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  • 5 benefits to Consolidating your audience engagement

    Why you should consider transitioning your audience engagement and management to your own private platform. As more businesses acknowledge the importance of real-time engagement to their bottom line, social media platforms such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp have become the default way we communicate with our customers. Whether it's to send quotes, schedule appointments, or answer support queries, social media platforms offer messaging solutions that seem to address communication needs, supported by a low barrier to entry as most consumers are already on these sites and familiar with the functionality. So it's no surprise to us that many of the customers we onboard onto our Fabrik platform in have historically relied on these platforms to manage their own community engagement. As these platforms expand in reach and influence, so too does our awareness of their limitations which range from the mild inconvenience of mixing your business and personal messaging in the same place, to the moral conundrum of supporting platforms that incite the spread of fake news and contribute to social division. Fabrik seeks to offer an ethical alternative, and has been designed as a private, secure way of engaging with your audience in your own branded environment. With your data stored in a private cloud environment, your community's information can only be accessed by you and never harvested or sold to third-party advertisers. In addition, Fabrik is a converged technology tool that brings together many different parts of your business operations - each of which come with their own costs and are managed in silos - bringing ease through integrated, fit-for-purpose tools and workflows. Many of our customers who have consolidated their costs and efforts into their own platform have experienced these benefits on a daily basis, and here are just a few you can consider if you're thinking about how to transform the way you serve your audience or community. #1: Build intimacy with your community in your own private, inclusive space. Fabrik offers your community your own branded service point in the form of a mobile app, which - when used to bring all community engagement and messaging into one place - fosters a sense of community that is noticeably absent in platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook. Your most loyal audience will find you here day after day, creating community cohesion, loyalty and increased engagement over time. Using a public social network can result in your community and security communication getting lost in a sea of other personal or business conversations, and multiple groups making it difficult to follow important conversations. The customisable Messaging elements of Fabrik also allow different sub-communities to arise based on different interest groups such as Gardening, Pets and Fitness - which facilitates connections between like-minded individuals. Hayden Conradie, the Manager of the Upper Umhlanga Security Trust, says what started out as an emergency channel evolved, providing features specifically for older residents, for example. “People can lend a hand, discuss a market or places that deliver food. All that chatter was on a single WhatsApp group before and that was a nightmare.” "Now the Emergency channel on the app stays open and the other channels involving pets and bargains and the rest can be muted." Fabrik is a platform that adds value to many different kinds of communities with different demographics, and although we hear concerns from customers who are sceptical about how easy it would be for example older folks to be comfortable using, what we've seen is that they do so with relative ease. To illustrate this point, let's take a look at one of our media customers who are a radio station situated in Mozambique with an average listening age of 50+. The station started using Fabrik in mid 2019 and have seen an 1000% increase in app engagement (visits, unique visitors, registered users visitors) since their launch. In the same station, 43% of those who've downloaded the app have also registered their profiles which means that they're opting in to receive and send messages from the studio. To make it easier for even the biggest technophobe out there to use Fabrik, the platform also offers our app membership a dedicated Support desk, as well handy in-app FAQ material to help those who are less comfortable with technology find the support they require. Another concern we hear quite often is that audiences who are data-sensitive will be more tentative to use a platform like Fabrik, but what we're seeing in some of our customers whose audiences are of a lower LSM are using the app just as much, if not more than our customers with more affluent audiences. This is partly due to the fact that the app has been built with data sensitivity in mind which means that app download sizes are kept as lightweight as possible (±15MB on the Google Play Store or ±35MB on the App Store), and the app's live-stream uses only ±14MB to stream per hour. A community radio station based in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal who adopted Fabrik in late-2017 has seen a 1,349% increase in engagement since the month of their launch - which indicates that their app membership is growing at an exponential rate year-on-year. Out of nearly 20,000 people who have downloaded the app, more than half are engaging in messaging and, this year alone, their live-stream has been listened to nearly 400,000 times. #2: Build engagement workflows that easily fold in your other initiatives. Fabrik is a converged platform that integrates all of our customers' community and audio management functionality seamlessly into one suite of applications, eliminating the need to manage multiple databases and technology tools, and freeing up your team's time to spend on other things. One of Fabrik's most popular applications is Echocast, which brings together powerful podcasting and audio management capabilities into one place - equipping any media entity to capture, store and categorise audio to be shared instantly or saved to be used at a later stage. Due to its real-time audio archival functionality, you can also retrieve a piece of your previously aired broadcast within minutes, which is particularly useful for compliance and audit purposes or compiling magical on-air moments to be played again on-air. Explore the features of Echocast: #3: Keep your audience safe and secure and protect their personal information and engagement data. The Fabrik platform has been designed with your audience's safety and privacy in mind, and neither the mobile app nor any part of the platform will ever track your members' personal information. What this means is that your community will never be subjected to predatory advertising based on their personal data, and if, for some reason, you ever decide to cancel your Fabrik subscription, any data related to your audience engagement would be handed over to your community to keep forever, and is not retained by Fabrik. Another measure Fabrik will soon be implementing is a mechanism by which app members can report any content they find objectionable based on the community's guidelines, as well as report other members they find are in contravention of those guidelines. As any online community grows in size and chattiness, it becomes crucial that members feel that they are in a safe and respectful environment that upholds their values, which is why the addition of this functionality is important. As an administrator of that community, it can be a concern when considering how to create that environment, and ensure that members of that community behave respectfully towards each other and that conversations do not spiral into abusive or inappropriate behaviour. #4: Opportunities to generate revenue for community initiatives. Many of our Fabrik customers in Community Radio and Residential Communities typically have a specific mandate to raise funds that can be allocated to community initiatives and social upliftment. Choosing to adopt your own private platform means that you can monetise it in the way you want to which, with Fabrik, is always in your control and respectful towards your audience's data. Within Fabrik, there are a number of advertising inventory options that are available to you which you can use to generate revenue for your community, and to change the way that you engage with your advertisers and transform your adverting offering. Tamie Mbombo, Marketing Manager at KZN-based community station Izwi LoMzansi, has achieved significant results through the modern inventory available in the platform that "makes their advertising offering more compelling": "It's great for smaller stations without the infrastructure to compete with bigger stations. Advertising has been bliss!" #5: Access to ongoing app updates and feature enhancements. Fabrik's Software-as-a-Service subscription model means that your community will have access to ongoing updates and feature enhancements that are deployed on a regular basis across Fabrik's suite of applications. More importantly, as your content offering grows, you can elect to add new integrations and feeds into your own app, providing a customised experience for your members and growing with your audience as their expectations evolve. Hear from our software development teams about our approach to technology enhancements on our Feature blog, or peruse our Release Log for a sense of the major updates that are constantly added to your applications. In summary, the benefit of consolidating your audience engagement into an all-in-one product like Fabrik is that it not only makes the management thereof easier and less time-consuming, but also allows you to expand, grow and take advantage of that engagement for the benefit of your community.

