A national treasure finds a new digital home | Pixel Actions

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Jan. 24, 2020

A national treasure finds a new digital home

Launched back in 2016, Digital Herodotus I aimed to be an online platform for the digitalised archives of the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation (CyBC). Unfortunately, the platform was never a success. Several design and technical issues resulted to an almost non-existent visitation (est. 80 users /month) and were halting the project of reaching its audience. Web Archives Link

A few years later, in 2018, our team was assigned to do a complete overhaul. We were assigned with re-designing the entire online experience and re-developing the platform. We knew we had to start from a blank canvas.

The challenges identified were the following:

  1. From a design perspective, we needed to create an online identity that combined a modern character with a nostalgic touch associated with these historical archives. A blend of the digital world, where the archives will be consumed, with the analogue world, where the archives were first created.
  2. From a User Experience perspective, we needed to create a smooth and seamless experience of navigating and consuming a large amount of audio-visual content. An intuitive, user-friendly and fast experience.
  3. From a technical perspective:
    • we had to build a robust and reliable platform that could serve GBs of audio and video content hierarchically structured in numerous categories;
    • we had to design and implement a process in order for the digital files to be uploaded on the platform alongside their documentation with minimum changes in the way the Organisation works (a process that will be in effect for many years after the website is launched);
    • we had to find the best possible solution for structuring, managing and presenting this information (video/audio files, categories, documentation, etc)

In terms of the KPIs that were set from the start we had to:

  1. Reach a wider audience. The goal of the first year was to reach 500 monthly users.
  2. Reach different age groups (including 18-30)
  3. Create a fast experience when browsing the website and streaming video/audio (Loading <4s)
  4. Make it as accessible as possible, including people with visual and hearing difficulties
  5. Implement a technical process that would allow the easy uploading and managing of the archive files (20GB/week)

One of the early challenges we had to tackle was how the information would be structured. While at the early stages of the project, still drafting wireframes and concepts, we launched a landing page announcing the “launch” of the new archives. The landing page was simple. It had only a search-box and urged users to search the archives. As soon as the visitor “searched”, a message was displayed thanking them for their interest and their contribution in helping us build the new platform. Over the next 2 weeks, we had accumulated hundreds of real user queries that formed the foundations for structuring the archives and categorising into the final 107 categories (6 main categories, 33 sub-categories,74 sub-sub-categories).

In terms of design and identity, we followed an agile approach through a number of iterations where all stakeholders were actively involved, providing feedback throughout the process. We started with re-designing the logo and moved on, iteration by iteration, to produce the final identity and style-guide. An identity that blended the digital with the analogue, that transformed the magnetic tapes into pixels.

For building the User Experience, we researched various other international archiving platforms and video sharing/streaming websites. The goal was to create a smooth and intuitive browsing/streaming experience. After testing several design patterns along with the client and with potential users, the best solution was implemented:

An “asynchronous split-view” concept, where the main section of the screen (right) was the “Viewing/Browsing Area” and the secondary section of the screen (left)‌ was the “Navigation Area”. Through this concept, users are able to navigate (or search) through the various categories in the “Navigation Area”, and browse/watch videos in the “Viewing/Browsing Area” (asynchronously - i.e no page re-loads) through an infinite-scrolling design. This solution provided an intuitive experience for navigating and consuming the content for both experienced and non-experienced Internet users. (Direct Link)

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In order to build a long-standing platform, it was crucial to create a robust backend system that could serve GBs of audiovisual content and at the same time create a process of constantly uploading the files that were stored in the client’s in-house servers. The solution proposed and implemented was to build a custom backend (Python and Django) for storing and managing the archives’ information and using a third-party video streaming service for streaming content.

So we built an automated tool running on the Client’s servers and whenever there are files to be uploaded, it:

  1. automatically connects to our backend to create all required entries and add all information about the files;
  2. automatically connects to Vimeo via the Vimeo API to upload the file;
  3. makes it available on the platform once the video is uploaded.

This solution created a seamless process, where the online platform is constantly updated without any administration from the client (manual administration is also possible if required), whenever a new file is digitalised, documented and ready to be shared.

Launched in February 2019, the “Digital Herodotus II” platform has been a big success. It managed to draw interest from a wide audience and reach a variety of age groups, promoting our culture and helping preserve our digital heritage. In terms of the project goals and KPIs:

(ii)‌ we created a modern, reliable, user-friendly and fast digital platform for browsing, searching and viewing the video and audio archives.

(i) we have successfully implemented a web-based solution that provides an easy way to share the digital archives without changing any current process of the client, reaching the initial goal of uploading 20GB/week (as the output of the digitalisation and documentation process)

(ii) ‌we have reached and exceeded the first year’s goals for website visitors, reaching 2.5K‌+‌ monthly unique users with an astonishing 42% bounce rate. Moreover the average session duration is 5’32’’ with an average of 2 sessions per user.

Other notable achievements include: (i) the integration with Europeana and (ii) the Level A Conformance to WCAG to provide an easier browsing experience to people with disabilities.

The blend of a bespoke design, the focus on UX and the custom backend system alongside its automation tools, created a unique platform. A platform that will preserve, spread and immortalise the audio-visual artifacts that were locked for decades in dark cold rooms. A new digital home for a national treasure.

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