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Blog from April, 2010

COVE Outage Resolved

Last night (4/28/10) there was an intermittent COVE outage starting around 9:30pm EDT and lasting until about 10am this morning. The problem occurred with 2 of the 10 COVE servers.  This error caused approximately 20% of page views to fail on the PBS Video portal and in Partner Player implementations.  The problem was corrected this morning and  we do not anticipate it to reoccur. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Please contact your program manager if you have any questions.

-Dan Haggerty

It's been a very exciting couple of weeks for social media on the web, Twitter held its first ever "Chirp" conference, and Facebook hosted the 3rd annual "F8" developer conference. Both companies announced many new features, and products that will provide PBS, shows, and member stations with an enormous opportunity to drive traffic and engagement across platforms.

The speed with which both Facebook and Twitter are innovating right now is phenomenal, and what follows is a quick summary of their most recent announcements. PBS Interactive is prepared to help you navigate through these changes, and will be providing additional guidance, best practices, and tools to help take advantage of these new opportunities in the coming weeks.

Facebook

1. The Like Button and the Open Graph

A key plug-in that Facebook made available is the "Like" button. If you currently manage a Facebook Fan Page you probably noticed that people no longer "Fan" your page but rather they now "Like" the page.

At the F8 conference last week Facebook announced the availability of of a small widget that allows you to add a "Like" button to any page on your web site.

When a user "Likes" something, Facebook adds that page to the user's profile where their friends can see and share it further. A major key to the success of the Like button is it's ease of use both on the part of web site owners and of users. For people managing web sites, the Like button can be integrated by adding 1-line of code to their page template. For users, they no longer have to login to the site, or to Facebook in order to Like things across the web. This should dramatically increase the number of users sending PBS content into Facebook.

In addition to the Like button, the Open Graph is a new protocol that is designed to make it easier for Facebook to index and sort pages across the web. While the Open Graph is an open-standard, Facebook is currently the only site to use it. Implementation of the Open Graph is a matter of adding some additional meta-data tags to your site's header.

How can I benefit? Facebook is a major source of traffic to PBS sites, and the Like button presents a tremendous opportunity to increase that traffic even further.

Should I use it now?

Like Button: Feel free to implement the Facebook Like button on your site immediately, there is no downside to doing so (http://developers.facebook.com/docs/reference/plugins/like).

In May, PBS in conjunction with Gigya will begin to rollout a Like button that supports multiple social-networks, not just Facebook. This button will automatically detect which sites the user is already a member of and present the best sharing option to them.

Open Graph: At this time, it's unknown how valuable this will be to PBS sites. PBS Interactive will do some testing and make further recommendations at a later date.

2. Activity Feed and Recommendations

In addition to "Like Boxes" (formerly known as Fan Boxes that showed recent posts to your Facebook Fan Page), there are now two new widgets available to entice cross-site traffic and Likes.

The Activity Feed widget provides a stream of the most recent and socially-relevant content being shared in Facebook from your site.

Recommendations - Based on an individual user's personal activities on PBS.org, as well as their friends' activities this widget serves up socially-relevant links. Perhaps the most powerful of the widgets currently available, this one is currently being implemented on the PBS.org homepage.

How Can I benefit? These new widgets provide an opportunity to serve up related links that aren't just based on the content itself, but also the user's previous interactions, and the interactions of their friends.

Should I use it now? At this time, the Activity Feed and Recommendations widgets key off of the domain, so will serve up relevant content from across PBS.org. This has the potential to dramatically increase cross-site circulation and is highly recommended.

3. Is there more?

In short, yes. While the products mentioned above all are extremely relevant right now, Facebook also announced major changes to "Facebook Connect" which allows users to login to web sites using their Facebook Account, as well as automatic-personalization of site content without requiring users to login. These both have huge potential, and PBS is currently exploring ways of integrating these services more deeply into existing and future online experiences.

Twitter has also announced some very important changes to their platform, watch this blog next week for more information about what's coming next from them.

Make your own widgets with PBS' widget-builder!