  • Monetise your Mobile app engagement

    Fabrik offers a multitude of platform inventory options that you can use for in-house campaigns or offer to advertisers! Consolidating your audience engagement and feedback through your own mobile app offers you possibilities that transform your connection with your listener: your most engaged, most responsive audience segment is now in your branded space, ready to be activated; a quick push notification will bring them back into your environment within seconds to keep engaging and listening; and the workflows behind the app will help you reach your app-based audience as well as those scattered around social media - all at the same time. But even more significantly, you now have aggregated insights into your audience's behaviour and profile that were previously unheard of: you can now tell when your audience is most likely to engage with you; you know which kind of audio content they really enjoy; and you can even see in real time who is engaging with you and how! While these benefits are transformative for your operations, the possibilities are attractive to any advertiser looking for the best value for their advertising spend. A natural progression for our clients across a variety of industries is to engage with advertising partners to create commercial campaigns or even generate additional revenue for your organisation. And even for brands that are non-profit, you now have the ability to generate revenue for community-focused initiatives based on a rate-card you come up with, in accordance with your selected advertising offering. The inventory available for your mobile app and audio content can be incorporated into integrated campaigns with your customer, or even for raising awareness of internal promotions or features. Audio Inventory This inventory is accessible everywhere your live stream and podcasts can be found: the live stream and podcast section in your app the live stream and podcast on your website and even when your podcasts are shared on social media. A Featured Podcast is a podcast that is pinned to the top of the Rewind section within your app or website, which can be sold to an advertiser or used for an internal campaign or promotion. Another smart use of a Featured Podcast is to promote a longer-form piece of audio like a popular interview, a viral on-air moment, or even an off-air audio file that wasn't played in your usual broadcast but would be of interest to your listeners. You can either set an existing podcast as Featured or easily upload a Featured Podcast via your Echocast audio management dashboard. Here's a quick demo from a recent webinar to get you started. Audio Pre-Rolls When you're promoting a particularly high profile campaign, either for your brand or for a station, it may help to guarantee that your listeners hear the advert regardless of the time of day they choose to tune in. The live stream pre-roll is an audio advert that plays every time a listener presses play on the live stream in their app or on your website, and the podcast pre-roll is an audio advert that plays at the beginning of every podcast. These ads offer your advertiser guaranteed engagement with your audience as pre-rolls cannot be skipped or fast forwarded. Detailed data and analytics are available for your audio engagement on your Metrics dashboard, and if you'd like to add a podcast or live-stream pre-roll to your app or website, simply drop us an email. App Billboards App billboards are scrollable images that appear when an app member first launches the app. Billboards are flighted for the duration of a specific time-period, and you can add multiple billboards to your app at a time. When booked by multiple advertisers, these can be sold at a premium rate depending on the order or set to be ordered randomly. An optional call-to-action link can also be added to the billboard to direct interested people to a web page with more information, or even a phone number if phone calls are the desired outcome for that particular campaign. Detailed stats and reporting are available on the number of views (impressions) and click-throughs that each billboard receives. Messaging There are also opportunities to offer your advertisers a presence within the 'Messages' tab on your app - via a sponsored conversation or channel. A sponsored channel gives your advertiser the exclusive opportunity to access a community or audience through a branded service point in which they can share dynamic media content like videos, images, text, and voice notes or even promotional QR codes or barcodes. The advertiser can choose either a two-way Conversation, in which the community can respond to them publicly and ask questions, or a one-way broadcast Channel, where only they can post content. Directory of Services Offer numerous advertisers, local businesses or even your own app community the opportunity to list their business or service, with add contact information such as their email address, website address and phone number. This opens up your advertising offering to a broader community of advertisers who may not have suitable services for the more prominent kinds of app inventory. Dialboard The dialboard is a panel for quick, one-touch dialling of useful community contacts within the app which can also be sponsored by an advertiser - offering them increased brand presence and an easy way for your audience to connect with them! A Cloud Concierge button can also be added to the dialboard to offer your advertiser a branded attention button your audience can use to signify that they'd like to be contacted by the station or advertiser. (This is an opt-in service that sends the individual's registered contact details with the station or advertiser.) Data Insights and Campaign Reporting Fabrik also offers you a range of campaign management and reporting functionality you can use to make the most of the platform and inventory you have available. Once you've considered the different kinds of advertising inventory you'd like to include in your revenue initiatives, you're now ready to empower your Sales team with training material and educate your advertisers on your new Fabrik inventory! From there, you'd be well-positioned to run your next engagement campaign and offer your advertisers powerful insights into your audience engagement. If you'd like a hand planning your next campaign, go ahead and get in touch!

