Innovation @ BBG » Trends Fri, 20 Nov 2015 18:47:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 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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Golden Age of Journalism, Part II – Speed & Accuracy Tue, 19 Nov 2013 16:21:26 +0000 robbole Speed

The increased speed in which news organizations gather and publish content is one of the most notable changes and challenges for digital organizations today.

An over-focus on speed without respect for accuracy leads to problems, often quite public problems, for careless news organizations. Our ability to identify information and publish it quickly has sometimes outstripped our collective journalism judgement.

However, there is a reason that the speed-to-publish is a key part of journalism…our focus on speed is the result of an abundance of riches. The sheer amount of observers with social media accounts, cameras and audio devices pointed at every news event happening in the world gives reporters and editors the ability to access, and then rocket content around the world.

And this 24/7 ‘unblinking eye’ has brought us iconic real-time images of news events that we would never have seen before. So, sometimes speed is the point.

I have sat transfixed at my computer watching the Tahrir Square protests unfold in real-time in front of me. We saw Neda Agha-Soltan die before our eyes during the Iranian protests in 2009.  We gaped as we saw survivors from the crash of US Airways Flight 1549 being picked out of the Hudson River as it was happening through Instagram or hundreds of recording cell phones.

The sheer amount of observers with social media accounts, cameras and audio devices pointed at every news event happening in the world gives reporters and editors the ability to access, and then rocket content around the world.

The speed in which journalists and the audience itself have facilitated the publishing of raw content has acted as a powerful witness to important events. Events that only a few years before would have been hidden behind a veil of geography. In this case immediacy and realism – being THERE – is true journalism. The editorial judgement was simply to point the camera and not interpret the events at the time.

But there are downsides to the speed without journalistic curators and editorial judgement.

In the US for the Boston Bombing it was Pete Williams of NBC news who brought a strong journalistic perspective to rapidly evolving events.  And for the Arab Spring, for Twitter audience, it was Andy Carvin at NPR. Both of these journalists, whether doing original reporting or curating actual and supposed eyewitness or exclusive information stopped to ask the all-important question: “Do we have another source?” “Can we corroborate that?”  As Pete Williams described his approach to reporting “the essence of journalism is the process of selection.”



Accuracy is not the antithesis of speed.

Editorial judgement connected to digital workflows can work efficiently to produce sensical and accurate news content in near real-time. Like sources and speed, accuracy can be aided by technology, but today we have to reassess our understanding of accuracy in a digital world.

At the core of accuracy is context; what is reliable? What is verifiable? What is the public interest? Which public?  What is the proportionality of one story to another?

And there are new technologies that are still emerging as important tools in developing accurate reporting.


In the digital age, the public is not longer a passive, remote receiver of news–they are a participant. The best news organizations understand this; they don’t view the audience as a competitor, but instead as a collaborator. They may work closely with local bloggers to incorporate their product in their bigger publishing channels. Or, for the sake of improving the news, they reach out to the public directly to work with and aid reporters as they pursue stories in the audience’s interest.

This is exemplified by the experience of the Guardian as they could produce incredibly detailed and accurate information about British MP expenses in 2009. Faced with mountains of paper-filed reports – remember data as a source! – they turned to the audience to help process those thousands and thousands of pages of reports into data that could be analyzed. But beyond that they trusted their audience by asking them to not only digitize elements of the reports, but help identify what was interesting; in essence alerting the reporter to some of the juicy bits they could find from the MP’s expense sheet.  A “hey, this looks really, really bad!”

The success of working with the audience has led to Guardian Witness as a new crowdsource platform for their journalism.  On this platform, the Guardian can create a journalism task and ask for help from the audience in a reporting project.  Audience members might leave opinions, fill out a survey, go identify some data, leave a picture, whatever is needed that one or even a team of reporters could not hope to get.

The role of crowdsourcing in improving the accuracy is starting to grow.  For example ProPublica’s “Free the Files” project to help transcribe US political spending, which in turn led to the release of Transcribable, an open source project that journalists can use to build crowdsourcing projects.  Or OpenWatch where news organizations can task (or find uploaded content from) citizen journalists around the world with coverage of news events, such as the protests in Istanbul or in Egypt. Or even services like Storyful that helps you extend your editorial staff, allowing newsrooms to subscribe to their services of sourcing and verifying social content.


While this is still an emerging field, there are a number of people thinking about how algorithms and computer agents can help us more quickly determine the accuracy of information.  The Washington Post recently launched TruthTeller, an algorithm based process that compares transcripts of video and audio to a database of facts to see if politicians are telling the truth.


Finally, in the area of accuracy we have to think about the tantalizing potential of drones.  Drones give journalists new abilities to independently verify information, such as the extent of a natural disaster or an ability to monitor demonstrations from a birds-eye view.

