how people communicate and access information will have important implications for how the State Department can reach the public. And focusing on digital makes sense for all of their current audiences, both in the beltway and abroad, as more people everywhere are accessing information from mobile devices. The Office of Innovative Engagement (OIE), directed by Hilary, is helping the agency understand and adapt to this always evolving digital world. OIE is in the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP), headed by Macon Phillips. Phillips, the new Coordinator for IIP, is heading the charge for a digital first approach. Macon recently spoke on BBG’s tech panel about his vision for the bureau.


Hilary, far right, on a 2013 SXSW panel about “digital diplomacy”

Hilary has only been in IIP a year, and Macon five months, and already things are happening. For example, Hilary’s team at OIE is currently piloting the enterprise-level use of the social media management tool Hootsuite with 240 people from six DC bureaus, as well as all the U.S. embassies and consulates in the western hemisphere region. At the bureau level, another current project involves working on new ideas for digital outreach around an exchange program called YALI (Young African Leaders Initiative), which is an initiative of the White House. And you can catch Hilary at an upcoming SXSW conference where she’ll be a panelist.

Large government agencies are probably not the first place anyone would look for leadership in social media management, but I’ve found that the State Department is fairly advanced when compared to many international companies. Hilary’s office is a resource for social media expertise within the department, offering guidance and education, while organizational units throughout the department work within their authority to conduct social media outreach, and the office of the Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy provides leadership on governance issues. OIE also backstops the agency with a social media help desk.

There is a clear understanding in the department that being able to use new tools effectively is a necessary part of public diplomacy these days. Hilary’s office holds a monthly meeting called Tech Society about “cool, new digital tools” that provides internal thought leadership on what is coming next in the tech industry and how it can be used to better engage current and future audiences. The department wants to be ready to reach the next billion people to access the Internet.
tech society NOVEMBER

OIE also regularly hosts brown bags with tech companies and other leaders to discuss innovation as it relates to public diplomacy. For example, OIE hosted a meeting with Microsoft to discuss the company’s move to utilize “white spaces” (unused broadband spectrum) in Africa to provide Internet to communities that lack access.

If technology companies have the right incentives, it may not be long before everyone on the planet has affordable, reliable Internet access and a smart phone. It’s really a question of when that will happen, and how much the technology will have changed by the time it does.

Think about how rapidly mobile phones have evolved since the mid-2000s. I can barely remember the ones I had in between owning a Razr dumb phone and a Droid Razr smart phone, and I’m about to make another trade. The one thing that’s stayed constant is the buzz about mobile being the future – or more accurately, the present and the future.

Maybe next year I’ll be booking my own trip to Barcelona to cover Mobile World Congress…or maybe I’ll be covering it via one of those new-fangled drones.

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Are We in a Golden Age of Journalism? Wed, 06 Nov 2013 16:28:47 +0000 robbole In a recent piece in Business Insider, Henry Blodget proposed that journalism has entered “a golden age.” While he has a number of well-spoken points, there are three that seem the most salient for US international media.

  • Every journalist on earth can now reach nearly every human on earth, directly and instantly.
  • The proliferation of mobile gadgets has made it possible to consume news anywhere 24 hours a day.
  • Today’s journalism now offers reporters a full range of storytelling formats, rather than be trapped in a single format, such as a newspaper article or television broadcast.

Are we in a Golden Age?

We are.


There has been explosion of creativity across all aspects of journalism. Social curation. Mobile broadcasting. Data visualization. Long-form stories. User generated content. Open news hacking. It is a fantastic time to be a part of journalism.

Before I go too far in tech idealism, we need to balance the potential of the digital age with the critical values that distinguish journalism from public relations or propaganda.

Borrowing a phrase from David Ensor, Director of Voice of America, we need to “aggressively utilize new tools, but keep close to old journalistic values”.