We are unveiling a widget-builder tool that will help you syndicate your content and grow your audience. We'll show you examples of widgets (with blogs, RSS feeds, and video) built by PBS' widget-builder and demonstrate the features of this new tool. After this webinar, you'll know why widgets are an important part of your web strategy and how to build your own in our easy-to-use tool.

Date:  Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Time:  3:00 PM - 4:00 PM EDT

I hope you'll join us! RSVP now at: https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/206647371\\

Over the next four weeks, PBS will increase bandwidth capacity to serve growing traffic to PBS sites. In order to do so, we need to plan for maintenance windows every Tuesday morning from 2-7am ET between now and May 18. During these windows there may be outages to all or part of pbs.org, including user-facing sites, content management systems and direct server access. Producers should not edit site content during these windows. If you have any questions about the maintenance, feel free to post them in the comments below or reach out to your program manager.

PBS has partnered with ForeSee Results to launch an on-going satisfaction survey across PBS.org.  The survey is based on the American Customer Satisfaction Index and is designed to understand what parts of the online experience contribute to user satisfaction. The data is used to understand how users use the site and how we can improve their experience.

Only a small percentage of PBS.org users will see the survey.  The user will be asked to participate in the survey. If they accept they will be presented the actual survey when they exit the site.  Once a user has been presented with a survey, they won't be asked again to complete a survey for at least 90 days.

As we begin to compile and understand the data, we will figure out a way to share the key takeaways.

We’re happy to roll out several updates to our production requirements (the Web Policy Manual) and our product documentation to provide you with the latest requirements, specs and how-tos for pbs.org production.  Updates include:

  • New technical requirements to ensure sites are compatible with PBS’s infrastructure and tools while serving high levels of traffic, including information on server software and architecture, Amazon hosting, using the PBS CDN, Memcached, load testing and user authentication.
  • A downloadable visual guide to the updated sponsorship requirements, including the removal of a previous requirement that all partner player implementations include a 300x60 companion unit.
  • An overhaul of our video requirements in line with PBS’s COVE products.
  • The latest SWFObject, CDN and ActionScript requirements for Flash development.

You’ll also notice that the requirements have been grouped into more manageable sub-pages that aggregate policies by topic.  At the top of each page is a detailed summary of any recent changes.

Let us know if you have questions about the changes or the documentation available to help you meet these requirements.

A quick note about an opportunity for PBS local stations: Our friends on the PBS Station Products and Innovation Team (the SPIes) have announced an open call for stations to participate in a Project Merlin pilot group.

PBS Interactive is working hard to complete phased work on Project Merlin, which is slated for release later this year. As one of the primary goals of Merlin is to drive traffic to local station content, we need to recruit a pilot group of stations to test the processes for sharing information about your content with the Merlin database.

As a pilot participant, you will be able to work closely with the PBS Interactive team to identify the best local content to be fed into Merlin, and get a head start in preparing any of your local content feeds to work well with the Merlin system. We will be choosing 15 stations representative of the system as a whole, including size, location, and the types of local content available to feed through Merlin.

To apply to be part of this pilot group, please visit the link below and complete the brief survey by 6:00PM EDT, April 30, 2010.

Added bonus – One station that applies to be part of the Merlin pilot will be chosen at random to have their site given a full SEO evaluation by PBS Interactive's resident SEO expert, Scott Cummings.

Link to survey: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/HQPB2TG

PBS Interactive is developing 3 different mechanisms for surfacing local content on pbs.org:

  • through RSS feeds
  • through metadata entered manually through a central CMS
  • through local metadata previously entered into COVE

Creation of the tools necessary to manage this “metadata layer” is the heart of this project, nicknamed “Project Merlin.”

It may be helpful to visit the Merlin Resource Center on Station Remote Control for a complete overview of the project.

Webinar - April 21st at 3:00pm ET

Pilot participation is the first step towards leveraging Merlin to surface your local content at a national level, and is designed to touch on a number of online related projects. A more in-depth and detailed Webinar will take place on Wednesday, April 21st that will give your staff and the Station Products & Innovation team an opportunity to identify the best use of Merlin for your station.