When you combine these nimble, independent sensors with high-powered computing video/photo and audio analysis you get something that concerns many, including myself, about the potential of privacy violations. There is potential here for journalists, but we must be very, very careful about how we deploy such a powerful tool.

Accuracy, reliability and the ability to present verified information are key values of news organizations. There are new technologies that are helping us ensure that journalists can identify, vet, classify and ultimately increase the accuracy of our reporting.  We need to use these tools and embed them into our everyday workflows. It is somewhat ironic that at the same moment we have gained tools that have the potential to augment the core ethics of journalism they also undermine them.  And, of course, what is the most important element in the end is the quality of the individual.  A recent quote by Norman Perelstine of Time Inc. highlights this point.  His quote, paraphrased: “Pick the best editor and everything else falls into place.”

The next and last in this series of posts will turn to the people part; the jobs, skills and instincts in the new newsroom.

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An Interview with Peter Corbett, Local Tech Leader with Global Vision Wed, 30 Oct 2013 16:32:42 +0000 Erica Malouf Singapore, Kaula Lumpor, Jakarta, Moscow, Bangkok, Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Cairo, Zagreb… It’s not unusual to meet someone in DC who is well traveled, but local tech wonder Peter Corbett’s travel schedule reads like a secretary of state’s. In fact, he’s been to about 50 innovation hubs around the world (and he endearingly calls himself “a spoiled bastard” for being able to do it).

“Every time I travel I try to share what I know—there’s a cross pollination of ideas that happens. …it doesn’t have to translate into revenue and profit for a company,” said Corbett during my recent interview with him at his iStrategyLabs office in DC.

I asked Peter to offer some perspective on what’s happening in some of the places he’s been to lately. Here’s a recap of his off-the-cuff impressions.

Corbett airport



He calls Moscow the most underperforming capital on the planet. “So much talent but it’s so constrained by lack of infrastructure, bureaucracy, corruption…legacy of communism. If they were really democratic, they would rival Tel Aviv as the other Silicon Valley.” He describes the inefficiencies of Russia with the example of it taking three plus weeks to ship a package from Moscow to the other side of Russia.


“Bangkok is on fire, and so has Thailand’s economy been for maybe the last decade,” says Corbett. In Asia, most markets are focused on consumer technology. And often in emerging markets, the first customer tends to be the government, so there is some public sector innovation. This is not dissimilar to the US—Silicon Valley owes its existence to Uncle Sam.


Corbett points to the ills of the socio-economic stratification and gender inequality in India, which he believes translates into the inability to get the velocity they need to become a developed nation. Despite this, he notes that there are healthy and growing startup communities in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and other cities.


He describes Nigeria in terms of its “massive acceleration in the luxury segment, and none at all at the bottom.” He finds Africa on the whole to be really interesting from a technology and innovation point of view.


Many people may not realize that many telecom companies test their networks in the Africa. “…to have 4G in the middle of the Serengeti was mind boggling. If you can run it in Africa in the heat, it will run anywhere—that’s why they test there.”


He doesn’t expect much out of Egypt in the near future. “When I was in Cairo two years ago there was a lot of buzz and hope, but now the infrastructure is a mess.” “I’ve got a lot of friends there—really talented, young entrepreneurs who were very hopeful…I wonder what they think now.”


“It’s called ‘Asia Lite’ for a reason,” says Corbett, “it’s very easy to travel and do business there, everything is in English, it’s in the middle of everything. The tech community it dense and people know each other. It’s probably half the size of DC’s ecosystem, maybe 10 percent of NYC. The government is incredibly supportive, having recently announced a $40,000,000 early stage investment fund. The real constraint for them is in regard to engineering and design talent. They have a visa policy that inhibits hiring foreign workers, and it’s already a small country, so there just aren’t enough technology people graduating from college.”

“I feel like [my travels have] given me a good understanding…of why some countries are weaker than others and what their challenges are [for tech businesses] from a policy point of view, tax and immigration…so when I come back to DC I have it all in context. Most of the world wishes they were us and had our policies.”

Corbett at internat conf

Tech Inspiration from Near and Far

Some of the most interesting tech innovations Peter has come across lately were at the Smart Cities World Congress in Barcelona last year. A developer from Helsinki built an app called BlindSquare to leverage the Foursquare API so that people who are vision impaired can have the nearby venues read to them audibly as they walk through the city. “That’s audio, social, technology services all coming together.”

A US-based company called Breakfast NY that’s a competitor of Peter’s own iStrategyLabs invented a product called Points. “Points is a new age street sign. It’s a simple pole that moves and will point in the direction of things—it’s intelligent signage powered by citizens.”

Peter’s company iStrategyLabs is also creating products in the physical space—they are working at the intersection between digital and physical. For example, they made a social fridge for GE that requires checking into Foursquare in order to open it.

corbett social fridge

“We are like the real-time commercialization layer of technology. We’re good at executing—when we say we’ll do something we do it, we figure it out.”

