When we released the beta
version of Motion, our new social application for Movable Type, we knew that
the first people to try it would be enthusiastic about social media and
interested in how to more effectively share and publish content online.
When we released the beta version of Motion, our new social application for Movable Type, we knew that the first people to try it would be enthusiastic about social media and interested in how to more effectively share and publish content online.
That’s exactly what DL Byron and Jay Allen had in mind when they integrated Motion into the latest iteration of their Bike Hugger site. DL Byron is the principal of Textura Design, Inc., a Seattle-based company that offers creative social media strategies; Jay Allen is the founder of Endevver, a San-Francisco based web development firm that specializes in building and customizing Movable Type sites.
Bike Hugger is “bike culture blogged”; it started with a series of evangelism events called “mobile socials” where cyclists would meet up to network, ride, and share information. Version 1.0 of the blog was built in Movable Type, and the community eagerly began connecting online. “A lot of people in the design and development community are also enthusiastic about cycling,” explains Byron. “The bike racks at tech conferences are always full.”
“Bikers are early technology adopters,” Jay adds. “They’re very open to experimentation. They’re an ideal audience for us to try out cool new technology and see what works.”
Both Textura Design and Endevver use Bike Hugger as a lab. The site is built entirely in Movable Type, and they use it to test new design ideas, plugins, and various ways of sharing content that they may eventually apply to the enterprise or other clients. “The key to successful blogging is to live it,” Byron explains. “That’s what we do every day with Bike Hugger.”
The newly re-designed 2.0 site uses Motion to create a single, one-page view of all of the latest Bike Hugger activity around the web, including Tweets, news articles and photos posted on Flickr. “We’ve carefully selected action streams that we think are relevant to our community,” Jay says. “We want Bike Hugger to offer timely content that our audience can use and share.”
The site also offers a unique way for visitors to find archived content, with an alphabetized tag cloud, a grid of monthly archives by year, and the ability to search by popularity, author or keyword.
The flexibility of the biking community has made this kind of experimentation possible. “If something doesn’t work, we’ll pull it down,” says Byron. “We don’t believe in the ‘Big Reveal’ - we build out an idea, take it live, and see if it works.”
“You can’t get this kind of testing in a QA Lab,” adds Jay.
Adapt to Social Media or Die
Bike Hugger is a perfect demonstration of a site that enables people to share information in multiple ways. “The blogosphere used to be very insular,” says Byron. “Now, tools like Twitter are breaking it wide open. Publishing online has become easy enough that almost anyone can do it.”
Jay agrees: “Action streams have turned the web on its head,” he says. “The ‘walled garden’ approach to publishing content online was too limiting. People want to stay in control of their content and share it with the communities they care about.”
That’s where Motion comes in. The application has the ability to import action streams from dozens of sites around the web, allowing community members to share content from a variety of networks, and allowing sites to evolve as technologies change. “I feel like Movable Type is supremely situated to take advantage of these evolving ways to share content,” says Jay. “MT is so flexible that it can integrate many different technologies into one platform.”
Bike Hugger plans to begin extending more publishing privileges to its community in the coming months, allowing people to share relevant information about the events, people, and topics that are important to cyclists.
“Mobile Socials are a great example of how we bring content together in innovative ways,” says Jay. They created custom fields in Movable Type to include pieces of information about their activities - from event name to start time to location - which makes adding new events a snap. From the site, people can RSVP on Facebook, and will soon be able to upload photos and related Tweets and other event-centric content. “Not only is Movable Type an amazing content management system, but it’s also an incredible event management system,” he says.
The new Bike Hugger site was built in less than two months, with the combined efforts of Endevver, designer Scott Benish, and the team at Textura Design. The site now has 4,000 daily subscribers and tracks at 10,000 impressions a day. On Flickr alone, they’ve surpassed 800K annual views. “Our growth is strong,” Byron says. “Motion has helped us grow by enabling us to provide timely, relevant content.”
Both Byron and Jay anticipate that the site will continue to grow and expand in the future: “This is such a forward-thinking community that we’re going to be able to keep on innovating,” says Byron. “We don’t care about industry buzzwords; we just want to do epic work.”
In the fall of 2008, publishing giant National Geographic decided to re-vamp their online presence and create a network of blogs and forums to engage with audiences from both print publications and television shows. They chose Movable Type to power their new initiative for several reasons: they wanted to purchase a license that would allow them to own all of their content; they wanted to host their site locally for complete control; and they needed enterprise-level support.
“Movable Type offered a better level of support than we found with other companies,” says Anton Gelman, senior producer at National Geographic. “It gave us complete control over our content, and we felt that it was also a very cost-effective choice.”
The company consolidated all of its older blogs and launched a number of new ones, including the Dog Whisperer, the Explorer Blog and the DogEared Books Blog for Kids. “Launching communities is a complex process,” Gelman says. “You start out thinking that people want one thing, but you have to be flexible and open to tweaking things over time.”
The company has found that Movable Type allows them to do just that: “The fact that so many Movable Type functions are widgetized and can be modified by dragging and dropping enables our producers to make most changes themselves,” says Gelman.
MT Provides a Fast, Affordable Way to Update Content
Previously, he reports, National Geographic’s legacy systems required a great deal of technical know-how to manipulate; producers had to file requests with the IT department for every change they wanted to implement: “Now that producers can change things on their own, they can quickly respond to our what our audiences are doing.” For instance, if readers are clicking a lot on a certain widget, they can re-position it to a prominent spot on the site.
