In a taxi on my way to a morning meeting last week, flipping through the haze of emails on my phone, I heard what sounded like the BBC on the radio. But the stories about Libya and the Ivory Coast sounded as though they were being broadcast in a television (not radio) format. Looking up, I realized that the news wasn’t coming from the radio at all. The taxi driver had his iPhone mounted to the dashboard and he was playing a live feed from the Al Jazeera English mobile app.
The sound quality was excellent since the cabby had his iPhone connected to the car speakers and, even from the back seat, that retina display was looking pretty good. Sitting just below the GPS unit and beside fare box, the little Al Jazeera live feed looked as if it always belonged there. (Not to worry — the driver had both eyes on the road and was mostly just listening to the broadcast.) The truly amazing thing was not that he had integrated his device so seamlessly into his daily routine but that he was live streaming news directly from the Middle East and Africa into the comfort of his cab on the go.
Of course, being mobile is nothing new for Al Jazeera, as they released their first mobile apps in the early days of smartphone applications in 2010. The Arabic-language news network takes a multi-platform approach to coverage and incorporates live blogs, social media, audio news, and background material on events and reports including profiles and global reactions. Maybe there’s a way for Canadian networks to pick up on this more fluid and integrated approach. I mean, if you can watch Al Jazeera English live on Facebook why isn’t this news sharing made more freely available by all networks?
Often hailed as a leader in media innovation, Al Jazeera Network’s head of social media said “One of the things about innovation is being flexible and agile.” (mobileactive.org) As much as research and testing are important to a process, it is just as important to be current and experimental. Al Jazeera successfully does just that. With a 4.5 out of 5 star customer rating in both the AppStore and the Android Marketplace, over 1.5 million likes on Facebook via the Apple App store, and about 500,000 downloads in the Android Marketplace the Al Jazeera English app is helping to propel the network into a more connected, more informed world by bridging cultures and setting the news agenda.
We can only hope that the savvy cabby had a decent data plan.