For the old values of journalism are the best guides on how to apply the technological advantages we have today. A subtext to all of thoughts on digital journalism is that “digital tools can help you access new markets, but ultimately it is quality content, maintained by strong journalism values that will enable you to build and keep audiences.”

In a series of posts I want to write about some of the profound changes that technology has wrought in how we gather and write the news. Specifically issues of Sources, Speed & Accuracy. Let’s start with the impact of technology now and into the future of Sources.


On May 1st, 2011 a simple tweet of a man woken by helicopters illustrated the potential of the Internet to become a valuable source for journalism. Despite highly compartmentalized knowledge, nape-of-the-earth-flying with radar absorbing helicopters, one of the most important military operations of the US’s War Against Terror was revealed by a guy who couldn’t sleep.

Screen shot 2013-11-06 at 10.49.25 AM

The “Osama Raid tweet” was a stark display that with the right tools and knowledge social platforms could be a powerful source for news organizations. In the digital age you have the potential of leveraging every mobile phone, every Tweet, every Facebook post as source.

Sourcing Sources: The Role of Social Forensics 

While the Osama Raid tweet was found by reporters through more luck than anything, there is a growing usage of social media forensics with journalism.

Social mining tools, commercial platforms like SocialFlow, SalesForce Marketing Cloud or Mass Relevance, as well as other competitors and academic tools allow journalists to quickly sort through social content to find nuggets of journalistic information.

Used as a blunt object, newsrooms are using social data analysis to try identify news trends early. In this mode, newsrooms are not always applying their core journalistic values of sourcing or context, but just thinking about being the first to report on a news event.

More sophisticated users use social data analysis to ask more interesting questions: “Why did this event occur?” “Who is associated with it?” “How is the public influenced by it?” “Who is a reliable and authoritative source on what is happening?”

How information moves between people and across the network are essential elements to understanding the news. For example in the recent attack on the Westgate Mall there was a running PR battle between Al-Shabab and the Kenyan government as a real battle was taking place. For a journalist that back-and-forth on Twitter was newsworthy. Using social forensics reporters have a better opportunity to broaden the story, to understand the context of the attack with all of its ethnic, religious and political implications.

For instance, How does the Arabic population in Kenya in the Mombasa region view Al-Shabaab, a Somali based organization? What are the various reactions by the people of Kenya to the attack?  How do these reactions align with key tribal and political organizations? What is the discussion and thoughts of the Somali diaspora in places like the US, Canada and the UK and populations in Africa?

While this information is not a traditional “source” it is the distillation of the comments, feelings and engagement of millions of “sources”…social media data in essence is a ‘meta-source’, a source of sources, that can help truly inform a story.

There is an immensely important role for journalistic values in using social media data as a source. It can be a dangerous proposition to not apply basic journalism skepticism.

Jennifer Carrnig, Direct of Communications for NY ACLU, captured the promise and problems of social data: “When everyone has a video camera with them at all times, the potential is limitless. But there is clearly a downside to that, because when everybody is submitting stuff, it is hard to know in real time what is valid; there is the potential for [false information] to be out there.”

Data: An Emerging Source for Journalists

A second powerful new source–and perhaps one still in its infancy–is data. Journalism is rooted in storytelling; and the tradition is of a reporter talking to enough other people to paint a picture of the news.  It almost goes without saying that when I say “sources” 99% of you in the audience think “people.”

However, we have to start broadening our minds. Computer-aided journalism and data visualizations from NPR, Ushihidi, InfoAmazonia, NYTimes and infographics like Visualizing Palestine are beautiful examples of how data not only enhances storytelling, but IS the story.

Screen shot 2013-11-06 at 10.58.16 AM

Infographic on Syria communicates the news in a visually engaging way.

Data is a valid and highly relevant journalism source because powerful data analysis tools have become accessible and affordable for non-technical users. You don’t need a PhD in statistics or have to have the title of “Data Scientist” to be able to mine journalistic insights from data sets. This is information that was not possible to glean from any one person or even groups of people. If your future newsroom is going to start recruiting “data sources” a good place to start is the Data Journalism Handbook and getting your reporters to understand tools like Google Fusion Tables or Tableau.