  • Radio promotion wows through laser-focused digital strategy

    A look at how YFM received over 1 million competition entries during a global pandemic, and what the station did differently during lockdown to cater for its young market over that period. Since March 2020, radio programming in South Africa has been dominated by all things Covid-19, and many broadcasting platforms found themselves having to pivot rapidly to keep their audiences engaged with topical information during a time of global uncertainty. From daily statistics to coverage on government’s ongoing response, and from features on precautionary measures to advice on how to keep yourself occupied - all media was Corona-media. However, YFM's approach to their Youth Month campaign was strikingly different. As the country prepared to enter a nationwide lockdown amid the anxiety and fear of a global pandemic, YFM - a commercial youth radio station based in Gauteng - set out to run their ambitious audience engagement campaign known as 100Racks, which promised listeners a total of R100 000 in prize money. Over the prior four years, the station had been using Fabrik to build, grow and engage their audience. YFM had run versions of this campaign twice before with different executions as part of a broader strategic objective for the station to educate and connect with their most loyal audience, and to sustain that engagement over time. This time round, Fabrik's audience engagement functionality combined with powerful real-time insights provided the backdrop to execute an integrated campaign of this magnitude. Where it began YFM started this particular journey in August 2019 with their 992Racks campaign, which spanned 10 days and gave away R99,200 in total prize-money during The Best Drive, DJ Sabby's afternoon drive-time show. The motivation behind the first implementation of 992Racks was to familiarise the audience with how a campaign of this nature works. YFM hadn't executed a campaign in this way in quite some time, so it was vital to get both their audience familiar with how these executions would work and to trial different executions with their on-air talent. YFM levels up Fast-forward to the weeks leading up to the first Covid-19 lockdown in South Africa, and the general mood in the country and the province was one of fear and anxiety. What the station knew at the time was that a fundamental shift in radio engagement and consumption would occur during lockdown and that it would be important for them to connect even more deeply with their most engaged audience. "As we headed into lockdown, we knew that listening habits would, would change fundamentally, and it was important for us to take our most engaged audience and to grow the size of that audience and to take them into lockdown with us." Hilton Tarrant, Digital Manager at YFM It was primarily for this reason that they elected to run the campaign again, but this time known as '100Racks' - based on the R100 000 available prize money, of which the purpose was twofold: To educate a data-sensitive audience about the app's data consumption and live-streaming efficiencies, which are particularly low as the app has been specifically developed and is constantly optimised for as minimal data usage as possible. To derive certain key insights on audience demographics and usage on an opt-in basis, taking advantage of the app's member registration capabilities - which was a pre-requisite for entry. The insights derived from this week-long campaign were indeed powerful, and a significant spike in new app registrations was observed during the duration of the campaign. 100Racks 3.0 After gauging the significant impact and response of their audience to the prior 100Racks campaigns, YFM chose to run the third and most recent iteration during Youth Month in June 2020, at a time when it was particularly important for the station, who have a predominantly youth audience, to be active and engaging even more deeply with their most loyal audience. The station considered this particular campaign an opportunity to ramp up their previous efforts, and bring together multiple teams across the station (including Marketing, Programming, Creative Solutions, Sales, and Research) to collaborate in finding ways to bring a message of positivity and hope through the campaign to the country's youth during a time when it was sorely needed. This time, the campaign ran throughout the day from 5am to 10pm, with different executions, variations and tactics, giving away R2000 prize money in each show to a total of R100 000, and providing 48 unique opportunities to win over the two-week period. The entry mechanic was once again very simple. Entrants were asked to listen out for a unique keyword given per show, and to message in the keyword to the station as soon as they heard it. Results of the campaign The response to the campaign was mind-blowing and by the end of the two-week period, the station had received over 1.1million competition entries. Hear from YFM's Digital Manager Hilton Tarrant about results of the campaign: During the two weeks, YFM's live-streaming engagement doubled. App engagement also experienced a significant uplift, increasing by 70% during the campaign. During the month of June, app downloads increased by 100% compared to the previous monthly average. Crucially, the station also noted that listeners were accessing the stream more often during the day, and for longer periods of time, which was visible in audio streaming data from the app, website and third-party streaming aggregators, indicating a structural shift to retained listenership throughout the day for the duration of the campaign. As shown in the above graph, the total daily live streaming sessions were higher, and engagement is more sustained throughout the course of the day. Fabrik redefines the integrated campaign Throughout the course of the three campaigns, YFM made use of a broad array of Fabrik functionality to engage with listeners, monitor that engagement in real time, select winners and gain insights into the campaign as a whole. YFM's mobile app was a key component in the execution of the campaign, and the messaging and profiling capabilities within the app were used to enter the competition and derive key campaign insights. Fabrik's audience engagement dashboard was used to track campaign entries, select winners and monitor audience engagement. During each campaign, a key application feature, the Campaign Manager was used to monitor engagement on each specific keyword, and monitor audience interaction during each show. Fabrik's Metrics dashboard illuminates key audience engagement insights over time, which the station observed to monitor stats and analytics in real time as well as gain a consolidated overview of all audience engagement throughout the campaign. YFM's commitment to their audience draws them ever closer Fabrik provides a space beyond the normal social media channels for your most loyal, most engaged audience to find you, connect with you and grow with you. It also provides you with the tools you need to be of service to your community and engage with them in the most meaningful way. YFM's commitment to doing just that and their strategic vision gave both the station and their audience resilience during a very difficult time, and has resulted in a sustained increase in their app and live-streaming engagement in the months since then. Watch our recent webinar on the 100Racks campaign to find out more.

  • Radio Days Africa 2020: Session with Jonathan Lumley

    We are excited to contribute once again to Radio Days Africa, the largest radio conference in Africa. With the usual format of a 3-day conference in Johannesburg now impossible, Radio Days Africa pivoted to hosting 20 engaging sessions over 20 days. "From interactive chats, panel discussions, master classes and individual presentations, #RDA2020 aims to promote sector wide learning and keep the radio industry talking (to and about each other)" - radiodaysafrica.co.za This year, Jonathan Lumley shared his thoughts in a session on the 'Top Promotions from Across the Globe' which you can watch on-demand:

  • Record and publish your audio content in real time!