“It is significantly cheaper to do it this way,” Gelman says. “The Movable Type platform has saved us tremendously both on cost and speed to market.”
National Geographic often launches their blogs internally before revealing them to the public to get feedback, identify potential issues, and also to expose the whole company to the features and functions available on the MT platform. “Now that we have Movable Type, all of our internal ‘customers’ have access to the same innovations and tool sets,” Gelman explains. “Different departments don’t have to start from scratch when they want to build or change a blog.” The approach not only saves the company time and money, but it also benefits readers and visitors: “People now have a cohesive experience when they visit National Geographic blogs,” Gelman explains. “Each site will feel like a part of something bigger.”
The company has ambitious goals for growing its online presence in the years to come, and blogging will play a central role; it plans to create blogs for every television show and blogs that extend content from popular sections within its publications. A single sign-on will give members full access to all of the content created by National Geographic, thus building community and fostering connections. “We’re committed to making blogging an integral part of our publishing strategy in the future,” Gelman says.
For more than three decades, National Geographic has reached out to kids in innovative ways through television and print with nature, sports and adventure-related content designed to inspire and motivate. Now the company has launched several kids blogs to engage with their young audiences online. The National Geographic Kids blog network includes DogEared Books, Global Bros, You Are Here, and Hands On Explorer, all of which are built in Movable Type. The majority of the blog posts are authored by real kids who blog about their adventures, and the voices of their peers have resonated with young readers.
“The mission of National Geographic Kids is to inspire kids to care about the planet, including all the people, places and animals in it,” says Michelle Sullivan, Executive Producer of National Geographic Digital Media, Kids. “The NG Kid's blogs are natural extension of that, because they bring the world right into their laps... or in this case, laptops!”
The editorial team finds most of its kid bloggers by reaching out to their own extended network of employees, colleagues and friends. The kids are then contracted to become bloggers and agree to an editorial schedule; a team of online editors reviews and posts content. “It seems so much more credible when it's a kid-to-kid conversation,” Sullivan explains. “That's what really make us unique and differentiates us from other kids' sites.
The editors review the content before they post it, but they’re careful not to use a heavy hand in the editing process. “Authenticity is important to us, says Sullivan. “We want it the blog posts to sound like the kids who wrote them, not like polished pieces written by an adult.”
Thus far, the process has worked wonderfully. “The kids are so excited to have a "voice",” Sullivan reports. “They love sharing their stories and opinions. It's really empowering.”
MT Enables Compliance with Legal Requirements
Creating websites for kids is more complicated than it seems. “There are a lot of legal and technical requirements involved in creating a blog for kids,” producer Anton Gelman explains. All National Geographic Kids content is COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act)-compliant, meaning that the site does not solicit or store any personal information without parental notification or verification. All ads that appear on the sites abide by COPPA, and also follow the suggested CARU (Children’s Advertising Review Unit) guidelines for advertisers. “Movable Type made it easy for us to add custom fields and rules that allow us to comply with all regulations related to having a kid’s site,” says Technical Lead Anton Gelman.
Comments have to be monitored to ensure that they meet strict content guidelines before they’re published; with the RSS subscription feature in Movable Type, producers can subscribe to the comments and approve them from anywhere, thus simplifying the process. “We make extra efforts to keep our community secure and give moms and dads peace of mind that their kids are in a safe online space,” explains Michelle Sullivan.
National Geographic enlisted Seattle-based Textura Design, Inc. and San Francisco development consultancy Endevver to build out the sites. They used Movable Type’s flexible comment moderation tools to enable editors to review and publish comments from multiple interfaces - inside the application, via email or mobile device. “The Movable Type software has made it easy for our team to manage and publish content,” Sullivan says. “We really love it.”
The company is committed to expanding its digital presence in the future, with plans for additional blogs, more exciting content, and new ways to engage its readers. “This is a generation of digital explorers,” says Sullivan. “They've grown up with technology and the Web is a central focus for them. We have a great opportunity to reach this young audience and help build loyalty to National Geographic and its mission.”
National Geographic Kid's Blogs Built in Movable Type
DogEared Books is community for young readers and the books they love. The blog features seven kids ages 8-12 who blog their thoughts about the books they’re reading. “Kids love giving their feedback on the books,” says Michelle Sullivan. “The blog gives them a place where they can be heard, and where their opinion matters.”
The Global Bros blog follows the adventures of two “cool brothers” - 11-year-old Stefan and 8-year-old Tyler - who are having the enviable experience of traveling around the globe with their parents for an entire year. The boys post photos, stories and videos from wherever they are - from Germany to Japan - and kids everywhere can follow along at home.
You Are Here
The “You Are Here” blog shines a spotlight on bloggers in different countries; last year, it was written by 12-year-old David, a blogger who lives in Beijing and blogged about his visits to the Olympic Games and what it is like to live in China. Currently, the blog is being authored by 10-year-old Ayat, who lives in Jordan and blogs about Middle East geography, her family traditions, and trips to nearby Petra and the Dead Sea.
Hands On Explorer
The Hands on Explorer blog tracks the adventures of National Geographic Kids’ Hands-On Explorer Challenge contest expedition team on their worldwide adventures. Australia with the destination in 2008; in 2009, the team will take a 12-day trip to Peru. The team will be made up of 15 kid contest winners and two teachers who will travel to Peru together to learn about the culture, people and history of this ancient civilization.