The federal agency responsible for thousands of international radio and television broadcasts is using Google Currents, a free tool that potentially could be the blueprint for every federal agency distributing RSS feeds to big audiences.
The Broadcasting Board of Governors — which oversees Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio and TV Marti, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks — launched the Google Currents platform last October to disseminate its content easily and swiftly to its weekly audience of 175 million in 59 languages.
“We’re fortunate to be one of the early publishers on the platform,” said Randy Abramson, director of products and operations at BBG’s Office of Digital and Design.
“Our timing was good because just as we were set to launch, Currents became a pre-installed app on most Android Jelly Bean-enabled devices,” he added.
Google Currents is an app that provides a magazine-like experience allowing users to swipe through content on mobile phones and tablets, as if they were flipping through the pages of a magazine. The Currents application comes preinstalled on many Google Android devices and can give government agencies enhanced access to audiences on all mobile platforms.
The app is available for both Apple iOS and Google Android supported devices. Users can find the BBG editions by downloading the application in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store and search for VOA, RFA, RFE/RL, Marti and MBN respectively.
“Syndicating content to Google Currents can be as easy as simply providing an RSS feed. However, in our case, it got little more complicated due to the many languages and the fonts they required,” said Addie Nascimento, BBG’s syndication product lead, who built all the BGG Current editions.
In just a few months, BBG’s Google Currents has brought in over 10,000 subscribers to VOA English alone, about 7,000 to VOA Mandarin and 3,500 subscribers to Radio Free Asia, all without any real marketing.
The timetable for adding Currents to an agency’s distribution chain is very short. Under its business plan, in just a few months, Nascimento was able to complete the job of making all of the BBG’s content, which includes articles, audio and video, available to people in hundreds of countries via Currents.
BBG’s Google Currents is a good start for delivering services in new ways, said Mark Forman, President of Government Transaction Services and the first Administrator for E-Government and IT.
“Agencies are struggling with their role in the information age when the Internet has made government neither the timely or authoritative source for most data and information, and it is good to see people trying to figure out how to adjust to the new era,” Forman said.
While it is particularly useful in the public diplomacy realm, “Google Currents lends itself to any government enterprise that uses RSS feeds to disseminate its content,” Abramson said.
“Any agency that is putting out regular editorial or video content would find a good Google Currents environment,” he added. “To see these kinds of numbers with zero dollars for marketing demonstrates the true power of the platform.”
Most agencies have RSS feeds, including the Defense Department, health care agencies, public safety agencies and many others so it would be a simple task to plug into Google Currents.
The BBG has long seen mobile as an important platform in reaching new audiences, particularly in developing countries. Worldwide, mobile devices outsell desktop computers, and 75% of the world’s population has access to mobile phones.
The BBG is showing the State Department how to use Google Currents, but there are”hundreds of government RSS feeds on everything from product recalls, alerts, health and science information, press releases and news feeds” that could use the tool,” Abramson said.
One aspect government agencies will certainly find attractive – the technology is free and has no impact on other platforms agencies are using to spread their content.
If an agency has an RSS feed, it simply connects that up to Currents and it will be published in an enhanced format that is easier and better looking than any standard RSS reader.
Abramson’s five tips for agencies to launch on Currents:
1. Prepare your content feeds and graphics. Google Currents does simple RSS ingestion, but, being an international broadcaster, we faced challenges around foreign language fonts, right to left formatting and CSS styling.
2. Figure out the structure of your Currents Edition. What sections do you want to appear on the front page of your edition? Do you want your video YouTube channel on the front? You only have one shot to engage your users, so make good decisions about what content you want them to see first.
3. Test, test, test. Test your editions within Google Producer to see how the editions will look on phones and tablets, both on iOS and Android devices. More importantly, test how the editions look on real devices.
4. Have a marketing plan. How will your users know you have a Google Currents edition? Promote the editions on your web and mobile web properties. Media organizations should leverage TV and radio to advertise this new way to find your content.
5. Review your metrics. How many subscribers do you have? What part of the world are users subscribing from? How long are they staying within your editions? There’s a ton to learn about your users within the Google Publisher and Google Analytics dashboards.