Mobile Station Stories: Nathan Gibbs and Leng Caloh, KPBS

by Rachel Lim, PBS Station Products & Innovation

As part of the launch of the Mobile White Label Series for Stations (available in SRC, login required), we are profiling mobile efforts at stations throughout the system on a variety of topics, ranging from mobile giving to the differences between mobile Web and mobile apps. Over the next six weeks, these stations, who are part of the Station Mobile Working Group, share their experiences, plans, successes and lessons learned about mobile.

This week's interview is coming from San Diego, California, where Leng Caloh, Interactive Strategies Manager, and Nathan Gibbs, Web Producer, spoke to us about KPBS's mobile efforts.

Nathan Gibbs
KPBS has developed a mobile site with radio streams and a feed for the latest news articles, and is currently concentrating on building out apps for both iPhone and the Android. They also have a rich listing of local events. Learn more about KPBS’s mobile capabilities at

What motivated you to pursue mobile, and how did you develop your initial mobile strategy? 
Distributing content on mobile was a natural extension of our shift away from being solely a traditional broadcast organization. Mobile was another platform on which we could distribute our content. Once we got content staff on board with the idea of posting web content, it was a logical step to develop the technology to distribute that content on mobile platforms. In 2008 we received funding from the founder of Qualcomm (mobile chip maker) to develop a mobile site and daily news email as part of our multiplatform reporter training project.

We started developing our plans for the mobile site in the fall of 2009, shortly after the launch of Android OS. Our strategy was driven largely by analytics and mobile trend research. Our first task was to analyze the existing mobile traffic coming to our main site, as well as the traffic coming to the mobile KPBS/NPR site developed by NPR. We matched that to national mobile usage trends.

We prioritized our design based on the device usage stats from and KPBS/NPR Mobile. Rather than making a site that looked good only on an iPhone, we aimed for a more universal design that would also look good on a Blackberry (our 2nd highest device source at the time). Our reasoning for this arose from the fact that iPhone traffic to the KPBS/NPR Mobile site decreased significantly after NPR launched their iPhone traffic – leading us to believe that iPhone users were more likely to use the NPR app than visit our mobile site. Also, our full site looked decent on the iPhone screen. So in a sense we designed to a lower common denominator, instead of to the “latest and greatest” smartphones. We even tried to factor in how the site would look on an older “flip phone” with Internet access.  

What were your initial goals for mobile, and how have they changed over time?
We wanted to serve people on the go with news, blogs, and events; our live radio stream; and information about our broadcast schedules. This continues to be our goal, though we are now focusing more on mobile apps and the opportunities they offer for interaction/user-generated content, geolocation, and member donation/benefits.

What kind of results have you seen so far, and how does it affect your future plans for mobile? Mobile now makes up 9% of our total traffic, compared to 3% of our total traffic when we launched our mobile site. This is due as much to consumer trends as it is the existence of our mobile site; the majority of our mobile traffic is coming to our main site, not the mobile site. (This may be due to the fact that our technology provider can not do an automatic redirect of mobile traffic to the mobile site.)  

Our mobile traffic is coming primarily from iOS and Android devices – on both the mobile site and the full site. In order to enhance the use of audio and video, we are creating iPhone and Android apps. We also have a rich listing of local events, which will now be viewable using the GPS and mapping features of these phones. These apps will also allow us to ask the public to help report on stories via audio, photos, and text.
By far the most popular content on our mobile site is the live radio stream. In fact, traffic to the live stream page has surpassed traffic to the mobile home page. People have obviously bookmarked that page, as 81% of the visits to that page are direct entrances. Obviously people are using their mobile devices as Internet radios. We are factoring this into our current and future mobile development; the Live Radio button will be featured prominently on our upcoming iPhone app.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first approached mobile?

From a technical standpoint, our graphic designer and web developer had a learning curve with optimizing styling for mobile sites, so it would have been nice to have had more resources on that before we started.

What are the challenges of maintaining a large, rich content mobile web site?

It’s difficult to manage the media formats required for particular devices. We link to MP3 audio files for radio stories, but don’t display video at all. Live streaming is also complicated and we’ve partnered with Xera Radio to supply optimized mobile streaming links for different phones. The mobile site offers less than the desktop site.

How do you integrate mobile site management into your daily workflow and what are some of the challenges?
KPBS currently doesn’t modify its news workflow to accommodate mobile. We’ve adjusted the publishing system to automatically include or exclude content based on its media type. However, with the new apps, we will be able to receive audio/photo/text submissions from users. This will allow us to use user-generated media in online, within the app, and in broadcast programming. We will also be able to send push notifications to these phones. We have yet to determine the workflow since the apps are still in production.
We also have the ability to send SMS text alerts to people who can sign up via our website; however, we haven’t yet developed an editorial news workflow for this either. The challenges we face in implementing this include the need to develop and document a solid editorial decision-making process, and staff workflow for breaking news that includes SMS alerts, social media, and online news stories; the need for technical training; and trying to fit this in to the duties of a news staff that’s already juggling multi-platform delivery.

If you'd like to learn more about about Nathan and Leng, follow them on Twitter! Nathan can be found @nathangibbs; follow Leng at @lengcaloh. 

Check in next week as we travel to central Pennsylvania to chat with Michael Williams at WITF.  


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