“Almost everything we do is open source,” says Corbett. “We generally start with open source…[such as] with java script or PHP framework. We leverage what’s been built and share it back if it’s worthwhile. We don’t work with any proprietary technology—no javascript.”

“We’re inspired by the deep web hacker communities” (by “hacker” he means people who are building weird new things and building on open source). “For example, we might be on Hacker News and come across something like parallax.js.”

Behind the Product

“Everything we do needs to tell a story,” said Corbett, “so we don’t specifically talk about storytelling.” However, they do tell stories about their work. His team recently built a scroll-able parallax site that tells the story of how they made a product for Nickelodeon.

“The idea that we need to tell the story of our creation process is crucial because it’s nearly impossible [for others] to understand the level of effort that goes into what we do, and the process, and how valuable all that is unless we document and show it. Usually people evaluate it based on the final product and they don’t realize that there’s this long tail of input that goes into that. So we are focused on getting better and better at telling our own story of how we make things.”

Peter’s non-technical advice to the tech community:

“Don’t forget that there are people in the physical space that you should probably meet. If you’re a developer or designer and you’re not trying to find your local meet-up in Nairobi, then you’re missing out. They exist in every single place on the planet. Those are where you’ll get the kind of connections and insights that are invaluable. I encourage people not to just consume online industry news—go talk to people.”


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Using TimelineJS and a GoogleDoc spreadsheet to create a responsive timeline Fri, 22 Mar 2013 11:25:11 +0000 Brian Williamson ODDI works with journalists broadcasting in over 60 languages around the world. One of the challenges the UX studio is focusing on this year is how to help busy journalists create more interactive content. We want to identify existing tools (or create new ones) that will enable journalists to quickly and easily tell stories in new ways, while ensuring that the content is accessible across devices.

For our first project, we collaborated with the Vietnamese language service at Radio Free Asia to create a timeline of online dissidents in Vietnam who have been jailed.

After exploring various timeline tools, we settled on TimelineJS.

TimelineJS is a free, open source tool developed by Zach Wise and The Knight News Innovation Lab that enables journalists to make responsive timelines that work well on a desktop screen or mobile device.

How It Works

In its most basic form, the timelines can be created with a GoogleDoc Spreadsheet, so they’re easy to update, make corrections and expand in the future. And, because they’re based on a GoogleDoc, multiple journalists can collaborate simultaneously to create a timeline on a deadline.

Each timeline can include a variety of media. Journalists can use photos, maps, videos, audio files, tweets and wikipedia articles to help tell the story.

TimelineJS currently supports more than 30 languages. And if a language isn’t supported, it’s relatively easy to add it by creating a language file that translates the months, days of the week and navigation.

Building a Timeline

Creating a timeline is easy. Simply grab a copy of the timeline template and fill in the information.

GoogleDoc spreadsheet for a timeline about Aung San Suu Kyi

Each row represents a new date in the timeline. Begin by creating a start date for the event. Write a headline and short text description.

The media column is your opportunity to include multimedia content. Simply insert the link to an image, Google map, unique tweet, Wikipedia article, SoundCloud file or YouTube link. TimelineJS will process the link and incorporate the content directly in the timeline.

Flickr, GoogleMaps, YouTube, Vimeo, SoundCloud, Twitter and Wikipedia icons

If you’re linking to an image, you should be hosting it or linking to it from your Flickr account so that you can control the file size and quality of the image (and to avoid this).

When you’re ready to see your timeline, go to the File menu and select “Publish to the Web.” Check the box next to “Automatically republish when changes are made” and click “start publishing.” This will give you the spreadsheet URL to insert into TimelineJS. Copy the link and paste it into the embed generator.

You now have several options for customizing your timeline—changing the language for the navigation, choosing a map style and selecting the fonts.

Timeline Tips and Inspiration

Here are some basic suggestions for working with TimelineJS:

  • Vary the pacing using different types of media. Decide whether a map, image, video or tweet will best tell the story for that specific date.
  • Keep the headlines and text short but descriptive. Remember that you can link to additional content to enable readers to dig deeper.
  • It’s easy to add to the timeline and collaborate with others. Think about setting up a timeline with a handful of points to start with and then building on it as the story evolves.
  • You can customize the look and feel of the timeline by tweaking the CSS.

In addition, Zach Wise suggests that you “pick stories that have a strong chronological narrative. It does not work well for stories that need to jump around in the timeline.”

Remember that there are lots of different ways to use a timeline to help tell a story:

Spreading the Word

Before we met with RFA, there were already a few journalists in the language services who had used TimelineJS. Our goal is to democratize the process so that there aren’t just one or two timeline ‘experts’. We want to have entire newsrooms of journalists who are comfortable creating interactive content.

To help us accomplish our goal, we created a short tutorial video and we’re hosting a series of brown bag sessions to introduce TimelineJS to more journalists throughout VOA, RFA, RFE/RL, MBN and OCB.