    Use Fabrik to capture live radio content and immediately publish as a podcast or download a snippet of archived audio from any time in the past! Fabrik's Echocast application is an audio recording and publishing tool built for the live radio environment. The application is browser-based, making it accessible via any secure desktop computer or mobile device and, due to its cloud-based technology, processes and shares your audio within seconds. For many of our Fabrik operators, the real-time audio recording and podcasting capabilities found within the Echocast application have become an invaluable contribution to your daily workflows, allowing podcasts to be easily recorded and published in real time to your website and/or mobile app. Within Echocast, you are empowered with the following audio recording and packaging capabilities: Record real-time audio from your Live stream Echocast's most distinguishing feature is the ability to record your radio broadcast in real time from your live stream, and publish the clip as a podcast - seconds after the live on-air moment occurs. To access this feature, simply tap the button in the top-left of the screen labelled 'Start Recording,' where you'll be able to record in real time, pause and resume for ad breaks, and add searchable metadata to your new podcast right before publishing. Tag your content to make it more discoverable Within Echocast, you have the ability to tag and add metadata to your podcasts to make it easier for your audience to search and find. Go to the menu in the top-right of the screen to create Categories - which are similar to organisational ‘folders’ for grouping together related podcasts. Categories are typically created for regular features, news bulletins, and even regular shows eg. ‘Prank Call’, ‘News’ or ‘Breakfast’. Grouping recordings into Categories eases content discovery for your audience. Presets facilitate one-click recording, saving and publishing to further simplify and streamline the workflow of recording frequent/regular features. Access the Presets section at the top-right of the screen. When configuring a preset, you would add the metadata, category and other settings that all podcasts with this preset would need to have, eliminating the need for this to be entered every time. Good examples are ‘News’ and ‘Sport’, but presets can also be created for any regular programming feature. Create a featured podcast When you set your podcast as 'Featured,' it will be published right at the top of the Rewind section in your app or web page - as the very first podcast your listener sees. This is particularly useful if you're running an advertising campaign, or would like to elevate a certain podcast in your app or website. Upload existing audio File If you have an existing piece of audio you'd like to publish as a podcast to your app or website, upload it via Echocast, add metadata and publish! Download archived audio from any time in the past Echocast offers you the ability to download an audio clip from your archive, to play again on-air or even send to an advertiser for your post-campaign analysis. All you have to do is tap the 'Request Audio Archive' button, specify the exact time of the audio you'd like to extract, which will then be emailed to you within minutes.

  • Get closer to your audience with Metrics!

    Use key insights from Fabrik's Metrics application to track live engagement and audience behaviour over time. If you're already a Fabrik client, you may have had the opportunity to start using the platform's newest application, Metrics - a real-time data visualisation and tool which offers a glimpse into your live audience engagement as well as key insights about your audience's behaviour over time. Having access to this kind of information empowers your teams to make strategic decisions in real-time by gauging how your audience is responding to your content and programming. Here are some examples of the kind of data and information that is now available to you via Metrics and, as the application evolves, our aim is to add even more insights related to audio engagement, as well as information around advertising inventory to strengthen your offering to advertisers. Current app and Live-stream Engagement View a summary of particularly useful live data, such as chat messages sent within the last hour, new member registrations and listeners accessing the live stream from your app or Fabrik-powered live-stream web widgets right now. Live-Streaming from your Fabrik and icecast streams A consolidated view of all streaming numbers from your Fabrik and Icecast streams. View the graph with trendlines to spot trends over time. App Engagement and downloads over time It may also be useful for you to track the impact of campaigns or on-air calls-to-action by monitoring app engagement or app downloads over time. App Engagement View a summary of your app engagement over time, including: Total app visits - the amount of times the app was accessed within the chosen period. Unique visitors - the number of discrete individuals who accessed your app within the chosen period. Unique registered visitors - the number of discrete individuals who have registered a profile within your app within the chosen period. App Downloads It's also useful to know how many times your app has been downloaded on each platform - in total, or within a specified period. Billboard Advertising If you are taking advantage of some of the advertising and revenue generating aspects of Fabrik such as billboards, then head over to Metrics to view all of your billboard campaigns in once centralised space, with billboard Views and Clicks visible at a glance.

