Innovation @ BBG » VOA Fri, 20 Nov 2015 18:47:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Listen to VOA audio programs over your cellular voice connection with the VOA Mobile Streamer apps Tue, 07 Jul 2015 14:16:59 +0000 Will Sullivan The award-winning ODDI Mobile Team is excited to announce a new product launching in July, the VOA Mobile Streamer. This audio-only experience is available for Android and  Apple mobile devices and serves broadcast audio news in more than 30 different languages.

Besides offering hundreds of radio news programs on-demand in more than 30 different languages, the app also offers live 24/7 radio streams of more than a dozen languages. There’s also a bunch of smart features like a low-bandwidth mode that saves on download time and user costs, and deep social media platform integration, but the true killer feature of this app is its simple, unique design that allows you to listen to audio over data *OR* cellular voice connections.

For VOA audiences in emerging markets this is especially valuable since mobile data rates are very high and connections are often poor quality so streaming is not always an easy proposition.

Why are we doing this? What is the unique value of the Mobile Streamer for VOA & its audiences?

  • It allows us to better serve and connect with audiences in low-bandwidth countries using click-to-call cellular/voice minutes to get our audio content, instead of having to stream it over costly data connections in emerging markets

  • It offers a new way to experience VOA audio content on the go through a unique and refreshing design offering a very non-traditional news app experience, especially for younger audiences that might be turned off by the more traditional news approach.

  • It offers a passive, hands-free way to consume VOA’s content in the background while commuting to work or doing chores or other tasks.

  • It helps showcase the depth and breadth of all the thousands of hours of VOA audio programs we produce each week.

  • It allows us to leverage our partner, AudioNow’s, international Interactive Voice Response (IVR) infrastructure, phone numbers and tools to expand our content reach for new audiences.

Try out the VOA Mobile Streamer now on:

The VOA Mobile Streamer will join our fleet of dozens of free, innovative mobile apps for high- and low-tech audiences around the world. Check them all out here!


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Alhurra and VOA Java apps prove wildly successful growing audience quickly in emerging markets Thu, 07 May 2015 18:10:32 +0000 Will Sullivan While the mobile and media industry loves to over-hype fleeting technologies like Google Glass and Meerkat, serving the BBG audiences in emerging markets requires that we focus on user experience and building for not just the elite — and that often means building for very old or low-tech devices like Java phones.

Over the past few years, the ODDI Mobile team has launched and evolved the award-winning flagship fleet of mobile and tablet applications available for the most high-end devices on Android and Apple IOS (as well as supporting old versions of the operating systems back to Android OS 2.3 and IOS 5), and this Winter we launched an improved lineup of low-end device products on Symbian and Java phones to round out our technology offering. One thing we didn’t count on when launching the Java apps was the swift adoption and audience growth — in some markets faster than more modern smartphone products.

In Middle East and African markets we’ve seen ‘hockey-stick’ growth surpassing the weekly installation rate of our larger, flagship smartphone apps. For instance, Alhurra for Java phones already more than more than 50,000 downloads across all the app store markets in less than 3 months since we publicly launched them.

VOA’s Java app has also done exceptionally well in Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Iran, Egypt, Pakistan and Nigeria — and we recently received a shout out from the BiNu store for the app’s surge and top rankings in African and Middle East markets. RFE similarly does well in Iran.

Not bad for a very low-tech, text-and-image experience, but that’s the reality of these media environments, mobile networks and what these audiences need.

Try out all the Java mobile apps for the 6 BBG brands for yourself:

Learn more about the awesome ODDI Mobile team’s products at



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The new digital storytelling: BBG’ e-books on immigration, human Rights, freedom, and love Tue, 25 Nov 2014 20:35:59 +0000 Xi Rotmil E-books offer new channels to engage with an audience and tell great stories, whether it is with a serialized collection of text-based stories for small e-readers or an interactive audio/video/photo magazine for tablet devices.

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

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

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

Remembering Tiananmen

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

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

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

View RemberingTiananmen in the iTunes Store


Caged, The Illustrated Writings of Nurmuhemmet Yasin

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

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

View Caged in the iTunes store

Unsettled: A Story of U.S. Immigration

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

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

View Unsettled in the iTunes Store


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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“Unsettled” wins the W3 Silver Award for Mobile Applications Mon, 17 Nov 2014 15:27:39 +0000 Xi Rotmil The VOA News mobile application “Unsettled” has been selected as a winner for the 2014 W3 “Silver Award.”w3winner_silver_wht

W3 Awards honor creative excellence on the Web, and recognizes the creative and marketing professionals behind award winning websites, web video and online marketing programs. The W3 is judged by the Academy of Interactive and Visual Arts — an invitation-only body consisting of top-tier professionals from acclaimed media, interactive, advertising and marketing firms. The awards this year attracted more than 4,000 entries across the five award categories.

The application “Unsettled” presents the triumph, tragedy and contradictions of the immigrant experience through a multimedia exploration of history and economics. The app features interactive charts, maps, info graphics, audio clips, stills, and a U.S. naturalization quiz.

It also includes over a dozen exclusive video clips featuring intriguing interviews with: Mae Ngai, author of The Lucky Ones: One Family and the Extraordinary Invention of Chinese America, and the Lung Family professor of Asian American Studies and professor of History at Columbia University; Bryan Caplan, professor of economics at George Mason University and blogger for EconLog. The New York Times named his first book, The Myth of the Rational Voter, “the best political book of the year” in 2007; William F. McDonald, sociology professor at Georgetown University and co-director of the Institute of Criminal and Procedure at the Law Center.

A co-production of VOA English and ODDI, the publication is VOA’s first long-form storytelling app and leverages the interactive opportunities offered by the iPad. The book is available on the iTunes store, Barnes and Noble, and Google.

“It’s gratifying to be recognized for the effort that went into “Unsettled”. We worked very hard to present a fair, accurate picture of the history of immigration in the U.S. in the hope it would provide context and understanding to the present-day debate,” said Mark Young, managing editor of VOA News English. “I’m grateful to the journalists, designers and developers who created an interesting and engaging ebook, and would also like to thank Mae Ngai, Bryan Caplan and William F. McDonald for contributing their time and expertise to the project.”

“We are exploring storytelling tools for BBG, and looking for new formats to engage our audience. The storytelling app allows for an immersive experience, and could be an important long-form Journalism format in the future,” ODDI UX Studio Manager Steve Fuchs said.

“Unsettled” is part of the ODDI Book Pilot, which aims to explore different epub formats and author tools.  Another book in the pilot program, Tiananmen Square Remembered, won the International Media Excellence Award, held by the Association of International Broadcasters last year.


Check out our innovative app “Unsettled” at:

Also in epub3 format:

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VOA Indonesia trip: BBG Direct and Affiliates Wed, 05 Nov 2014 16:00:14 +0000 Xi Rotmil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bara will soon launch a live streaming TV app for smart phones in Indonesia, Singapore and Beijing. This is an on-demand and live streaming TV app with integrated social media components where people can chat and share while watching. Users will also be able to record and play later, as well as create their own channels. is the online version of the popular Muslim daily newspaper. They are an old line media firm (in 1992, they had a linotype machine in their lobby) with a large campus in the city. They have a strong interest in a mobile-first small bites approach to reaching new audiences and say they are most interested in reports on economics, science, technology, and the United States.

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

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

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


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BBG Mobile News apps get a huge update and redesign Wed, 27 Aug 2014 22:29:25 +0000 Will Sullivan The ODDI Mobile team is excited to announce we’ve begun rolling out the 3.0 redesign and functionality update to the BBG mobile news applications on the Google Android and Apple IOS mobile and tablet platforms. The platform that was awarded as 2014 finalists for “Best Mobile Publishing Platform or Service” by the GSMA Global Mobile Awards and “Best Multicultural App” by the Appy Awards is getting a big refresh.

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

The mobile and tablet apps 3.0 version features:

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

Marti Noticias on Apple IOS

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

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

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



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VOA mobile app named finalist for “Best Mobile Publishing Product” in GSMA awards Thu, 06 Feb 2014 17:59:00 +0000 Will Sullivan VOA’s mobile apps launched this year, and we’re pleased to announce that the Voice of America mobile and tablet apps for Android, Apple IOS and Symbian have been named as finalists for the “Best Mobile Publishing Product or Service” in the GSM Association (GSMA) 2014 Global Mobile Awards!

Here’s the rest of our press release about the exciting news:

The BBG’s Office of Digital and Design Innovation, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Voice of America partnered to create a mobile app that provides news and information for people in more than 100 countries, in 43 languages on the world’s two largest smartphone and tablet platforms.

“It’s a huge honor for to be recognized by the GSMA for the immense amount of hard work and innovation that went into this application,” said Will Sullivan, Director of Mobile at the BBG. “It took more than a year of blood, sweat and translations for the indomitable ODDI Mobile team of Borana Kostro, Danish Ahmed and Son Tran, working with Kim Conger and the RFE/RL Pangea Content Management System team along with VOA language service experts to make this happen. It’s truly an amazing cross-organization product that we are proud to share with under-served audiences around the world.”

The Voice of America app is available on Android and Apple iOS which account for more than 90% of worldwide smartphone and tablet shipments. The app lets audiences get push notifications of breaking news, stream radio podcasts on demand, as well as download content for offline viewing. Individuals can easily consume and share content in languages ranging from Afan Oromo to Vietnamese. The VOA News app has been ranked in the top news apps in the Google Play and Apple App stores in most of Africa, Asia and the Eastern Europe, with rating of four stars and above from users.voa app settings

“VOA receives millions of visits from mobile and tablet devices around the world. By offering a best-in-class experience for users of iOS and Droid, we can extend the reach of our journalism into new markets,” said VOA Director of Digital Strategy Matthew Baise. “This nomination is testament to the fine work of our colleagues across U.S. international media.”

ODDI collaborated with RFE/RL and software developer EEA to significantly expand the BBG’s mobile offerings. RFE/RL pioneered this work, building out the framework and CMS upon which the mobile offerings are built. ODDI continues to work with them to add features and upgrade the user experience.

“As collaborators on the design and development of VOA’s mobile app, we congratulate our great partners for such distinguished recognition of this shared achievement,” said Kim Conger, RFE/RL Design Director / Deputy Director, Internet Technology and Strategy.

The GSMA’s 2014 Global Mobile Awards will be presented as part of the Mobile World Congress program on February 25, 2014 in Barcelona.

The GSMA is the largest mobile trade association in the world, representing the interests of mobile operators around the globe. Spanning more than 220 countries, the GSMA unites nearly 800 mobile operators with 250 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem. The Mobile World Congress is an industry-leading event, drawing more than 70,000 attendees in 2013.

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TRANSLATION PERSUASION: Localization & Quality Assurance in a Global Media Organization Thu, 22 Aug 2013 19:00:13 +0000 Borana Kostro
Our VOA News App Sets a Record

Hi, we are Borana Kostro and Danish Ahmed and we work for mobile team at ODDI. The Office of Digital and Design Innovation (ODDI) took on the task of creating a news application for Voice of America for both the Apple iOS and Android operating system. No big deal you say? How about having this application support over 40 different languages. Yes, that’s right, a single mobile application that can deliver up-to-date news to people around the world.

Download VOA app today for free!

Download BBG apps today for free:

This has never been done before, and the closest thing to our 40+ language application only supports 9 languages at the most.

This application does more than just give a user a few articles to read. The VOA app offers photos, videos and audio, along with the capability of being able to submit your own stories to VOA journalists in the newsroom—stories which could potentially be featured on the VOA website and application. Creating an app that had those features translated into 43 different languages was not easy!

Over 40 Languages!?! How Did We Do It?

Just in English, you can imagine how many terms are needed to be able to navigate through any application. It was overwhelming to discover that the app would require about 500 or so key words for each of the 43 languages.

The estimation was well over 20,000 items that needed translation in a matter of months.

There really was no reliable, easy shortcut on getting all the terms translated for the application. If Google Translate was a little more accurate, it would have made the daunting task of translating those items much easier. But Google Translate is notoriously unreliable. The only plausible option that would accurately get the job done was to get 40 or so individuals who are proficiently fluent in those languages to translate 20,000 terms for us.

Borana Kostro (Bo) “Translation Persuader” working with language services

Borana Kostro (Bo) “Translation Persuader” working with language services

Luckily, the ODDI office is located in a building that houses more than 40 language services. A language service is an office for specific language and is comprised of journalists, editors, producers and broadcasters who are fluent in those languages (i.e. Albanian language service, Urdu language service). Unfortunately, they are not hired translators, but they were the only resources available to us. Basically, this meant that those editors, journalists and broadcasters we thought we could have at our disposal, in reality, had their own work to worry about.

So How Did We Really Do It?

You have got to give something to get something…and for the most part we learned that chocolates were the key to getting our peers to do us a great service. We probably went through 10 large bags of chocolate candy in the four months it took our team to get these translations from our peers. I’m not saying they wouldn’t have helped if we didn’t bribe them with sweets, but it did make it easier to go to them week after week asking them to translate “just a few more” things.

Finding and scheduling a point of contact with each language service was the first, laborious step. And then meeting with language services and explaining what needed to be done for Mobile apps was also time-consuming. There were 500 plus words and phrases we needed translated, so it wasn’t like they could take a few minutes out of their day and quickly give us what we needed.

This was hours and hours of work navigating through our language localization database and filling in words and phrases.

Sample of  mobile app  localizations

Sample of mobile app localizations

Take a look for yourself at the sample of mobile app localizations and multiply that by about 500 lines for 43 languages. It looks intimidating doesn’t it?

Also, there were additional “legal docs” (Terms of Use, Privacy Policy, and About Us) to be translated.

After collecting all the translations for 43 languages, and receiving new version of the app, all of these translations had to be checked against the app. Many of the keywords had to be changed due to their length, inaccuracy and other issues. Rinse and repeat, again and again. Working with 43 language services and typing translations directly, sending e-mails and copies of documents with translation terms, were the means of acquiring massive amounts of localizations.

VOA News App Home Page for Tibet (Right)

VOA News App Home Page for Tibet

We developed the bulk of this app during vacation season, which we now know not to do in the future; our designated translators who originally agreed to help us out when we asked near winter’s end were not around for spring and summer. This forced us to scramble to look for other credible translators and basically start from square one. After countless hours of begging and chasing via Skype, Google Hangout and after-hour emails, we were eventually able to get the translations we needed.

Another obstacle we came across was that some technical terms just did not exist in certain languages. There were a few language services that decided that some terms (i.e. multimedia, which did not exist in their language), would just appear in the app in English. But some language services weren’t content with just popping in an English word in the midst of a completely different language.

It was pretty neat to see the creative minds of those language services get together and create a new word for certain journalistic and technical jargon that did not exist yet.

Application users for some languages will notice new terms in the VOA mobile app that are appearing for the very first time in the history of those languages.


Working with Different Devices and Operating Systems

QA Specialist, Danish Ahmed, testing the application on multiple devices

QA Specialist, Danish Ahmed, testing the application on multiple devices

For those that are thinking about creating a multilingual application: TEST YOUR APPLICATION ON AS MANY DEVICES AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE!!!!

For those developing for the Apple iOS, you probably won’t come across any major problems with trying to do something with many different languages and font types. I will give credit to Apple for being multilingual friendly. The fonts render beautifully and all languages that we created this app for were supported without any hiccup.

Android was a completely different animal—man was it a headache. Not sure how many of you know this, but there are over 11,868 different types of Android versions and devices out there in the world today. They come in all shapes and sizes and all different resolutions. As much as we would have liked to be able to test on all 11,868 versions, we were able to get our hands on just a fraction of that to test our app on. Near the completion of the application we discovered that Samsung, which happens to be the largest retailer of Android devices, did not support many of the major languages, including Urdu, Pashto, and Kurdish.

At first we thought there was a problem with the fonts we provided our developers, for all the languages with font issues on android. We provided our developers with multiple TTF files for right to left languages (Urdu, Kurdish,  and Pashto). Eventually we discovered it was just on Samsung devices that we had an issue with the right to left languages, and that Samsung devices did not render the fonts as they should.

Android devices as a whole had a problem with Amharic, Azerbaijani, Burmese, Khmer, Lao and Tibetan fonts. The TTF files provided, which were the best TTF files known for those languages, the fonts still appeared broken or failed to appear. We are still working on a fix for these and, unfortunately for the time being, had to hold off on releases for these languages for our Android version: Amharic, Azerbaijani, Burmese, Khmer, Lao, Tibetan, Urdu, Pashto, Kurdish and Deewa language service (Pashto to Pakistan).


Partial List of Languages (Left)

Partial List of Languages

Triple-checking the Translations

The ODDI Mobile Team worked round the clock training and handing out different devices to different language services to have them try out the product. VOA was excited and enthusiastic about having a robust news application. Some stated this would be the very first application in their respective language. Everyone was eager to make sure that their language worked without any flaws. I truly believe that without them we would have not been able to find as many defects and font errors as we did. The translators were hands down the greatest asset we had to making sure we had a quality product.

What’s Next in Terms of Localization?

The Office of Digital and Design Innovation is currently working on creating an application to make the whole process of getting translations a little bit easier. The current project of ‘Localization Database’ will be an open source tool for anyone that will allow users from all over the world to provide translations to this application, kind of like a Wikipedia but for translation purposes.

Thank you to VOA language services who have provided us with translations for VOA mobile apps. It has been a lot of work on your part and finally we have a great product we are proud of. Special thanks to all and especially IME’s and web editors who participated in this video: Will Sullivan, Martha Townes, Hakki Ocal, Steven Ferri, Alen Mlatisuma, Rohit Kulkarni, Hasib Danish Alikozai, Abdulaziz H. Osman, Al Neustadter, and Abdushakur Aboud.

Authors: Danish Ahmed | Borana Kostro

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VOA News App Now Available in More than 40 Languages Tue, 13 Aug 2013 18:26:08 +0000 Will Sullivan We recently launched several new mobile and tablet news applications for BBG entities, the most recent being Alhurra’s IOS application and VOA News on Android and Apple IOS. These apps offer an epic step forward in BBG’s digital platforms for modern audiences at this especially critical time for mobile publishing, when the mobile internet and applications are opening up an entirely new generation of digital users. To serve those current and future audiences, we built them on the world’s two most popular mobile platforms: Android and IOS, which account for more than 90% of world-wide smartphone shipments according to IDC.

The Voice of America app is especially interesting with more than 43 languages–from Afan Oromo to Vietnamese–supported in the VOA News Apple IOS version and more than 33 on Google Android VOA News app (and more languages coming in future versions), including left to right languages.

This is truly a ground-breaking application given that no others have come close to supporting this many languages. Other news apps are in the single digits for number of languages supported. And I haven’t been able to find any news application not supported by the native operating system. The only comparable content application I’ve found was The Bible, pointed out by my colleague Brian Williamson.

Our app is built for both mobile and tablet devices and supports devices running Android 2.3 and newer and IOS 5 and above, so it covers more than 93 percent of IOS users and more than 96 percent of Android users.

The most potentially exciting part of the app–if properly supported by the language services–is the ability for users to send photos, video, audio, text and video news updates from the field directly into our content management system for BBG web producers to use. I think of it as sort of a ‘Trojan Horse’ way to give our users, who are often in regions that are hostile to journalists and free press, tools to send us multimedia news information. It exponentially expands the potential of our news reporting operations.

There are many other innovative features including:

  • Multimedia content publishing including photos, video, audio and text content, including background streaming of audio content
  • Breaking news push notifications
  • Radio podcasts available on demand, without downloading
  • Low-Bandwidth Mode allows user to save download time and data costs
  • Directly send user generated content–photo, video, audio and text news reports–to BBG entities from within the app
  • Customizable navigation items and ordering
  • Share functionality for favorite stories, videos and photos via email, Twitter and Facebook
  • Offline downloading and saving of news content for later enjoyment
  • Integrated proxy available on Android in the settings to circumvent Internet blocking
  • Apple AirPlay sharing support integration for IOS

These launches follow our applications already on the market from RFERL and Radio y TV Martí, which are built on the same framework and integrated into our content management system so that BBG web producers can easily and efficiently manage content across all platforms. RFERL was the pioneer in this work, building out the framework and CMS and we’re working with them to continue adding features and upgrading the experience and design in the future when we have all BBG entities on one platform.