Register: https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/396929787

See the original post on the Station Remote Control site: http://www.pbs.org/remote.control/news/update_archive/2010_04_20_Merlin_Webinar/index.html

Last week we hosted a webinar to introduce you to Disqus, PBS' new premium commenting service. Attached is the presentation from Ro Gupta and Giannii Calvert of Disqus.

We also compiled an FAQ document for you. In the meantime, please contact your program manager if you wish to get started on Disqus.

Congratulations to the six producers who earned Webby Award nominations for 2010! These nominations are further illustrations of the incredible content that PBS.org producers create each year.

The 2010 PBS nominees are:

  • Your Life, Your Money
    WNED
    Best Web Site/Activism
  • This Emotional Life
    Vulcan Productions
    Best Web Site/Health
  • PBS Kids
    PBS
    Best Web Site/Youth
  • The Secret Life of Scientists
    NOVA
    Online Film and Video/Best Documentary Series
  • Carbon Watch
    Frontline/World
    Online Film and Video/Best News & Politics Series
  • PBS Wide Angle’s Focal Point
    Wide Angle
    Online Film and Video/Best News & Politics Series

Be sure to go and cast your votes to support these great PBS programs at http://webby.aol.com.

The following sites also received Webby Honoree Selections:

  • Religion & Ethics Newsweekly
    Web Site/Religion and Spirituality
  • Evolution Beta
    NOVA
    Web Site/Science
  • American Experience
    Web Site/Television
  • PBS Newshour
    Web Site/Television
  • Behind the Scenes Kilauea Mountain of Fire
    Nature
    Online Film and Video/Best Documentary: Individual Episode

Congratulations to all the nominees and honorees.

Release 19.1 of COVE was deployed to product in Tuesday, May 4. Please click here for details

Work has begun on Release 19.1 of COVE and we’re excited about what it will offer our producer community. We expect this release to go live some time between late April and early May.

Poster Images

One big thing we will be fixing in this release is the poster image for the COVE Partner Player. Currently when you embed a COVE Partner Player on your website the default “poster image” that appears in the video window is an expanded version of your COVE Episode Thumbnail. Once Release 19.1 goes live though you will be able to assign a higher resolution image to that space.

This will be accomplished by using the new image transcoder that was added to the COVE Admin tool in the last release. You currently have the ability to generate these images using this new feature but they are not getting linked to their respective Partner Player implementations. If you would like to get ahead of the ballgame though you can begin to ingest your hi-resolution images now and the poster images will be automatically linked to their Partner Player’s when release 19.1 goes live.

Viral Player

The biggest part of this release though will be the new COVE Viral Player. This will be the method by which your COVE video can be shared outside of the PBS.org ecosystem. This COVE-powered player will allow users to grab, share and embed the code for select portions of your video.

      Strategy

We went into the development of this product with one key goal: Increase the traffic to all your great content. To achieve that goal we focused on two questions:

  1. How to best get the content out on to 3rd-party sites?
  2. Once the content is out there, how can we use it to drive people back to PBS.org sites?

To give users that reason to come to PBS.org sites we decided that the Viral Player would only be used for chapters, web exclusive content, promotional content and excerpts or episodes less than 20 minutes. Here is breakdown of how it will work.

  • Full episodes
    • In PBS Video portal – embed code available for chapters
    • In COVE Partner Player – embed code available for chapters
  • Full episodes less than 20 minutes
    • In PBS Video portal – embed code available for full episode
    • In COVE Partner Player - embed code available for full episode 
  • Partner Player excerpt less than 20 minutes – embed code available for full excerpt.
  • Promotional or Web Exclusive Content of any length
    • In PBS Video portal – embed code available for full asset
    • In COVE Partner Player – embed code available for full asset 

This approach is based on the concept that our producer’s most valuable content should only be on PBS.org sites. We feel confident that this strategy will be effective in getting users to visit PBS.org websites and exploring the depth of content our producers have to offer.