  • Optimising the future of Fabrik's apps

    Modernising our native Android and iOS codebases by migrating to Kotlin and Swift. As developers contributing to and maintaining the Android and iOS mobile apps that make up immedia’s Fabrik platform, there are a number of things we expect to happen during the lifespan of the mobile apps we deliver. Bugs will arise, new features will need to be ideated, and both Apple and Google will release major updates to their operating systems - to which our apps will be required to adapt. At each of these junctures, we’ll need to respond quickly as, of high importance to ourselves and our clients, is the guarantee that as environmental challenges evolve, so do our mobile apps to meet these challenges. At a high level, there are 4 areas of coding support that Fabrik apps receive: Corrective, better known as bug fixing. Adaptive; adapting to the latest hardware and OS changes. Perfective; dealing with changes in user requirements. Preventative; code restructuring & optimisations aimed at reducing complexity and preventing future errors. The first three areas are fairly self-explanatory and commonly practiced as our team works hard to ship regular app updates for our Fabrik clients with the latest bug fixes and improvements, additional feature enhancements and finally, updates required to become compliant with the latest OSes. However, as developers, we don’t readily reveal the ‘preventative’ part of what we do i.e. the behind-the-scenes code improvements, re-writes and optimisations that are implemented on an ongoing basis. In this blog post, we offer some insight into what that looks like for Fabrik in particular, and how we’re working to ensure the longevity of our product through modernising our mobile app codebases. When immedia’s development teams started to build Fabrik’s Android and iOS apps, the Objective-C coding language was initially used on iOS whereas Java was used on Android. Since then, alternatives from Apple (Swift for iOS) and Google (Kotlin for Android) have matured and become the gold standard for developing apps on their platforms. Now, any new app developer just starting out will default to using one of these newer languages rather than the 36-year old Objective-C or 20-year old Java. Swift is one of the fastest growing languages in history and, in 2019, Kotlin became Google’s preferred choice for Android development. One of the key benefits of these languages is that they can be used in conjunction with their predecessors. On Fabrik, the code is currently a combination of the old and the new, and our endeavour now is to future-proof our source code as much as we can and systematically re-create as much code as possible into Swift and Kotlin. However, for some features this interoperability does take some effort, so in order for us to keep delivering new features and app enhancements in the future, we’ll need to allocate time now to preventative maintenance with an expanded effort around code rewrites and optimisations. We will move quickly to ease out the historical languages in favour of the modern counterparts, so that our platform will continue to be operational today and for years to come. When we end this journey, our apps will be more efficient and less error-prone, which will make our investment of time and effort into these code migrations worthwhile. For the most part, Swift and Kotlin share the same ideologies and will deliver much of the same benefits on their respective platforms. Here are a few key points on why we’ve chosen to make these transitions: 1. Speed The new languages are fast; for example, a simple search algorithm has been benchmarked as being 2.6 times faster in Swift than Objective-C. Historically Objective-C has never been a fast language. It’s been built as an after-thought on top of the C programming language. Which means it carries with it legacy C functions. Swift has removed the limitations of the C language. Further, Objective-C also uses runtime code compilation rather than compile time: this means that when an Objective-C object calls code in another object, it’s not a direct function call; rather it leverages message passing. The runtime determines if an object actually implements the function represented in the message. If it doesn't implement it, the class will either forward the message onto another object, or throw an exception. This is incredibly fast, but still adds an overhead which would be measurable when it happens millions of times. Swift and Kotlin benchmarks continue to improve with each update of the language. This is a key factor as it’s important to stay up-to-date with the latest releases of the language in order to reap all of the benefits. Swift currently is in version 5.2 with Kotlin at 1.4. (languages also receive updates with additional capabilities, bug fixes and improved methods of performing tasks). 2. Better Syntax The languages are lean, intuitive, easier to read and it’s more efficient to apply changes when needed. Kotlin has removed a lot of clutter and redundancy from code. Literally a class that used to be 100 lines is now only 2 lines. This aids in preventing common programming mistakes (resulting in far fewer crashes!) as the more code you have, the more it costs to maintain due to the additional overhead it brings. An example of a Kotlin feature that helps to reduce the size of the code base are Data Classes which allows the expression of POJOs with minimal code. The following showcases the original code in Java versus the Kotlin implementation. Java Class: public class Person {     private String name;     private String surname;     private String id;     public String getName() {         return name;     }     public void setName(String name) {         this.name = name;     }     public String getSurname() {         return surname;     }     public void setSurname(String surname) { this.surname = surname;     }     public String getId() {         return id;     }     public void setId(String id) {         this.id = id;     }     @Override public boolean equals(Object o) {         if (this == o) return true;         if (o == null || getClass() != o.getClass()) return false;         Person person = (Person) o;         if (name != null ? !name.equals(person.name) : person.name != null) return false;         if (surname != null ? !surname.equals(person.surname) : person.surname != null)             return false;         return id != null ? id.equals(person.id) : person.id == null;     }     @Override public int hashCode() {         int result = name != null ? name.hashCode() : 0;         result = 31 * result + (surname != null ? surname.hashCode() : 0);         result = 31 * result + (id != null ? id.hashCode() : 0);         return result;     }     @Override public String toString() {         return "Person{" +                 "name='" + name + ''' +                 ", surname='" + surname + ''' +                 ", id='" + id + ''' +                 '}';     } } Kotlin: data class Person(var name: String, var surname: String, var id: String) As you can see, Kotlin saves all of the Java boilerplate code that’s needed. 3. Improved Compiler Humans make mistakes and software has bugs. Some of the causes of these bugs can now be detected whilst coding and not only when running the app. Error messages are more precise, and the compiler is now better at pinpointing the exact piece of code that needs fixing. Further to that, code completion is faster and there is increased reliability in debugging. Lastly, building the app, whilst developing, is way quicker. One such improvement is the handling of nulls or, as it’s often referred to, The Billion Dollar Mistake. Be it Objective-C or Java, a pain point for developers is the null reference which causes runtime exceptions or apps crashing. To overcome this, Kotlin provides null safety at compile time with Swift utilising the Optional type. Code examples: Swift let number: Int? = 10 let letter: String? = "abc" Kotlin val number: Int? = 10 val letter: String? = "abc" 4. Open Source The inner workings of the language are freely available to explore, meaning that the developer community at large are constantly working on finding and fixing bugs - this is really why the language has been able to grow in stability. Today on the Swift repo there’s 104 000 commits,  27 000 merged pull requests, 8 400 forks and 341 branches. Kotlin also has astonishing stats: 65 000 commits, 1 372 merged pull requests, 3 900 forks, 3 900 branches. Both languages are actively maintained by both the original developers and the community. A side effect of this is that the languages are also available to perform other tasks. We now have Swift on the Server, Swift for Windows and many other projects and new operating systems. Whilst none of these are mature, being open source does drive the penetration of the language. 5. Industry Standard Over 50% of Android developers now use Kotlin, and Google themselves now take a Kotlin-first approach with many of their new features and libraries being offered first in Kotlin. Apple re-wrote foundational parts of their established operating system in Swift. As an example, on MacOS, the Dock (which is used to launch and switch between apps) is now in Swift. Uber’s iOS code base is now 90% Swift, and many other big apps have either already begun or completed their migration to it. Netflix, Evernote, Lyft, Twitter, Pinterest, Flipboard and AirBnB are just a few examples. Further to this there are also official communities from Podcasts to a Subreddit and even a Slack Group all aiding in taking the languages forward. 6. Future Support If anyone has learnt iOS development in recent years, they would have learnt Swift. And as time goes on, the only developers who can support Objective-C will be the senior developers who have been working on iOS for an extended period of time. The same roadmap will unfurl as developers migrate from Android to Kotlin. Whilst both Apple and Google have made their intentions clear on the way forward for development, it’s unlikely that either predecessor language will become completely obsolete. However, it will become very niche, and already some of the documentation on Objective-C development from Apple has been retired. 7. Developer Happiness This deserves a noteworthy mention. When both Lyft and Basecamp rewrote their Kotlin apps, one of the driving factors was to make a huge difference in programmer happiness. To quote one of the senior engineers at Basecamp: “Happier developers leads to great code and ultimately a better product.” In addition, they wanted to improve developer work quality and speed. In the latest Stack Overflow Developers Survey, Kotlin and Swift positioned themselves at number 4 & 9 of the most loved languages to work in respectively. At the opposite end Objective-C ranked as the second most dreaded. TL;DR: Swift and Kotlin really are better languages - they’re cleaner and less laboured than working on the legacy languages. Debugging is superior and learning advanced coding techniques is easier. Whilst all the hard work and optimisations our teams are doing may not always be visible, our clients can rest assured that we are busy building an even better product that can be enjoyed long into the future! P.S. Don’t worry - it’s not all maintenance work, and we do have some exciting feature updates planned for the next year as well so watch this space!

