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Two teams have been selected to help the BBC expand its reach through Africa following its hackathon held earlier in Kenya. The BBC World Service, Connected Studio and its digital innovations team joined forces to hold a hackathon at the iHub and Nairobi Garage in Nairobi.
At the time of announcing the hackathon, Dmitry Shishkin, BBC World Service Group Digital Development Editor, said that the reasons for holding the hackathon in Kenya is that “the BBC wants to tap into the unique expertise of, and partner with, the Kenyan tech community to develop new innovative ways to grow the BBC’s audience in Africa. We strongly believe that instead of trying to come up with tech solutions for Africa from London, we should go to the continent, speak to tech companies there, learn first-hand what the expectations are, both editorially and technically, and, using this knowledge, try and build something that has Kenya in its heart, right from the start.”
The hackathon also came on the back of the BBC announcing its launch of the Africa edition on its website. The new website, the BBC revealed, is aimed at people on the African continent who are interested in more African news stories, features and video on the front page of the BBC’s digital platform. The BBC also announced that the bbc.com/Africa section, dedicated to African news, will see significant enhancements.
It is worth noting that the BBC’s decision to intensify its presence in Africa came after fresh criticism against western media’s coverage of Africa. Some media critics believed more focus was given to the Charlie Hebdo attack than the Baga massacre.
Connected Studio has held hackathons in the UK, but this is one of the first times it hosted one on the African continent. The mandate of the hackathon in Nairobi was to reinforce the BBC’s appeal to mobile phone users who do not currently access BBC content relevant to them through the use of social media and chat apps. The successful ideas will be selected for pilots which will be funded by the BBC.
During the hackathon, 50 participants in 13 teams detailed how the BBC can best report on Africa and reach greater audiences.
The judging criteria was based on a combination of factors such as distinctiveness, audience impact, accessibility innovation and feasibility/achievability. After two days of presentations and judging, two teams were selected and their ideas taken forward for a pilot build with user testing. The BBC says that the ideas “best served the challenge of trying to reach young African audiences through social and digital platforms”.
The two teams that have been selected are Go-Sheng, a technology orientated social enterprise that seeks to preserve the Sheng language and culture, and Ongair, a digital technology agency that builds tools allowing businesses to reach their customers and audiences on mobile based Instant Messaging platforms. Go-Sheng’s idea was the innovative use of local language translation technology and use within local communities. Ongair’s idea was a way of engaging with younger audiences, by understanding the daily choices that are made to engage BBC content in a concise application.
There is no doubt that both ideas are relevant to the African content. There are still people that can only consume content in their mother tongue and they have been largely ignored by mainstream media. With Go-Sheng’s mandate being to advance Sheng, it will be interesting for a platform like the BBC to delve into urban slang. Imagine consuming your BBC content in a tsotsi taal in South Africa.
Content translation into urban slang will show that a network understands the way people consume news on digital platforms. Though they might speak English, they are not necessarily conversing in it everyday. A platform that exist in a language spoken with friends might be much better.
Ongair’s idea is relevant in that there is growth in young people with access to smartphones and their idea of consuming news is expecting a platform that is less formulaic and more interactive.
The BBC World Service plans to host its next hackathon in South Africa, but is yet to announce a date.