Update: April 16, 2013

We reached out to Chris Spurlock, Graphics Editor at the Huffington Post, to find out how he used TimelineJS to follow the breaking news of twin explosions at the Boston Marathon.

Huffington Post timeline of the explosions at the Boston Marathon

ODDI: When did you start working on the timeline and how did you set it up?
Spurlock: As soon as I got word of the blast and how serious it appeared to be, I immediately set up the HTML for the timeline, which I did by simply cloning our Newtown page. Next I made a copy of our Newtown Google Spreadsheet and shared it with the reporter I was working with. Lastly, I copy-pasted the new Google Docs link into the HTML file and got the timeline live online.

ODDI: How did you collaborate on creating the timeline?
Spurlock: From there, the reporter and I started working on filling in the sheet. I started with the events from earlier in the day (race start, winners, etc.) and she started from the present moment and worked backward until we met in the middle.

After we had it decently flushed out and fact-checked we put it up on the site and continued to add to it (and are still adding as of now). We had a reporter from Sports offer to grab and add AP photos for us, and later we passed it off to the NewsDesk for the evening.

ODDI: What’s your favorite part about working with TimelineJS?
Spurlock: What I love is that all you have to do is share the Doc and an infinite number of people can collaborate and add info. The only tricky part is making sure you don’t paste over something someone has just entered. You also have to be careful of typos and other errors, because as soon as something is added, it goes live.

ODDI: How long did it take you to post the timeline?
Spurlock: I think I started the timeline about 30 minutes after the first bomb, and it was up on the site in less than an hour after that.

ODDI: How’ve you used TimelineJS to tell stories?
Spurlock: We’ve used the tool for big breaking news events like the Aurora and Newtown shootings, but also for other stories, both serious and not.

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What are your thoughts on TimelineJS? What tools do you think more journalists could use to produce interactive content? Post in the comments section below or tweet us @BBGinnovate.

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Thank you to April Deibert and Chris Spurlock for their contributions to this article.

(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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SXSW 2013: My Louis C.K. Moment At the Google Glass Demo Tue, 12 Mar 2013 22:24:03 +0000 Randy Abramson Some people are never happy.

On March 11, Timothy Jordan, Senior Developer Advocate gave a live Google Glass demo and showed off some features of the supporting Mirror API at a SXSW 2013 session in Austin.  Impressed?  I was, but overall, as they say in the comedy business, ‘tough crowd.’

I’ll get back to that later.  For now, here’s the scoop on the demo and the API.

Jordan started the demo by saying, “OK Glass, how do you say ‘thank you’ in Japanese.  We, the audience, were able to see what Jordan was seeing through Glass, and Glass typed out Jordan’s question in real time so he could stop the question or look for errors.  Before you could blink, a black card filled the screen with the text ‘ARIGATO.’  Yes, folks, this is Star Trek stuff.  Of course, you can perform a lot of this with your phone right now, but this is hands free.  This is ‘I’m driving, getting map directions and not crashing my car’ stuff.  In a phrase, this is wicked cool.

Jordan then went on to look at the crowd, command Glass to ‘take a picture,’ and then, again, all by his voice, save or share the photo.  All actions are displayed on the same black action ‘cards’ which the user can scroll through to track activity.

Partner demos followed, showing prospective developers in the audience what was possible.  Here’s the recap of those demos:

1. NY Times – The experience is simple, focusing on  just an image and a headline for each story.   However there is a ‘read aloud’ feature where story is read to Timothy using text to speech functionality.  User can also adjust how the frequency of stories being delivered to Glass.

2. Gmail – Again, the content of the mail displayed on simple black cards, and, if available, a photo of the sender is shown.  As Timothy replied to the mail, a text view of what he was saying was shown so he can make corrections or delete.

3. Skitch – Timothy selected an image on Glass on the Skitch app and the image was automatically sent to his Android tablet.

4. Path – Timothy selected a photo that he posted on Path and taps his glasses to add an emoticon and share with others.

Jordan also offered a bunch of tips to keep in mind when developing for Glass.

1.  Don’t take other platform experiences and try to fit them for Glass…this is a new platform.  For example, reading an entire story on Glass won’t work.  Instead, show a headline or photo.  Experiences should be fast and easy to execute on the go.

2. Get out of the way – Your experience should be only be there when the user wants it and gone in an instant. If a user is doing something, don’t interrupt them.  Experiences should be retrievable if the user wants to go back to it.

3.  Keep it timely – The user needs real time information and that is all that should be provided. A user can always scroll back through cards to see if they missed something.

4. Avoid the unexpected – User experience is key here. Content should only do as the user expects, so don’t get fancy here. For example, don’t spam a user with notes about new features if someone signed up for your photo sharing service.

I’ll admit that these were simple demos, but the technology was none the less incredible.  Of course developers and media folk wanted to see more, but the demo was held to give us a taste and to inspire us into thinking about what we will do with the technology.

However, a funny (or not so funny thing) happened about 40 minutes into the demo.  Someone got up and left.  Then another attendee scampered out the door.  And another.  It wasn’t a mass exodus by any means, but it was surprising to see people leaving before the end of the presentation, especially considering that the wait for the event was lengthy, there wasn’t an empty seat in the house and there were tons of people sitting on the floor.  Obviously, there was a very high expectation level of seeing something that Google may not have been able to deliver quite yet.

After the demo ended, a woman behind me cracked, “that was stupid.”  Her buddy mumbled, “the display is so limiting.”  All I could think of was Louis CK’s tirade on ungrateful folk who don’t realize how wonderful things are.

Tough crowd, indeed.

As Louis said,"everything is amazing and nobody is happy."

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SXSW 2013: Ditching Al Gore to Hang With Bassem Youssef Mon, 11 Mar 2013 16:30:45 +0000 Randy Abramson On March 9, 2013 the lines seemed to go on forever to get into the Walt Mossberg/Al Gore SXSW session inside the Austin Convention Center.  True, it’s hard to beat star power like Al Gore, but a devoted group of about a hundred huddled in a conference room just two floors up from the former veep and buzzed for their own celeb.  They were waiting to hear Dr. Bassem Youssef, the Jon Stewart of the Arab World, tell his story of media domination.

The backstory on Youssef, a practicing doctor in Egypt, is that he frustrated by the biteless Egyptian media.  When President Mubarak fell, Dr. Bassem filmed a Jon Stewart-esque political commentary clip in his office and put it up on YouTube in March 2011.  Fast-forward a year and Bassem’s satire-fest has now been picked up by CBC and his combined show YouTube plays top 200,000,000 (as a comparison, American Idol currently has just over 40,000,000 plays on YouTube).

Here are some takeaways from the session:

1. Timing is Everything!
Youssef, who had no intention of being a media star, put up his first clips immediately after the Egyptian Revolution and never looked back.  His timing couldn’t have been better as viewers were hungry for something other than state-run media reporting.

2. Style is Everything!
Political criticism clearly isn’t anything new, but Youssef’s use of comedy was attractive during uncertain times.  Satire eases the tension of the conversations and Youssef mentioned that even those that don’t agree with his positions often find the show very watchable.  Youssef brought a ton of bravery with the effort, as he said his show was the first of its kind in the region to poke fun of officials and name them in process.

3. Ride the Wave of Technology
Before Mubarak fell, TV was the king of the hill when it came to information dissemination.  Since the revolution, Internet use has gone up 400%.  If Youssef had tried to get his show on television instead of embracing YouTube, chances are that he wouldn’t have gotten far.

4. There’s YouTube Gold in the Middle East
Sure, the CBC transmission of Youssef’s show, El Bernameg (translates to “The Show”) does well, but the traction on YouTube has been nothing short of stunning.  Check out the channel at and witness the massive engagement in the comments area of each clip.  TV just can’t do that…yet.

4. Don’t Stop Supporting the Underdog
Youssef pointed out that his guests on the show often include bands and other artists that are not well known.  A recent example Youssef spoke of was a band that had 2,000 Facebook followers before the performance on his show and 50,000 after.  Youssef’s support for the underdogs emits authenticity and gives hope to viewers who aspire for more.

5. Continue to Evolve
When the CBC picked up El Bernameg, Youseff wanted to move the format of the show from being taped to including a live audience.  Executives pushed back, but Youseff held firm.  The show now takes place in massive theater and the audience feedback helps the rhythm of the show.  Additionally, Youseff is looking to expand his brand to other show formats for new talent, as well as exporting his show branding to reach other parts of the Middle East and beyond.

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SXSW 2013: Africa is exploding with development, mobile only and radio is their ‘killer app’ Sun, 10 Mar 2013 17:30:05 +0000 Will Sullivan At South by Southwest this week there was a session relevant to BBG publishers, “The 1Bn Mobile Bullet Train Called Africa” lead by Toby Shapshak of Stuff Magazine and Gareth Knight of Tech4Africa.

Knight kicked off the discussion declaring the start importance of mobile in Africa. “More people have a cellphone than have access to electricity,” he said.

The duo cited this plus necessity and utility as the core reasons mobile in Africa is crucial to the continent’s development citing innovative efforts in health (from doctors sharing information to prescription drug authenticity verification), to disaster and conflict reporting tools like Ushahidi, to farmers using SMS to get information on market prices for food and weather.

One of the most innovative uses of mobile in African countries is the development of M-Pesa as a means for exchanging money and banking. They said that 80% of the world’s mobile money currently goes through Africa, far leading the western world which is still trying to figure out a standard for mobile money. They relayed a humorous anecdote about a friend who was asked for a bribe at the airport, who after telling the briber that he didn’t have any cash, he said “you can sent it to me by M-Pesa.”

Throughout the presentation they underscored that utility value is critical to any African mobile ventures.  Speed and critical, timely  information underpin this and are the core values we need to always keep in perspective at the BBG when developing products for these countries. They also pointed out that as many African mobile phones have FM transmitters in them, for mobile, radio is still the ‘killer phone app’ in Africa — another area that the BBG entities have unique value for these audiences.

Their final takeaways were:

  • Africa is a mobile-only continent.
  • Africa has skipped the desktop Internet experience and will dive straight into the mobile web Internet.
  • There’s currently more than 750 million SIM cards in Africa (many people carry more than one) and that rate is growing at 25% annually.
  • Almost all interactions are focused on solving day-to-day problems, which Western nations often take for granted.
  • They encouraged the audience to think about the continent as a ‘Maslow Hierarchy of Needs’ for technology.
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Innovation Strategy on a Global Scale, 2013 Tue, 26 Feb 2013 06:24:52 +0000 robbole The Office of Digital & Design Innovation launched roughly a year ago with a very straightforward mission: the expansion and usage of digital platforms to grow our global online audience.  We do that by working with our partner media networks to bring best-in-class platforms and services, as well as experimenting and launching innovative new technologies that speed our transition in serving increasingly online audiences.

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

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

Here is our plan for 2013.


2013 Strategy & Goals

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

Digital platform highlights include:

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


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

Mobile highlights include:

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


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

Audience engagement highlights include:

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


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

Digital affiliate highlights include:

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


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

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

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

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8 Facebook Graph Search Ideas for Journalists Thu, 14 Feb 2013 20:39:20 +0000 April Deibert Get ready to search and be searched.

It’s still a bit too early to say if Facebook Graph Search will prove to be a great new tool, or if it will prove to be an ongoing privacy headache for those who are aware that Facebook is capable of making changes to privacy settings without notifying users.  The fact is, most articles that I’ve read so far have had examples for how Facebook Graph Search could be used to expand business prospects or how it could be used to find a date.  My question is – how could journalists use the new tool?


Facebook Graph Search

First of all, if you’re not quite familiar with Facebook Graph Search, read about it here.  As things are set currently, personal information that appears in search results depends on your privacy settings.  People can only search for information about you that you have enabled them to see–such as photos and albums set to ‘public’ or ‘friends’, and not ones set to ‘only me’.  To add further privacy to your profile, it will take more effort.  An example is the extra step you can take to hide pages you like from your timeline.  I have also read that by removing all information in your personal Facebook page’s ‘About’ section (employer, schools, etc), by not ‘liking’ any pages and turning off the geo-locater option in your privacy settings, the likelihood you’ll be included in search results is greatly diminished.

But, say you don’t want to be included in search results at all.  That’s too bad.  “Facebook removed the feature that allows users to opt out of public search. Want out? You’ll have to get rid of your account altogether,” states the Columbia Journalism Review.

In December of 2012, just prior to the Graph Search release, Facebook made changes to its privacy policy that will make it easier to implement the new tool.  The latest privacy section, which went into effect on Dec. 11, 2012, reads: “When you hide things on your timeline, like posts or connections, it means those things will not appear on your timeline. But, remember, anyone in the audience of those posts or who can see a connection may still see it elsewhere, like on someone else’s timeline or in search results. You can also delete or change the audience of content you post.”

Yep, it’s still awfully confusing.  For a much more detailed write up on these policy changes, check out this blog here.

Needless to say, this type of tool has the potential to be quite powerful.

In fact, you may want to check out something posted by the ‘Facebook+Journalists’ group on January 15, 2013: “How Journalists Can Use Facebook Graph Search for Reporting”.  Over 216,000 people ‘like’ the Facebook+Journalists page and this particular post currently has 209 likes, 176 shares, and a long list of comments to read through.  Also, the Columbia Journalism Review has ‘Facebook as a reporting tool’ on their radar.  As they point out in the article linked above, “the new graph search gives journalists a way to construct a trend story without picking up the phone.”

To use this tool, of course you must have a Facebook account.  You can search from your personal account, an account you run for your organization, or your professionally-branded journalist’s Facebook page.

I’ve blended some ideas from the sources listed above, with ideas of others, with ideas of my own to give you the list below for getting ready to search and be searched:


Ideas for Journalists

1.      Naturally, the primary use for this tool by journalists is the ability to find sources.  As the Facebook+Journalists group put it, this new tool effectively creates “a ‘Rolodex’ of 1 billion potential sources”.  Perhaps even better than LinkedIn you can search for people who work for a specific company, organization or government office and live in a specific city.  Following an issue related to transportation?  Find them if they list their city and their company name in their ‘About’ section.

2.      Also similar to LinkedIn, say you’re an investigative reporter looking into how many government employees once worked for a controversial company.  Facebook Graph Search may help you find that information in less than a second.

3.      Interview someone new by searching for him or her using the Facebook Graph Search.  If you’re GPS-friendly, you can search for people who live nearby.  Message them and set up an interview that same day if possible.

4.      Or, maybe you’re a journalist that follows and writes about emerging global trends.  Graph Search enables you to to search for people’s connections to interests on Facebook.  For example, you could potentially put together some really interesting trend analysis by looking into “newspapers liked by journalists in India” or “books read by CEOs in Russia”.  Search results will display a list of commonly liked newspapers or books like by people who include journalist- or CEO-related titles in their job descriptions in the ‘About’ section.

5.      Search for photos taken in a specific place and/or at specific time.  Facebook will identify photos based on user’s location tags.  Document these things as a snapshot of a past event or use the tool to put together situational awareness presentations to show what an affected area may look like.  Alternatively, you may just come across some great HD images that you’d like to request permission to use in an upcoming story that you’re working on.

6.      Make a montage of topic-specific photos you’ve ‘liked’ throughout the entire year to put together an end of the year ‘wrap-up’ story to show how things evolved during a given period of time.  For example, if you followed a lot of different pages and tended to ‘like’ photos related to documenting how locals were using mobile technology or how locals were creating entrepreneurial businesses, you’ll have access to a list of all of them (by typing in ‘photos I like’) to extract images.

7.      Journalists can optimize their personal or professionally-branded Facebook pages to contribute to their organization’s Facebook page search inquiries.  Optimize means your professional page should be public, list your current employer, include relevant sub-categories in the “About” section and also include a number of relevant ‘liked’ pages.  By taking such steps, pages will appear higher and more frequently in search results—contributing to transparency and a new way to engage readers on a more personal level.

8.      After optimizing your own page(s), you’ll likely want to find other potential journalists to follow on Facebook. To do this, simply type in “journalists” to find people or pages that fall into this category. By selecting people, individuals who have a journalist-related public title on their Facebook profile and have the ‘follow’ capability enabled will allow you to keep up with their public updates in their news feed.


A Reminder About Ethics and Copyright Laws

Just remember to resist the ‘pure exploitation’ route.  Journalists are going to find a lot of personal information – especially if the person posting the information is not very conscientious of privacy settings.  There will be profiles found of people doing or liking contradictory things.  Ethics should, naturally, always be observed.  Journalists should be reminded that all information found online should be subject to extensive fact checking to ensure that they’re not falling prey to misinformation or disinformation.

In relation to using photographs found through Graph Search, standard best practices for following copyright laws should also be observed.  Ask for permission when possible and credit those where credit is due.


The Bizarre

Lastly, if you’re looking for entertainment and some examples of crazy stuff that some people have searched for, check out the ‘Actual Facebook Graph Searches’ Tumblr.


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


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(Thank you to Jessica Stahl 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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How Other News Orgs Are Integrating News Content with Responsive Design Fri, 11 Jan 2013 22:47:54 +0000 April Deibert It’s a fact: responsive design is on the radar of some of the largest news organizations.  Executives and editors of these orgs listed below are realizing that clean looking and easily accessible content and graphics across any variety of devices is worth the trouble since there is less need to develop native apps for different devices.  News orgs who are using this technology hope that once users realize they will get a phenomenal digital experience each time, they’ll keep coming back.  For news orgs with paywalls, this could translate into a new (non-print loving) subscriber base.  For the BBG, it could translate into increased user engagement and more bang for the American taxpayer buck.



The Boston Globe was the first major metropolitan newspaper to embrace responsive design. Take a look and you’ll see why they continue to be one of the leaders when it comes to integrating news content with responsive design.  First of all, you’ll notice it’s a paywall site (limited advertising; all news content) as opposed to it’s free parallel companion site,, and second of all, its design is as clean as it comes (minimal clutter).  Turns out that Ethan Marcotte (pioneer of responsive design) consulted with the Globe on the project.  As described in a review on Emedia Vitals, “Our philosophy with is that less is more, where we can just let the journalism do its thing,” said Jeff Moriarty, the Boston Globe’s Vice President of Digital Products.  In addition, the HTML5/CSS3 code combo allows web developers to use progressive enhancement techniques.  This means content can be enhanced or targeted it for specific platforms to create a more rich storytelling experience.  For example, responsive design can sense if a user has a touch screen (content could include a carousel of picture content), but it wouldn’t necessarily be able to use iOS- or Android-specific device capabilities.

Cool Content Example: “The Boston Globe received a big dump of audio files and transcripts from the court but wasn’t sure what to do with them. In the end, one of the designers built a player that allows you to read and listen to the transcript at the same time.” [Source: Emedia Vitals]

How to Approach a Responsive Design:  In a pretty entertaining blog post, the designers break down the creative challenges and the technological challenges to make the redesign happen. “The process was a total joy, and we’ve adopted it for the projects we’ve worked on since. The key is understanding that the design conversation is a long one, it may start with static comps but it continues through development. The more you can fuse the two (in your process and in your personnel) the more successful you’ll be.”

Some Responsive Infographics: Boston Globe Infographics Department [Tumblr, Javier Zarracina, Boston Globe’s Graphics Director]

Video Interview with Miranda Mulligan (former Design Director for Boston Globe, currently Executive Director of the Knight Lab):

[Source: Next Issue Media, YouTube]

[Read more: “ The Future of Web Design?” [Emedia Vitals]]
[Read more: “ Using responsive design to tell interactive stories” [Emedia Vitals]]
[Read more: “The Boston Globe Embraces Responsive Web Design” [WebMonkey]]




On October 22, 2012, became “the first global news site to roll out a fully responsive redesign optimized for mobile and tablet browsing.”  In particular, the new design includes a fresh new home page, better presentation of TIME’s award winning photography, more emphasis on voices and personalities, improved search capabilities and a robust new commenting system, LiveFyre, that pulls relevant conversations from Twitter and Facebook.

Cool Content Example: What’s really cool about Time’s redesign is it was also applied to their archives, meaning subscribers can view content all the way back to 1923 from their desktop, tablet, or smartphone.

How to Approach Responsive Design: “…Don’t underestimate the amount of time it takes to build a responsive site. It took us about nine months start to finish and a critical part of that was quality assurance. Not just using emulators and simulators, but you have to make that small investment to have multiple versions of the devices on hand so the people doing the quality assurance and user acceptance testing can test for multiple scenarios. You have to make sure you nail that part of the process,” said Craig Ettinger, general manager for in an interview with the Association of Magazine Media.

[Read more: “The New Responsive Global News Site” [Techland Blog,]





BBC News is in the process of moving to a responsive design to make their content easily accessible to their increasing number of mobile users, all while still maintaining a full content desktop version.  They also keep a blog on responsive design.

Cool Content Example: Phil Buckley, Executive Product Manager for BBC Future Media News World Service, and his team recently released a new mobile site for BBC Indonesia in Responsive Design.  “As far as I can find this is the world’s first responsive website in an Asian language and one of the very first non-English responsive sites,” says Buckley.

How to Approach Responsive Design: .net offers this really interesting article discussing BBC’s responsive challenges thanks to an interview with David Blooman, Test Engineer at BBC Future Media.  And, BBC produced this talk that touches on how BBC rose to the occasion.  The presentation includes: “How we support as many devices as possible using responsive design”, “How we’re using a sprinkle of Symfony2 components in our Zend world”, “How we scale to serve BBC News to the masses”, “What tools we use to help us along the way.”

[Video: “Scale and Adapt: A Story of How We Built Responsive BBC News” [SpeakerDeck]]
[More how-to:
BBC TV Channel Homepages: Responsive Design [Graphics]]
[Read more:
BBC News on Mobile: Responsive Design] [BBC Internet Blog]]



Chicago Now

Last year, the Chicago Tribune converted its local set of blogs, Chicago Now, to a responsive design.  In January, the Chicago Tribune’s Spanish-language site,, was also converted into a responsive design.

Cool Content Example:  According to the staff blog, it’s a heck of a lot easier to find what you’re looking for (compared to  I gotta agree.

How to Approach Responsive Design:Adee said there are four reasons the Tribune is betting on responsive design: to go where the users are as quickly as possible; to save money and time on development and support of native apps; to provide advertisers with new ways to connect with mobile and tablet users; and to provide users with a consistent experience across all devices. He said, however, that’s switch to responsive design will be more challenging for revenue reasons as well as integrations with third parties.”



The Guardian

The mobile beta trial was released in November 26, 2012 and aims to offer readers faster download speeds, an easier reading experience, top-stories access from any page, auto-updating of live blogs, near real-time football scores and stats, swipe-through photo galleries, playable videos, and better quality photos. It currently stretches to fit the browser but isn’t using media queries to adjust the design for different sizes or devices.

Cool Content Example: IMHO, the auto-updating of live blogs and real-time scores is a great feature, as is the ease of flipping through interesting high-resolution photos and watching the latest videos from my smart phone.

How to Approach Responsive Design: The Guardian’s Web Developer Matt Andrews outlines in this article how the publication aims to make use of responsive design, following in the footsteps of the Boston Globe and BBC News.  Created by design director Davina Anthony with input from the magazine’s design staff, the new look showcases the depth and breadth of TIME’s content, with over 100 new articles, blog posts and photos produced each day.

[Read more: “Guardian rolls out new responsive mobile site following beta trial” [Guardian]]



Have any thoughts about responsive design or about BBG’s efforts to move in the responsive direction?  Leave us a comment below and we’ll be sure to respond in kind.


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(Thank you to Brian Williamson, William Sullivan, and Rob Bole 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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