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Webview Week, by James Cridland

A compilation of webviews

A few weeks ago I helped organise something called Webview Week for the UK Radioplayer. It's the second coder's event we've had at Radioplayer. The first was a day around what a mobile app might look like: UX and design specialists from across our partners in the radio industry came up with some unexpected and interesting ideas, which - in part - led to the success of the current Radioplayer app on Android, iPhone and Kindle Fire.

Webview Week, as the name might suggest, was a concentrated week of coding for radio stations on their webview inside the Radioplayer app. The webview is the station-specific portion of the app that appears when you tune in: for some stations, like Heart, Capital or Absolute as an example, it's a bespoke view with information and branding; but others had left the app to use a default view which - containing a logo and a piece of text - is slightly less interesting.

Visuals for radio are vital for the future of the medium. Today's younger generation have grown up with colour screens on everything, and to them music has always been 'visualised', whether on music television or YouTube. Visuals help brand recall - vital for RAJAR and advertisers alike. So Radioplayer felt it important to ensure that radio inside the Radioplayer mobile app looks great, as well as sounds great.

Recognising that stations might have to fit this work in with other things, and appreciative that not all media companies are based in London town, the event was a mostly virtual one. Using GoTo Meeting (thank you, RadioDNS, for your help with this), we met virtually on the Monday, and highlighted some of the opportunities that the Radioplayer's JavaScript Bridge offers a developer. Then, we shared APIs, documentation and a few development apps for iOS and Android via BaseCamp, a collaborative system that allowed us to offer help during the week.

On Friday, those that had taken part mostly met in London (with URY taking part from their studios in York), to show and tell what they'd done. Michael Hill, Radioplayer's Managing Director, was on hand to see what people had come up with, and with a credit card for a pub afterwards. (The Angel, if you wondered: a Sam Smith's pub with "man in the box" on tap).

The afternoon was eye-opening. The Radioplayer JavaScript Bridge, a nifty piece of code that enables webviews to communicate directly with the app itself, was intended to be used for some simple controls and to communicate information to the webview (like what song is playing, as one example). But the use that it had been put to was fascinating.

Folder Media, the operator of digital station Fun Kids, had used the code to produce an impressive and very graphical interface for their listeners - and, also, to ensure a high amount of statistics to help the station understand when and how people tune in, and what they do when they listen. They'd integrated their bespoke Radiobase system into the webview, to ensure that it automatically pulled things in from their website for display in the app: even videos.

Lincoln's community station Siren FM had used the JavaScript Bridge for relevant messages to the listener, at a time they might respond. Once they'd been listening for twenty minutes, for example, a listener might be gently nudged to make the station a favourite - if, of course, they'd not already done so. They, too, had also integrated information from their content management system, the ever-popular WordPress.

The BBC had taken the opportunity to simplify their webviews for users: trialling a clearer and smarter interface that focused on the current on-air experience. This should lead thinking of their webview development later in the year. UBC, the technical team behind many of Radioplayer's systems, had worked on the default webview, to make it a clearer and more informative experience for both live and on-demand listening, including links to discover more; and RaW also worked on their own website.

And there were more stations and services, too; from RaW, UCB, and Media UK. (I didn't do very well in the end: but did manage to produce a proof of concept using Remy Sharp's twitter.js, pulling in station Twitter feeds.

We've learnt that a service like BaseCamp was very helpful to people to help them develop; and we're looking at the possibility of doing something similar on a permanent basis - and we've also learnt that passionate, creative developers make some pretty surprising things. We also learnt that the BBC prefers Taddy Porter, the Radioplayer team like Soverign Bitter, and at least one of the students went for cider. Fruit-based drinks aside, it was a really interesting week, and one we hope to do again.

Jonathan Cresswell from Siren FM has also blogged about the webview week

James Cridland is Radio Futurologist and Managing Director at Media UK.

Posted on 25 February 2013 - 10:59am