Producers who do not wish to have their content embeddable will be able to opt out through the COVE Admin tool.  That business rule will be applied to all of the “child” chapters from the “parent” episode.

      Design Mock-ups

The follow images are some initial mock-ups of what the COVE Viral Player will look like when it is embedded on 3rd-party sites.  Please note that these images are just preliminary and are subject to change during the development process. The final product may vary from what you see here.

This first image is how the Viral Player will when it is first loaded on to a webpage. Please note the links below the video back to the full episode and the producer’s PBS Video portal program page.

Next is how the player looks when the video is playing and the user rolls over the details button.

The next image shows the view when the user clicks that “Details” button. (Two images are shown because this view will be scrollable). Please note that basic metadata will be shown, including related content from the parent episode as well as links to the producer page and funder text.

Finally there is the page the user sees when they click the embed link.

We are excited about the opportunities this new tool will provide in promoting our outstanding producer content and increasing the audience for PBS.org sites. As always, if you have any questions or concerns please let your program manager know.

-Dan Haggerty

PBS will perform maintenance on its installations of Atlassian applications (which power Producer Exchange, Jira and Product Documentation) this Thursday, April 15, from 11am to 1pm ET. During that time you may not be able to access these tools.

The maintenance will have no impact on pbs.org sites. Let us know if you have any questions.

In the wake of the announcement last week of the new image specification for all COVE videos, I wanted to provide some additional clarity around how COVE and Merlin (once completed) will work together and how the image specification will impact the ways that your content will be used in Merlin.

Three key points:

1. COVE video will automatically be fed into the Merlin database. There will be no need to upload the content twice -- the data will automatically pass from COVE into Merlin once you have published the content.

Because Merlin is designed to store content that will be used in many different formats (PBS.org modules, mobile applications, widgets, etc.), Merlin will need to store an image that can be sized at various different sizes. The best way to ensure that your image is the most appealing at any size is to upload a high-resolution image when you enter content into the COVE Admin Tool.

2. Image quality and resolution will impact your contents promotion on the PBS.org homepage. While images will not be a required metadata element when Merlin is rolled out this Summer, our expectation is that any content element that is promoted on the PBS.org homepage (in the DL strip, in the Featured content section or in the PBS video feature box) will include a compelling image.

The 1920x1080 pixel size was chosen in order to provide the most flexibility for these future products. We believe that the new spec will not need to be updated for many years.

3. Merlin may one day require high-resolution images for all content. There are not currently any plans to change the Merlin requirements for images, however as new platforms and devices are released, the requirements for Merlin metadata may change.  It is possible that any content without an acceptable image will either be excluded altogether from Merlin or will require a new image to be uploaded.

By incorporating a compelling, high quality 1920x1080 pixel image into your workflow now, you will avoid this scenario.

 

If you have any questions, please contact Matt Schoch at meschoch@pbs.org.

If you are currently using the Engage comments engine then you may have heard that we are retiring that service. To support your online conversations PBS has chosen to contract with Disqus, a premium third-party service, for at least the next two years. Disqus is a great tool with many features we think you'll enjoy.

Next Thursday, April 15 we invite you to join us in a webinar where we will demo Disqus, show you live implementations, and give you some best practices on how to sunset existing conversations.

Even if you're not currently using the Engage comments engine, this is a product you should see and consider using to engage your audience online.

Date: Thursday, April 15

Time: 3:00pm - 4:00pm ET

RSVP now: https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/765284003

Leave your questions in the comments below or reach out to me directly (balvarez@pbs.org) and I'll be glad to help!

PBS has made a commitment to the Arts and PBS Interactive is leading the charge.  Paula Kerger has formally announced that PBS will present the Arts to the American public in a dedicated and focused way while bringing the audience closer to the creative process  -- and we’re launching online first.  

The goal:  bolstering online arts content (broadcast and web-only) while inviting engagement, participation and learning.

PBS hopes to launch the on-air companion initiative in Fall of 2011.

In May, Paula will host a one-hour general session at the annual meeting to update the system on the Arts Initiative and illustrate how incremental funds can create unique and engaging online content.   

