Reaching Everyone at Radio Free Europe

A lot has been written about the web’s superpower—its reach. Take any device, give it an internet connection and a browser of some kind and it transforms into a gateway into the largest repository of cat pictures, funny videos and human knowledge ever assembled. It’s rare to find a company whose goals are a more perfect fit for this superpower than Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Their purpose is to bring information to the people who need it—to reach everyone they can. This information is valuable. So valuable that many countries try to block access to their sites, causing people to resort to all sorts of workarounds. In some countries, people are risking their lives simply by trying to access this content.

And to be quite frank, they face an uphill battle even in the best of circumstances. RFE/RL serves more than 150 news sites in over 60 languages. In some of these areas network connectivity is intermittent and slow. Many of these countries don’t have 3G, let alone 4G, networks available to them.

The quality of devices varies dramatically too. There are many of the typical Android and iOS devices, sure. But in most of these countries those devices are no more popular (and sometimes less so) than simple devices with tiny screens, low memory and limited browsers. Feature phones and proxy browsers are the norm, not the exception.

In short, RFE/RL’s target markets are anything but predictable and stable. And excluding someone because of their slow network connection or their old device or their limited browser is simply not an option—this information is far too important for that sort of casual dismissal.

The sites are powered by a homegrown CMS called Pangea built and maintained for the past seven years by a small but passionate team. Over the next few months I’m incredibly honored to work alongside those fantastic folks as well as super friends Dan Mall and Matt Cook to make the RFE/RL sites capable of reaching everyone. Small screens and large. Fast networks and slow. New devices and old.

Throughout the process, we’re going to be thinking in public. We’ll write about what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, and why at responsivedesign.rferl.org. To start things off, Kim Conger, the design director for RFE/RL, has provided a little background about how the project came about.

If you want to keep up to date about how the project is going, you can keep checking responsivedesign.rferl.org or follow Dan Mall, Matt Cook, or myself on Twitter.

More on the project from other smart folks on the team: