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Optaros Creates Dynamic Online Community for Chicago Public Radio

What the Internet does best

Chicago Public Radio (WBEZ 91.5 FM Chicago, WBEQ 90.7 FM Morris, and WBEW 89.5 FM Chesterton) is a community-supported, non-commercial public service broadcasting institution for 7.7 million people throughout Chicago and surrounding regions. Chicago Public Radio produces, acquires, and distributes engaging, thoughtful, and entertaining programs of depth, breadth, diversity, and substance. The organization prides itself on helping listeners learn about issues and ideas that affect the community, the nation, and the world. The institution has more than 120 employees across multiple offices in greater Chicago.

In planning the Vocalo Web site, Chicago Public Radio was breaking new ground. The Web site would not just promote its companion radio station, but provide an avenue through which a diverse audience could be reached, intrigued, and attracted to the radio station, and then directed back to the Internet again. For Chicago Public Radio the project involved exploring uncharted radio and Web territory, with no previous model to serve as a guide. So Chicago Public Radio contracted Optaros to help bring its vision to life.

Chicago Public Radio evaluated numerous companies and selected Optaros because of its online community design experience and the Optaros Assembly Methodology (OptAM) that assembles solutions faster and more flexibly than traditional build, buy, or rent options. Chicago Public Radio recognized Optaros' consulting and development services as critical to the construction of the site and, more importantly, to determine the business strategy of the overall project.

Optaros had extensive experience and success in building online communities that provided a driving force behind this project. Chicago Public Radio got a lot of feedback from Optaros through the design and assembly phase, which was invaluable as Chicago Public Radio learned the intricacies of developing an online community.

Optaros implemented the Vocalo site in an aggressive time frame, leveraging a large range of Internet-based services and open source components. Optaros developed a flexible social networking site that targets all population segments to resonate across age, sex, education, race, and address, while speaking to each individually to encourage repeat visits. The Optaros team was persistent in introducing user scenarios including demographic profiles and helping Chicago Public Radio figure out how each segment interacts with social networking sites. Optaros worked with Chicago Public Radio on many iterations of the site, adjusting the architecture depending on where the vision was leading the team. Optaros helped Chicago Public Radio formulate its strategic direction and then built the site accordingly.

Optaros assembled a flexible solution that accommodated frequent requests for changes as the project evolved. This led to some very dynamic design sessions, with Optaros modifying prototypes in real-time as quickly as Chicago Public Radio requested new features and design elements. The site was developed using the Drupal content management system and the Optaros video Web Service plug-in for Drupal.

Integrated Assembly Environment
The Optaros Integrated Assembly Environment (IAE) provided for a seamless transition from solution assembly to support and ongoing enhancements. The IAE provided Chicago Public Radio all project requirements, Web designs, code, communications, and testing results all in a single environment for easy transition to support a "perpetual beta" approach for continual enhancements.

Optaros' IAE helped Chicago Public Radio build Vocalo dynamically, allowing for continued evolution as it crystallized its vision. The work with Optaros provides a foundation of education and a solid architecture as the online community grows. Given the flexibility that the OptAM allows, Chicago Public Radio is able to adapt continually and cost-effectively to its growing membership and better serve the community.

Available at Vocalo.org and at WBEW 89.5 FM (Chesterton, Indiana), Vocalo reinvents the relationship between a radio station and a Web site. It is no longer the radio station's Web site - it's the Web site's radio station. Rather than standard public radio fare, radio programming consists of a collage of commentaries, personal stories, local satire, music, and other content originally uploaded to the Web site.

The Vocalo site now does what the Internet does best - allowing users to seek the information they need, interact, give opinions, and make their mark as individuals by uploading video, audio, pictures, and text. In fulfilling its mission, Chicago Public Radio created a community and programming that speaks with many voices and reflects the distinctive and diverse Chicago area.

More Stories By Marc Osofsky

Marc Osofsky is the vice president of marketing for Optaros and leads the company's go-to-market efforts and solution development. He has over 15 years of experience in helping businesses leverage new technologies to achieve their business objectives. Marc has an MBA from MIT Sloan and a BA from Brown University.

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