  • The Making Of Metrics

    A developer’s view of the journey as we prepare to launch our newest Fabrik application to the world. Data - we all have it and it's our job as developers to try to figure out where to put it. Furthermore, businesses and teams are all trying to extract valuable insights from this data, which is easier said than done.  At immedia, we are not exempt from this rule and have spent our fair share of time wrangling our data to try and highlight key insights for the clients of our Fabrik platform. Metrics, Fabrik's new analytics and data visualisation tool, was born from the desire to consolidate our previous efforts in surfacing our data into a single self-service portal that would not only present informative data, but surface it with expedition. As a developer who’s been instrumental in building Metrics with cost, scale and speed in mind, I’ve been taught many lessons along the way – and I’d like to invite you along for a glimpse into my journey so far. In the Beginning The wilderness awaits When evaluating the data in any system you will generally find an assortment of formats: structured, unstructured, text, tabular, binary, some API endpoint written by a person that left three years ago (and also didn’t care that you would be using it today) – a primordial soup, if you will. This wilderness that is set before you can seem daunting but, much like mowing your lawn after a year, the reward is well worth it when you smell the freshly-mowed grass or enjoy a languorously luxurious picnic between neatly arranged flower beds and carefully planted rows of trees. Metrics started with these questions: Where do we need to trim our lawn and neaten up the hedge? What flowers do we need to get; are roses the best choice for our climate and budget? Where will we place our short flower beds and our tall trees? And most importantly – who will be coming to the picnic? Or more simply, data is used to answer the 5 W's: who, what, why, when and where? For Metrics, whilst planning our garden, we came up with the following key questions that we wanted to answer in the initial release candidate: (who is)/(when are they)/(what are they using when)/(where are they when) listening to the live stream of the client? (who is)/(when are they)/(what are they using when)/(where are they when) using the client’s mobile application? when is the client’s application downloaded? As for the ‘why’ – while the subjectivity of that question and the requirement for verification of the various possible answers can halt a project before it even begins, sometimes, the answers quickly reveal themselves. For instance, what we’re currently observing with Metrics is that our clients’ live-streaming and engagement have seen an upward trend over the last few weeks, which would most likely be attributed to a population currently in lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. Find Your Source The source is within you – or, at least, somewhere Once our questions were established, it was time for us to identify from where our answers would come. As alluded to in the previous section: in any system, there will be multiple sources of data available and the selection of the source is a process. It may require some trial and error before you find a source that appropriately answers your question. We’ll skip over the boring stuff here and outline the sources that we eventually identified: Streaming Audio streams are served from HAProxy which provides us with configurable log output options. We used these to configure the logging to output what we need to answer our questions. We’ll get to how we parsed this information in a later section of this post. App Engagement How people use the services and engage with content is tracked via Matomo. Matomo provides a powerful API for retrieving the tracked data. What’s more, it provides our members with total privacy. Application Downloads App download numbers are retrieved via the Apple App Store Connect API and Google Cloud Storage API. Both provide us with files in CSV format. We’ll talk about how we used these in a later section. Laying the Groundwork Foundations are important Now that we knew what we were solving for, and from where we would be retrieving our answers, we needed to decide on which approach we would take for processing, storing and displaying the data. We vetted some options and finally decided to use Azure Databricks as our data processor with Scala as our data processing language. Azure Databricks provides us with an Apache Spark cluster that we can scale on demand to meet workloads. It’s also fast. Very. Very. Fast. For storage of our processed data, we identified Azure Cosmos DB and Azure Storage; Azure Cosmos DB for its ease of storage and retrieval of data (with a familiar SQL-like syntax) and Azure Storage for cost effective storage of files. The data in Matomo was already being stored in a MySQL database which we don’t need to query directly because Matomo's API already provides us with all the data we need. We would have a .NET Core API serving as the gateway between users and the stored data and an Angular application that would serve as the frontend. With the outline of our garden in place we felt confident that we would be able to tame the wilderness set before us and we were ready to get started planting and arranging our flower beds. THE PEOPLE BEHIND THE DATA A key part of building a tool that provides insights on how humans are using the tool, is being respectful of the humans themselves. Before we jump in to all the technical details, it is important to note that at immedia we hold the privacy and data rights of the people that use our platform in high regard. This means that we are always thinking about what needs to be done to ensure that data is properly anonymised before surfacing it to the people who use the platform. Metrics fully anonymises the data before it gets surfaced. Anything that can be used to identify a user is removed. For instance: when processing our streaming data we perform a one way hash of the IP address of the request before all of our data processing is performed. Furthermore, Matomo, our analytics engine, has user privacy baked into its design and also discards identifiable information as soon as it can. Streaming From logs to lines Our pipeline for importing streaming data works roughly as follows: Every hour a log file is rotated on HAProxy and uploaded to Azure Storage via the post-rotate hook. We read these log files into our Azure Databricks environment via a streaming query. The log files are processed, and relevant information is extracted and inserted into Delta Lake tables. Identifiable information, such as IP addresses are dropped before we write to Delta Lake storage. We have another pipeline that will run and create rollups of our data for use with frontend applications, which roughly works as follows: It calculates the peak number of listeners for all the newly created sessions per minute and saves the result to Delta Lake storage. It then creates rollups of all our specified periods and stores it in JSON format in Azure Storage – we’ll look at some examples of this soon. Lastly, we have a pipeline that will: calculate and store peak, total and unique listeners for different periods of time, and write the entries to Azure Cosmos DB. Exploring Streaming Results Summary Data Calculation of the summary data is merely done as an aggregate count or sum over the period of the rollup. For instance, 'Total Sessions' is calculated as a count and 'Total Days' is the sum of all streaming session lengths. Streaming Numbers Streaming numbers are calculated as an aggregate over the size of the granularity specified. In the graph above, 'Total Sessions' is the count of all listens per day, 'Total Unique Listeners' are the number of people who listened per day, and 'Peak Concurrent' is the maximum number of listeners for that particular day. These are stored in Cosmos DB which allows us to search and display arbitrary ranges. Streaming Numbers by Hour Streaming Numbers By Hour are calculated as an aggregate over the hour of day for sessions. This graph depicts the sum of all hours, the count of sessions streamed by listeners, the number of people who listened per hour, the count of sessions that were started, and the count of sessions completed per hour. Streaming Session Length Breakdown Session Length Breakdowns are calculated by using the Bucketizer class in Scala. We count the amount of sessions for every single duration ranging from 1 minute all the way to 18 hours. The frontend displays this as a pie chart, while the raw rollup data looks as follows: Summaries By Dimension Summaries By Dimension are calculated as a group by aggregate over session data. For instance, the 'Total Sessions' section lists the count of sessions grouped by each source, displayed from highest to lowest. App Engagement While statistics that describe how people use the Android and iOS apps is an exciting part of our data for our clients, it was much less exciting in terms of the data transformation work to be done. In essence, we query the Matomo API and display the data on the frontends. Luckily for us, Matomo did the heavy lifting in this regard and our biggest concern was displaying the data. App Downloads Our pipeline for application downloads works roughly as follows: An Azure Function App retrieves the CSV files from the Google and Apple APIs respectively. The function app does some slight preprocessing on the files and then stores them in Azure Storage. These CSV files are read into our Azure Databricks environment via a streaming query. Databricks does some processing on the data and writes the results to Cosmos DB. The result of this pipeline is that we can query App Downloads for any arbitrary period. The summary data is calculated by running an aggregate count query against our Cosmos DB container. The charts are rendered by querying Cosmos DB and displaying the entry of each day. The summary data is calculated by running an aggregate count query against our Cosmos DB container. The charts are rendered by querying Cosmos DB and displaying the entry of each day. Live Data Initially one of our goals was to surface data and surface it with speed. Up until this point we have only discussed static rolled-up data and the exploration thereof. Whilst this is useful for doing some rudimentary analysis after the fact, these stats are not able to tell our clients what is happening right now. In other words: we haven’t checked expedience off our list. To surface live data, we had to do some out of the box thinking. Processing log lines in real time wasn’t feasible as we only rotate the log every hour (unless of course you deem an hour ago as “live”) and we couldn’t really speed up the rotation. Live Stream Listeners For stream listeners there are two distinct types. HLS streams and Icecast streams and both of these required a unique approach to surface the live listener data. For HLS we wrote a .NET Core application that we deployed to our HAProxy server. This server checks the HAProxy Stick Table for the listener count of the tenant. We initially tried the HAProxy Stream Processing Offload Engine but this went bad – very bad – as it could not handle the amount of requests our servers were doing. In the end we got it working along the following lines: Our .NET Core application runs a command to check listener counts on the HAProxy Stick Table. It sends the listener count over Azure Event Hubs. An Azure Function picks up the event hub message and stores it in Redis (we keep about 2 hours of this data in Redis). We query Redis to show live stream data. Icecast was slightly simpler to retrieve the live listener count for, as it exposes administration endpoints that return XML data. The process is roughly as follows: An Azure Function imports the listener count from Icecast. We store the listener count in Redis. We query Redis to show the Icecast stream data. Live App Visitors & Engagement Retrieving the live app engagement numbers follows a very similar pattern to the Icecast listener count imports. We rely on Matomo’s reporting to achieve this. The process is roughly as follows: An Azure Function imports the current live visitor count and the actions taken in the last minute. These values are stored in Redis. We query Redis to show the App Visitor data. Events Prior to our Metrics application, Fabrik already had an Azure Event Hub to which it would report events. The reported events are retrieved via an Event Hub Listener. The process is roughly as follows: An Azure Function listens for events on the Event Hub. It stores the events in Redis. We query Redis to show the event data. The example above is during a relatively quiet hour – it can get crazy at time as seen in the screenshot below. The Road Ahead Growing our garden All things considered, the creation of Metrics has been quite a journey for us and we have learned a lot about what it takes to build a data pipeline that is cost effective and scalable. We aren’t planning on letting the weeds grow in our data garden over the next few months either - our clients have multiple new features to look forward to that are sure to teach us new lessons and provide greater insights into our data. Our mission to figure out what data we have and where we want to share it is a lot closer to being complete, but will never be completely so. We hope that we can keep delivering valuable insights to our clients and help you answer some of your operational questions going forward by delivering new insights to you. This journey is not yet over and we’re excited and ready to take on the future of Metrics.