Social forensics and data are just two emerging sources amongst a number of encouraging technology-based tools, including crowd-sourced platforms (e.g. Open Watch) or social curation/verification services (e.g. Storyful), which I will cover in more depth as they are also great tools for enhancing journalistic accuracy in this networked age of speed.

My next post will discuss the nature of Speed vs. Accuracy and how journalism organizations are balancing the ability to publish quickly with the core journalistic values…

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Building on Open Source Audio Technologies Or…Why I Still Believe in Radio Fri, 06 Sep 2013 18:04:13 +0000 Adam Martin At ODDI we’re continuously looking for new ways to reimagine how US International Media informs, connects and engages with audiences around the world. Digitally connected audiences are rapidly expanding in emerging markets across the Sahel in Africa, in Southeast Asia and throughout Latin America. But in many of these areas, traditional radio continues to be a critical source of news and information while also providing listeners with a common social experience.

With this in mind, ODDI is challenged with creating new digital products for the next generation of listeners, storytellers and community leaders around the world. OurBlock Open Source Community Radio is our first experiment in meeting this challenge. With OurBlock, our goal is to help establish, then grow, digitally connected communities while providing a platform that delivers vital news and information to an increasingly diverse and evolving audience.

ODDI’s Open Product Development

When we begin working on a new product at ODDI, we start with a set of guiding principles that help make sure what we deliver is flexible, extensible and scalable (both in capability and cost!). We want to be sure it is not only something that is highly desirable, but also possible and viable for our unique ‘clients’ and their (and our) audiences.

Innovation Venn Diagram Black

Open Product Development Principles

  •  Build on Open Source Technologies Using Web Standards
  •  Be Licensing, Vendor and Technology Agnostic Where Possible
  •  Build with an API Strategy at the Start–Portability of Data and Content is Key
  •  Be Modular and Service Oriented in our Architecture
  •  Be Adaptive in our Design — All Screens, All Devices, All Environments
  •  Be Innovative (e.g. ‘better’) by solving a unique challenge for USIM, its partners and audiences


Open Source Meets Open Radio

When (re)thinking radio for digital audiences in emerging global markets, building an open source solution that follows these principles is critical to reach the range of devices, operating systems and mobile networks found in the diversity of the communities.

Even more than the technical requirements, there was a sense the functional requirements of a next generation radio platform would also need to mirror the principles of ‘open’ and embrace the shared social experience and participatory nature of traditional radio within a community.

The OurBlock Community Radio project is an idea that was first pitched to the public during the 2012 Mozilla Festival as a way to, “Help answer the question, ‘What does our block sound like?’ Enabling individuals to come together online to create and participate in the power and passion of neighborhood community radio.” Since that time OurBlock has evolved into a new platform for USIM to build and grow an international community of digital affiliates, independent audio storytellers, local community leaders and neighborhood voices providing participants with an opportunity to share news & information, share connections and build stronger communities.

For the team at ODDI, the goal is to deliver a suite of digital services that promote rapid deployment of localized, personalized and highly social streaming audio channels in emerging markets throughout the world. For USIM and its partners, the opportunity will be establishing new networks of listeners, storytellers, newsmakers and influential leaders creating a more informed public and building stronger, more connected communities.

To achieve these goals, we’re bringing together members of ODDI’s UX, App Dev and Storytelling teams lead by Steve Fuchs, Eric Pugh and Ashok Ramachandran to deliver the following:

  • An HTML5 streaming media player for mobile devices in emerging markets built on the jPlayer.js framework and IceCast streaming server technology.
  • A custom Airtime radio playout and automation system that integrates with the BBG’s Direct service for improving USIM content distribution to digital affiliates.
  • Integration of Airtime with SoundCloud, Dropbox and IVR solutions to allow independent producers and community members to contribute audio content directly.
  • A custom drupal-powered publishing system that supports continuous and on-demand streaming, community contributions and real-time social engagement.
  • A digital marketplace to promote station discovery, content sharing and community building.


