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Collaborating with African tech companies to increase our reach

Dmitry Shishkin

Digital Development Editor, BBC World Service

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This week, we're announcing the results of ‘hackathons’ (also known as development studios) that the BBC World Service, and BBC Connected Studios jointly held in Africa in February and April of this year.

To explain, ‘hackathons’ are opportunities for coders to get together and develop ideas (at a special hosted event). For this project the World Service went to Africa and hosted a ‘hackathon’ in Nairobi in February and a development studio in April in Cape Town – a fantastic way to engage local tech talent and for us to gain an understanding about how we can build better products to serve our listeners and users in Africa.

The advantage of hosting such events outside the UK means we’re able to utilise local skills, local knowledge and expertise. In both places we partnered with local tech hubs. Nairobi and Cape Town helped us get about 15 teams to participate. There, we selected a couple of interesting ideas from both places, took them to London, ran them past some editorial and technical people and  started working them into something which could be tested by users.



The first of our pilots from the hackathon and development studios has now gone ‘live’ - on BBC Taster. The pilot is called BBC Minute CatchUP (above) - a World Service 60 second update on world affairs updated every 30 minutes. Importantly, the pilot is an embeddable player which people can embed into their own website or put it on their Android home-screens. It’s a very nice, neatly-done thing. I’m really pleased with it.

Our second pilot (which is coming soon and will also be on BBC Taster) is a responsive website which allows people to swipe rightwards and leftwards and, as they do so, they can prioritise the stories they want to read and de-prioritise those they don’t. The more you use the web site, the more it learns about your preferences.

It was really pleasing to us to find that the challenges we’re thinking about in terms of news consumption in the future are exactly the same thing local tech companies are interested in innovating around. Now people look for news on their mobile phones or on social media not just by visiting our site

The BBC is sharing its technical expertise with local tech firms: we are explaining to people how to use BBC information and content and how to manipulate bits of programmes so local innovators can create digital solutions which meet local audiences needs. What the local tech experts get in return is our knowledge and experience of digital and ‘product’ development. They also get the real, first-hand knowledge of editorial collaboration working with editors like me and others to actually better tailor their ideas to the needs of their audience. 

Dmitri Shiskin is Digital Development Editor, BBC World Service

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