  • Smile 90.4FM becomes a trusted source for information in the midst of a global pandemic

    As the scale and severity of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to escalate across the world, we are all being inundated with fake news and misinformation on social media and private groups, sending fear and panic rippling through communities who desperately need a reliable, credible source of news. Smile 90.4FM’s programming style of positivity and hope in the ‘Mother City’ and their positioning as the ‘amplifying the good news’ station means that the Cape Town-based radio station are uniquely positioned and already geared to provide comfort and clarity to their community during a daunting period. This offers them the opportunity to cut through the noise and quickly establish themselves as a trusted voice at a time when the need is crucial. A new status quo calls for new approaches Empowered by the Fabrik suite of software applications since 2016, the station had provided their closest listeners with a mobile app in which they could send and receive direct messages with the station, as well as listen to podcasts and the live broadcast – wherever they were. Since launch, the platform’s direct messaging functionality has helped the station become closer with their audience. With a broadcast message, all app members receive a push notification immediately alerting them about a new competition, survey or call-to-action – leading to rapid response and healthy engagement from Smile 90.4FM’s most loyal listeners. And by empowering listeners to send the station voice notes and text messages, the app gives every listener a fair shot at having their opinion heard without the burden of a big phone bill for SMSes or phone calls. During this particular phase of uncertainty, Smile stepped up to the opportunity of being of service to their audience. Through a dedicated messaging channel within their mobile app, they supplement news broadcasts with timely, relevant and factual COVID-19 updates that contain an added focus on the Western Cape province. “It was imperative that we provided a credible, relevant, succinct and immediate update to the pandemic,” says Naveen Singh, Programming Manager at Smile 90.4FM. “Our main role was to ensure that we engaged, informed, entertained, and emphathised with our audience across all platforms.” Powered by Fabrik’s secure, private platform, each registered member of the app is automatically added to this channel and flagged to be notified whenever a new announcement is received about the COVID-19 pandemic. Individual members are able to exit the channel of their own accord, or mute the channel if they prefer not to receive notifications. By setting the channel as ‘read-only,’ the station can post streams of news-related updates and links to useful resources, while keeping the noise of well-meaning community members forwarding other types of info that may not have been fact-checked prior to posting. To get the content out rapidly to the audiences across their various digital properties – the app, Facebook and Twitter – the News team make use of Fabrik’s Smashboard member engagement dashboard to easily disseminate breaking news or share pertinent announcements from live national addresses in real-time. A key iteration in Smile’s live on-air programming is the broadcast of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s nationwide addresses which are also streamed live via the Fabrik-enabled app an website streams, as well as interesting daily segments on Coronavirus-related issues that may affect their listeners. Those segments are made available immediately after broadcast as podcasts in the app and on the website. In addition, the station has incorporated daily on-air calls to action into every half-hourly news bulletin as well as daily promotions prompting listeners to subscribe to the new COVID-19 channel along with information about the COVID-19 hotline and hygiene practices. And to bring as much awareness as possible to how their audience can stay safe, the advertising billboards that appear when listeners first open the app are being dedicated to educating their community about protective measures related to the virus, Does being ‘of service’ improve engagement? To monitor how the consistent app-based COVID-19 updates are being received, the station has been tracking their audience’s response in real time via Fabrik’s Metrics dashboard – a reporting and analytics tool that empowers radio stations to view and monitor live engagement data. What Smile observed is that more of the station’s existing app members are opening the app more often, drawn in by the need to be kept informed by a trusted voice in their own community. Since the COVID-19 Updates channel was launched on the 12th of March, an average of 5 updates have been sent to members of the channel every day, keeping them informed on the effects of the pandemic on local communities and health authorities without becoming a source of spam. Over the course of the ensuing weeks, the team noticed interesting correlations between the ongoing updates and the frequency with which new and existing members have been engaging with the app. In March, the app was used almost 4 times more than in the same month a year ago by more than twice the number of members and, notably, the number of individuals who opened the app over 100 times – the station’s most loyal app-based audience - increased by 57%. The overall app audience continues to increase by hundreds of new members every week since the commencement of the amplified COVID-19 coverage – demonstrating a sustained appetite for quality, factual, real-time news notifications. What this could imply is that new app members are responding to an increase in on-air or social media calls-to-action or that the station’s existing app membership are sharing the app with their friends and family specifically to receive trusted, consistent COVID-19 updates. Come for the news, stay for the community In correlation with the increase in app engagement, stats show that the number of live stream plays increased over this period. It seems that, while reading up on the latest COVID-19 news, more people are digitally ‘tuning in’ to what’s being played on-air – a significant outtake. It’s undeniable that the global COVID-19 pandemic the world faces with has left many disheartened and searching for clarity in a confusing landscape of misinformation and fake news. Smile 90.4FM’s early investment in a multi-channel approach has empowered the station to rapidly surround their community with accurate, verified news and educational information about the pandemic, supported by the effective but simple-to-use messaging and audience engagement functionality within their Fabrik suite of services. What’s more, the station was able to track the impact of their ongoing COVID-19 updates in real time using Fabrik’s data visualising tools, which provided them a glimpse into the effectiveness of their initiatives as well as the impetus they needed to pull the community together through this challenging period.