In the months following May, we’ll build the foundation for a destination site on PBS.org that aims to highlight front row-style performance programming, as well as backstage access to artists and their creative process.  The site will also have master class style moments that inspire viewers to get involved with the arts themselves.  The online Arts Initiative team is small, but we have big plans.  

We’ll need your help and your ideas to create a rich online experience that brings the Arts to any computer in America. I'll be in touch this summer with more information and ways to get involved.

***Update 4/13/10***
A follow-up to this blog post expanding on the relationship between COVE and Merlin can be found here.

In an effort to better promote and distribute COVE content a hi-resolution image will soon be added as a requirement for the Core Content Package of COVE.  This means you will be required to provide a hi-resolution image when you are ingesting your content into COVE. We estimate that this requirement will go into effect some time in the next 8 to 12 weeks.

To ensure that this new requirement does not unfairly increase producer workload a new feature was recently added to the COVE Admin Tool that looks like this:
This new feature is an image transcoder. It allows you to ingest one hi-resolution image and, with the press of a button, generate the images required for other COVE-powered products.

With this powerful new tool you can currently generate the following images:

  • Standard 16x9, Standard 4x3: These are the images for the COVE-Merlin feed. This feed will pipe metadata about COVE content into the Merlin database. Merlin will then use that metadata to promote COVE content throughout its system. Click here to learn more about Merlin.
  • Partner Player: This is the poster image that appears in the window of the COVE Partner Player, before the user clicks the play button.
  • Stackcard: This is the COVE Stackcard

 

In this first version of the tool you are only be able to generate these images. They will not be linked to their respective COVE-powered products. For this reason, you will still need to ingest a separate COVE stackcard image into the system.  You will also need to continue to ingest an episode thumbnail for each piece of content.

 

It is a good idea however to begin ingesting your hi-resolution images for new and archival content now because:

  • In upcoming releases of COVE these images will be automatically linked to their respective COVE-powered products. Any images you’ve already generated will also be linked so you’ll save yourself from having to go back through your archive.
  • The Merlin image (Standard 16x9 or Standard 4x3) will be required for your COVE content to be promoted through the Merlin platform.

Because this image transcoder will be generating images for many different platforms the required image size is 1920x1080 pixels. This multi-platform size will ensure that the image transcoder can generate a quality image for all of the various platforms your COVE content will be distributed and promoted on; both now and in the future.

As I mentioned at the top of this post, the hi-resolution image will soon be the only required image for COVE.  At that time the transcoder will generate all of the required images, including the COVE Episode Thumbnail. So in exchange for your work to provide a larger image you will no longer have to create multiple sizes.

Here is how you use this new feature:

When you are ingesting a new piece of content

  1. Have your hi-resolution image in the same publicly accessible folder as your other video and image files.
  2. Create a new episode in the COVE Admin Tool as you normally would.
  3. Enter the URL for your hi-resolution image into the “Additional Images” field. (located in Step 1: Required Episode Information)
  4. Fill out the rest of the metadata form as you normally would. (Step 1, Step 2, Step 3)
  5. Submit your new content by clicking the “Submit” button
  6. Your new images will be generated.

If you wish to generate images for a piece of archival content:

  1. Click the “Edit/Manage Episodes” button in the COVE Admin Tool
  2. Find the episode you would like to generate images for on the “Browse Programs” page and click that episode title.
  3. This will take you to the “Episode Details” page.
  4. Click the button that says “Create New Image Assets”
  5. This will take you directly to the “Additional Images” field in Step 1 of the metadata form for that episode.
  6. Enter the URL for your hi-resolution image
  7. Click the “Submit” button at the bottom of the page
  8. Your new images will be generated

PBS is currently working on some changes to the interface of this new feature. We will be updating the text around this field and will be sure to let you know when those changes go live.

We hope this new tool helps to reduce your workload as we continue to build new COVE-powered products to distribute your content. As always, please let your program manager know if you have any questions or feedback.

-Dan Haggerty

Below is a diagram of how this transcoder works