This is just the beginning though. We have Alhurra on Android coming soon, as well as Radio Free Asia. …But the garden is never finished–we have many exciting upgrades coming soon, including more feature and streaming support, as well as a design refresh by the end of the year.

Get all the BBG apps here:

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Journalism over Tech: Why We Are Here Tue, 04 Jun 2013 16:44:47 +0000 robbole The Office of Digital & Design Innovation (ODDI) was created with a simple proposition:  We work with technology to improve US international media news and information.

We look for the best solutions to the biggest problems in creating, distributing and improving news and information.  Our job is to find those journalists most able to apply innovation in digital media and get them what they need to implement.

I have the strong belief that our future growth and competitiveness in crowded global media markets depends on our capacity to innovate.  However, there are important reminders of why technology is secondary in the pursuit of our mission.  It is often that the technology outshines what is truly valued; the importance of having a compelling story that moves people.  I have the privilege of working alongside an amazing diversity of journalistic talent and was reminded of that fact when I received an email of a departing colleague, Robert Sivak who retired from VOA at the end of May.  I am reprinting his letter – lightly edited – with his permission because it is an important document to ensure that those in the nexus of journalism and technology stay connected to the values of this place.


To all my dear VOA colleagues, in the News and English Divisions, at the bureaus, in Language Services throughout the House, in IT and Facilities, across IBB and in the Director’s office:

After more than 36 years as a member of this remarkable institution, it’s time for me to move on to other pursuits and challenges, and I want to bid you all a very fond and grateful farewell.   I will miss VOA — and the hard-working journalists who make it tick — more than I can say.  My extended career here, working alongside so many of you, has been deeply rewarding.

From the day I arrived in 1976 as a fledgling Worldwide English intern, I’ve found purpose and passion in so many different corners of this enterprise: as a writer and newscaster with News Programs’ English regional news desks; a co-producer in WWE of several radio news magazines; a producer and feature reporter at VOA’s United Nations bureau and the New York “program center” (when it was nestled in the theater district at West 57th); a general assignment reporter at the West Coast bureau in LA in the early 80s; back in DC to co-produce a live 2-hour morning news magazine to Asia; a long and fascinating stint (1984-1998) as NEB’s food & ag reporter and host of a weekly half-hour radio ag show; the creator and original host/producer in 2000 of the half-hour science mag still running today as ‘Science World;’ an enriching 8-year tour on the 3rd floor leading a remarkable team of multi-media feature journalists, and for the past two+ years, as Central News’ science editor, urging on the Newsroom’s team of science and health reporters.

During my time here, VOA reporters chronicled historic events, from the aftermath of Vietnam and Watergate to the US Bicentennial, the dawn of the Green Revolution, the Iran hostage crisis, the Reagan years, the space shuttle, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the fall of communism, the birth of the Internet, the advent of social media and mobile communications, and since 9/11, the battle against terrorism. During my time here, we’ve gone from manual typewriters to networked computers that (most of the time) let us edit text, audio and video and communicate with each other instantly around the globe. We’ve gone from a global network of shortwave radio transmitters to a complex of satellite-fed TV and radio affiliates, catering to audiences that find VOA on their smartphones.

Amazing.  And I’m sure even more remarkable changes are in store.

I know we all share a passion for what VOA has always been: a beacon of honest, balanced world news and illuminating stories about the American people and their ideas.  Even though I’m leaving, and despite the great challenges VOA is facing, I’m going to continue to believe in that mission. And I’m glad so many of you remain here, committed to support it.

I thank those of you with whom I’ve collaborated over the years for the professional respect, trust, pride and joy you’ve all shared with me.

Love and best wishes to everyone at VOA.  And good luck to each of you. 



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