Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Adam Thomas on Sourcefabric and the importance of news app design

Adam Thomas works for the innovative software company called Sourcefabric. I've done some work for them in the past when they were at an early stage of developing their radio playout and newsroom systems.

Adam recently gave a talk at a hackathon in Austria about his collaboration with West Africa Democracy Radio, a team of 12 journalists based out of Dakar, Senegal. WADR cover a huge editorial area in West Africa, 3 times the size of Western Europe. Being lean, they take a different approach to making news, with less legacy and larger scope than the incumbents. By focusing on audio, WADR has found a large following in the Senegalese diasapora. They went to 500,000 downloads a week. They have 76,000 followers on Soundcloud, beating some of the European competitors targeting the same audience. I'm curious why so many followers are in Japan.

Adam also talks about the Yemen Times and how they rescued their archives. They discovered that by making the material more user friendly that the usage of the site went up dramatically. They made a move into radio as well. They use design to provide a competitive edge.

I'm struck by the similarity of the Sourcefabric approach to the Lean Startup Methodology. They do customer development before they even think about designing code. This was the fundamental flaw with international broadcasting 10 years ago. They did audience research AFTER making the programme, rather than when it was in the conceptual phase.

10 Lessons Learned from Adam's presentation:

1.Think Data. How will you visualise data? How will you import and export data easily so you can adapt to changing technology?

2. How will people experience your material? What is the next iPad? How can you seamlessly move to emerging platforms.

3. Define and understand your users. In the early days, Airtime was too complicated for some of the community stations, not sophisticated enough for professional users such as the BBC. Listen to your users!

4. News organisations don't break news. Platforms break news. News is never finished. Data, graphics and code are playing an increasingly important role.

5. Design for scale. The architecture of the Soundcloud servers was the secret of their success.

6. Avoid costly recoding because designs haven't been tested. Learn from the challenges LinkedIn faced in 2011. Create once, publish everywhere is crucial.

7. Localise early and often. Set up a framework to do this from the start. Build a community strategy around this.

8. Less features, more speed. Get to the minimum viable product.

9. Understand how to react to failure.

10. Make the most of your strengths. WADR focuses on audio, and covers only West African developments.

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