  • Maintaining scalable Cloud Systems in times of Unanticipated Peaks

    How Microsoft Azure’s scalability and elasticity allowed Fabrik to respond quickly to a rapidly escalating increase in community engagement during COVID-19. When immedia initially set out to build our Fabrik platform – a suite of ‘born-in-the-cloud' audience engagement tools and workflows - our development team elected to adopt a cloud-first approach in its development, using Microsoft’s Azure platform. Some of the benefits we considered in selecting Azure include: cost savings through economies of scale and a tenant-based system with shared resources; the inherent scalability, redundancy and reliability of Microsoft Azure which enables our applications to be automatically adaptable to increases in resource demand; the ability to take advantage of the monitoring and analytics of Microsoft Azure so that we can diagnose issues quickly and report accurately. the ability to adopt an Agile approach when architecting and developing the platform so we can be responsive to our clients’ needs, as opposed to over-engineering a system based on superficial and assumptive requirements. As the Fabrik codebase became more established and our service offering continued to diversify, our technical teams were able to add more and more features to our mobile apps, APIs and web-based tools aimed at empowering our clients to better serve their members with ease. As a result, the number of individuals using the Fabrik suite of applications in our platform has increased dramatically over time, and so in turn have our infrastructure requirements, which include PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service) offerings such as ASP.NET APIs and Azure SQL Databases. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, our clients and their members heightened their communication with each other, leading to an increased reliance on their Fabrik applications. Our technical teams therefore anticipated a rapidly-escalating increase in traffic to our platform, more unpredictable network traffic into our system, and more strain on our APIs and databases. When this kind of demand occurs, the specific nature of the demand is difficult to predict and although we were confident that the Fabrik platform would perform based on Azure’s many elasticity and scalability services, in unprecedented and extraordinary times like this, our team made the call to be on high alert in case of any bottlenecks in our systems that might require manual intervention. The primary impact was to our backend database system which was developed on Azure SQL Databases using the Elastic Pools deployment model. The elastic pools served us well because of the dedicated amount of resources that were allocated for our databases, but when the demand drastically increased, the allocated resources needed to be expanded appropriately to cater for the demand. In addition, due to the number of people engaging simultaneously, our API gateway which is hosted on Azure App Services needed to be scaled out to more instances as well. The following statistics indicate the response times of some of our API calls during peak days: Using Application Insights, we were able to identify specific API calls in our system that were taking more time than expected to process. During the same period, the usage on our database was as follows: Each spike in database usage indicates occasions when our elastic pool was being maxed out. Our infrastructure team mitigated this by increasing the capacity of the pool to meet the usage demand on the platform. When our databases were strained, this impacted the response times of our APIs. App visitors would experience slowness when using some of the functionality in the apps. After analysing this usage pattern, we were able to identify areas we could improve to better cater for this kind of unpredictable usage. We identified specific API endpoints that needed to be optimised and certain areas of the system that needed reworking to take advantage of the serverless capabilities of Microsoft Azure. One of those services is the use of Cosmos DB for serving ‘chat’ related data, which will be beneficial in improving the overall load on our API. Cosmos DB allows us to separate reads and writes across multiple servers that are possibly distributed across multiple Azure region - as opposed to SQL Elastic Pools, where reads and writes happen on the same cluster. We are actively investing time in decoupling our APIs into a more microservice model, through the use of Azure Functions which, together with CosmosDB, will help in distributing the load on our APIs at a global scale. Scaling up the database tier took minutes to resolve the issues experienced by people using the apps. Throughout this entire scenario, we were able to take advantage of Microsoft Azure’s monitoring, alerting and log analytics capabilities which gave us access and visibility into the health of the system, highlighting areas that required attention and/or improvement at a glance. Looking ahead, there are always going to be improvements we can make to our platform and applications to better serve our customers’ requirements and the requirements of their members. The monitoring we have in place allows us to make more informed decisions that keep improving scalability, reliability and availability, and that are more anticipative of the areas we need to be scaling up and out in response to unpredictable and unforeseeable circumstances.

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