Are You a Developer or a Designer Who is Passionate About Community Radio?

Building with open source solutions from jPlayer, Sourcefabric and Drupal on our highly scalable Amazon Web Service infrastructure is ODDI’s first step toward building a platform of complimentary services for traditional affiliates and new digital-first partners. Staying within our ‘radio framework’ of open collaboration and shared participation, the team is building the OurBlock platform in the open and looking for developers and designers to join us on this project. If you’re passionate about community radio, building shared experiences on digital platforms (or know what LiquidSoap is), please join us by going to our GitHub page where you’ll find the OurBlock project.

We’ll be blogging more about our progress as the project continues and look for your feedback in the comments. For real-time updates about OurBlock and other digital community radio work–follow us on Twitter: @thisIsOurBlock.


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Part 2 of 2: International Broadcasting in the Era of Social Media Thu, 02 May 2013 06:00:29 +0000 April Deibert
On March 8, I attended the conference “International Broadcasting in the Era of Social Media” at the University of Southern California’s (USC)
Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism in Los Angeles, co-sponsored by the USC Center on Public Diplomacy.  There was so much that happened, I’ve had to split this summary up into Part 1 and Part 2.  Below is a summary of what’s on the mind of some of the most influential international media organizations.


Key Takeaways from Panel 2


(A photo of Libby Liu (President of RFA and a Panel 2 guest speaker) and I at the conference)

Panel 2 consisted of Moderator Nicholas J. Cull (Director, Master of Public Diplomacy Program, Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at USC), Jim Laurie (Senior Consultant for China Central Television (CCTV-America)), and Libby Liu (President of Radio Free Asia/Open Technology Fund).

Mr. Laurie explained his position as a Consultant as an in-between for the Chinese and for foreigners to help determine CCTV’s way forward in the international markets.  Although Laurie noted that Rupert Murdoch “originally funded CCTV,” but that the channel is now considered to be “communist led commercial TV.”  He explained that there are approximately 10-15 million English speakers in China, but that CCTV is geared for English speakers in other parts of the world—such as the United States.  He explained that CCTV was modeled after Al Jazeera and BBC, whereby they provide international coverage based in places like Nairobi for one hour per day and coverage based in Washington DC for two hours per day.

Laurie commented on how the Chinese have a sizeable budget for media, but often deal with challenges such as slow policy decisions due to the structure of state-controlled media and how credible coverage of international issues sometimes appears to conflict with censorship laws within China.  The answer to the latter, he discussed, is to cover issues selectively, but credibly.  He notes this is very similar to how Russia Today approaches international news coverage for Russian and international audiences.  This approach also includes hosting a different satellite beam with different content for North America than what is beamed to other regions.  With all this in mind, CCTV prefers to put a great emphasis on business news.  And, he also noted that he believes that CCTV covers Cuba more than any other news outlet.  When it comes to social media, leadership in Beijing tweets news content that “simultaneously goes to Weibo in China and to Twitter for people outside the firewall.”  He estimates that there may be “up to 35,000 people who monitor the Internet in China.”  Lastly, he said some experts wonder if production and reporting done outside China by CCTV will eventually come back to influence Chinese policy.

Ms. Liu spoke off the record, but she did explain the overall structure and continued need for the Broadcasting Board of Governors, Radio Free Asia and the Open Technology Fund to encourage the availability of Internet access and credible journalism.  She noted that social media and user-generated content are very important to her organization, as is covering issues that matter most to the local people.


Key Takeaways from Panel 3


Panel 3 consisted of Moderator Adam Clayton Powell III (Senior Fellow at USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy) and Robert Boorstin (Director of Public Policy for Google Inc.).

