News Labs at World Service Nairobi hack (#newsHACK IV)


The recent #newsHACK in Nairobi was a BBC World Service event run by Connected Studio, assisted by News Labs to explore ways of reaching new young, mobile phone users in urban and rural areas in Kenya with content that is relevant to them.

Held in Startup co-working space The Garage

The event itself was held over 2 days at the Nairobi Garage (a co-working space for startups). We’d held a breifing the week before at iHub (an innovation hub setup by Ushahidi), where we got to know people and gave participants some background info on our APIs so they could start to think about what they might want to explore.

tech brief

We provided full access to the BBC News and Sport Content API (with content in English and Swahili) and to the BBC News Labs Juicer API – which allowed participants to experiment with using from local news sources, in addition to BBC News. We found there was quite a bit of interest in content from across the BBC (articles, video and audio clips in particular) too. We encouraged participants to look at Social Media platforms, SMS and other delivery mechanisms and to explore community building and social interaction, as well as to make us think.

The aim was to find a suitable idea to take forward into a pilot (with funding). Separately – we did have categories and recognise winners in those categories, but confidentiality was agreed, meaning that – unlike most #NewsHack events – we haven’t gone into specific details of each hack outside of the event so as not to jeopardise any potential for commercialisation for participants.

group hacking

Categories for judging

The categories we came up with were:

  1. Best hack using ChatApp/Social Media
  2. Best hack using SMS &/or USSD
  3. Most cost effective solution/offline functionality
  4. Best for community building/sharing/interaction
  5. Surprise Us

The standard was very high – with participants wire framing and going on to build prototypes in a range of languages and platforms including (Ruby, Node.js/JavaScript, PHP, Python, HTML5 and responsive design). Teams even improved and extended the client libraries we provided! There was quite a strong smart phone focus; despite current modest levels of smart phone usage, Kenyan developers were optimistic about their future in Kenya.

Ideas ranged from approaches to designs that worked for both rural and urban environments. The hacks explored a diverse range of new ways of reaching audiences, from engaging with popular music, to hyper local translations to reach non-English speaking audiences, to platforms designed exclusively to appeal to those in under-served rural areas.

group picture

We’ve not made any announcements about what the next steps will be yet, but I hope we’ll see something live on the newly launched BBC Taster platform at some point.