Mr. Boorstin opened with a rather surprising statistic: that 72% of Google users are located outside the United States.  He also added that 80% of them access the website on mobile phones and often use Google Translate.  He discussed how Google can be used as a tool to do threat analysis and risk evaluation, but that many experts are concerned that real time data flowing through Google can be manipulated in real time as well.  He used the example of how “words associated with people getting the flu were able to track it 20% faster than the CDC.”  He discussed how Google Now takes information and makes info streams, but that he wishes “that it were more efficient.”  He said that they have “no intention to get into the news producing business” and that they wish to “remain a platform.”

One way that he sees Google being affected by international news sources is related to how Korean newspapers, for example, “never allowed search engines to collect info” (using spiders and indexing) and that they’re “still making money hand over foot.”  Since spiders are able to index news so easily in America (and in other regions), the “American way of fixing that is to implement pay walls to prevent the free flow of content.  Mr. Boorstin also commented on how Google tries to be politically naming locations on Google Maps.  He used the example of the “Sea of Japan”.  In Japanese, this sea is labeled as “Sea of Japan”, but in English the sea is labeled as “East Sea / Sea of Japan”.  He discussed how there is also “a trend of populations using their national search engines” over third party engines like Google.  The Google share of the market has dropped a bit in Korea, Japan and China with the promotion of search engines that “play the nationalist card”, promoting getting news from local sources.

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For more info:

Check out this massive list of resources from the USC Center on Public Diplomacy—specifically on the topic of “International Broadcasting in the Era of Social Media.”

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What are your thoughts on all this?  Post in the comments section below or tweet me @BBGinnovate.

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Thank you to Libby Liu for her contributions to this post.

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

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Part 1 of 2: International Broadcasting in the Era of Social Media Wed, 01 May 2013 06:00:35 +0000 April Deibert
On March 8, I attended the conference “International Broadcasting in the Era of Social Media” at the University of Southern California’s (USC)
Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism in Los Angeles, co-sponsored by the USC Center on Public Diplomacy.  There was so much that happened, I’ve had to split this summary up into Part 1 (below) and Part 2.  Below is a summary of what’s on the mind of some of the most influential international media organizations.

This conference attracted a number of influential speakers on the panels and the audience was full of journalism- and public diplomacy-minded folks who were eager to hear what social media strategies the international media giants use.  (There was also a follow up event on April 1 in Washington DC, co-sponsored by The USC Center on Public Diplomacy and The Public Diplomacy Council, at the American Foreign Service Association.)


Key Takeaways from Panel 1

Opening remarks were made by Ernest J. Wilson III, Dean, of USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, and Philip Seib, Director, of USC Center on Public Diplomacy.  Mr. Wilson discussed the role of the BBG/VOA in the international broadcasting realm and also discussed the role of newly appointed Secretary of State, John Kerry.  He noted that conferences such as this one have the potential to create a space for discussions to happen that can eventually lead to more solidified public diplomacy plans within the BBG and State Department.  He expressed his hopes that such discussions would make their way back to Washington DC.  Mr. Seib noted that he sees social media as a way for all of us to be participants and journalists.

Panel 1 consisted of Moderator Jay Wang (Associate Professor and Chair of USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism), Rajesh Mirchandani (Correspondent and Anchor of BBC News), Robert Wheelock (Executive Producer of Al Jazeera English), and Nicholas Wrenn (Vice President of CNNI Digital).

Mr. Mirchandani pointed out that journalists and producers who had a firm personal grasp of how social media was used and its potential effects generally translated into a better understanding of the tool’s professional scope.  He recommended going to where the action is, where the audience is, and to tweet where you are.  He said it is important for journalists in the field to follow tweets of those related to the story and to tweet quickly to his audience (as well as to tag his newsroom, @BBC, “so that the news desk sees and then re-tweets it to 9 million followers.”)  He notes that their biggest strength is that they have approximately 93 foreign bureaus, but their biggest challenge is “commercial and funding pressures”.  He and his team do see the benefit of translating content into as many languages as they can for web and radio, but that it is most beneficial to “have a core product” and that “credibility and continuity must be in everything.”  He agrees that it is a journalist’s job to “act as a filter and provide context” to tell an audience why an issue is important to them and to the world.

Mr. Wheelock admitted that he and his team weren’t sure how to incorporate social media in the beginning.  Initially, they tried getting “social stuff into coverage by having an attractive woman reading emails” on air.  He also discussed the newly purchased Al Jazeera English satellite channel and that they are trying to figure out how to adapt content for American viewership.  He noted an interesting fact that 40% of all Al Jazeera English web traffic indeed comes from the United States, but that substantial number of people in Africa also get their news from Al Jazeera.

He is unsure how social and TV will cooperate to work in the US as it does in other areas of the world since cable tends to be a risk in the US.  Referring to their American audience, “most prefer web,” but that Al Jazeera has a goal of being accessible on “all platforms” to reach everyone from students to policymakers.  As for the website, his team realized that “using the website to do long-form pieces” seems to work well.  An “eight minute piece online is better than a three minute piece on TV,” when it comes to storytelling, he explained.  He and his team are also encouraging the public to take pictures of specific issues, to get and touch and then ask others to verify in order to make the newsgathering and reporting process more open and transparent.

Mr. Wrenn assisted in launching CNN iReport.  CNN leadership had “an initial fear about the inability to control it,” he said, however, they later realized it could compliment traditional news by “keeping up with the audience and their habits.”  This required staff to continue to follow the rules of traditional journalism by being a filter, telling people what and why particular things are important.

He sees social media as a way to reach new audiences who see following updates on Twitter as easier than reading articles on the Internet or watching TV.  Mr. Wrenn wants CNN to “be part of a platform for conversation” with their 10 million Twitter followers.  Mr. Wrenn and his team know that CNN mobile use is highest in Nigeria (accompanied by very low desktop use).  They are focusing on the best platforms for particular audiences, all the while trying to focus on profits.  He recommends that journalists should not use Twitter for personal matters.  “They should only tweet things that they wouldn’t mind putting on air.”  He separates his Facebook and Twitter feeds into personal and professional streams for different audiences.

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For more info:

Check out this massive list of resources from the USC Center on Public Diplomacy—specifically on the topic of “International Broadcasting in the Era of Social Media.”

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Thoughts?  Post in the comments section below or tweet me @BBGinnovate.

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

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Behind the Scenes: April Deibert [] Fri, 08 Mar 2013 21:01:45 +0000 April Deibert [Cross-posted from BBG's Notebook blog, where "Notebook offers a behind-the-scenes look at the day-to-day work in U.S. international broadcasting."]

Behind the Scenes: April Deibert

By: Roxanne Bauer, 7 Mar 2013

April tours Voice of America headquarters in the Wilbur J. Cohen Building,  Washington, D.C.

“When I first started working for the Office of Digital & Design Innovation, I was given a tour of VOA headquarters by one of my supervisors.  It was great to get a historical perspective of the agency and to see the Cold War-era building it is housed in (that still has rooms that were used as potential nuclear fallout shelters and beautiful vintage brass escalators), and to meet and interview interesting on-air staff, editors and producers.

Getting an overall feeling for how each department operated separately and then together helped shape my perspective on what ODDI’s role is to facilitate the use of innovative technologies to reach different global populations. I’ve learned that the strategy behind what appears to be a simple production to the public can go far deeper and be far more intellectual than what an information consumer may realize.  The BBG is unique because it uses research to localize social media for its many global audiences.”

April Deibert is a contractor working on multimedia blogging and production for the Office of Digital and Design Innovation.  You can find some of her work on their website.


To read more articles on Notebook, visit their website here.

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


Full Video Interview [33min 42sec]


Key Takeaways

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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


For more information:


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

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

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