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Vax 2.0 Day 2: Vox <3 NPR

Friday, October 4th marked the first official hack day of Vax 2.0. Huzzah! Last month people began pitching their projects in a shared Google Doc, writing a few sentences about what they hope to accomplish and what kind of resources the project might need — designers, developers, etc. As Vax approached, we fleshed out project descriptions, and various Hired Guns joined projects they found compelling. Even once hacking began, people have hopped between groups.
NPR’s Tech Team Drops By

Though most of the week was unscheduled open hack-time, we’ve also invited some people we inspire in the same digital journalism space to come for a casual chat. On Friday evening, we invited the talented NPR tech team for a round table chat around 3pm. You can check out their blog here. The conversation flowed organically, and we talked about the challenges of building out and redesigning our verticals, experience growing our platform Chorus, and our teams increased focus on ad products.

NPR team also spoke about their agile development, lean UX and API. Something that made redesigns and going responsive a lot easier was the fact that NPR’s API separates their content and different parts of their story editor in a way so that parts of an article can easily be moved around and arranged without breaking everything on the site.

We were thrilled to share stories of victories and lessons-learned with another group of smart folks that know what it takes to redesign a major site: from nuanced user feedback, to browser compatibility hiccups, and everything inbetween.

It was really interesting to hear how important in-person user testing is for’s design and development. Visitors touring the NPR offices are invited to participate in beta testing of redesigns and site changes. Since many people bring their families and friends on the tour who do not necessarily consume NPR programing or products on a daily basis, the team gets a great cross section of users. The data and feedback they gather through these regularly scheduled tests helps direct the product team’s work on an ongoing basis. We took copious notes.

We also chatted a lot about process, workflow, project management tools, and scaling and development of both teams. At Vox Product, we have teams devoted to each verticals. At NPR, the members of the tech team seems to rotate and partner with other teams for different projects and products. It was a great reminder of how smaller teams function.

The NPR folks described an interesting case of how user experience testing and metrics for sponsorships helped them decide on a different size and placement of a sponsorship unit. As we’ve blogged about recently, our ad products team has been exploring new ways to track interactions and metrics for ads. As it turned out, NPR is a publisher exploring the same things. We spoke about our hackathon with Chartbeat and the things we learned.

It was really a valuable conversation to have between our teams, it was fun, honest and transparent. We at Vox Product would like to thank Matt Thompson, Patrick Cooper, Jeremy Pennycook, Joanne Garlow, Scott Stroud and Erica Osher of NPR’s tech team for stopping by and sharing their insights with us.

Trivia Night

We finished off the day with Vox Product trivia! Erica and Jeremy from NPR hung out and offered up their brains. Master of Ceremonies Dan Chilton had prepared a great set of questions, and tallied points between rounds. No Google allowed!

After 5 heated rounds of different topics that included memes, celebrity, geography, potpourri (mixed bag), and Vox Product questions, Team Sharkbait (Enzo, Chao, Steve, Pablo, Joe, and Constance) came out on top with a 4 point lead.

Sample questions:

Name the 4 U.S. presidents who were assassinated in chronological order for 1 point each. Bounus: Name the person who was present or in the area for 3 of the 4 assassinations?

Name all the members of the WuTang Clan (past or present) for 1 point each.

We wrapped up our day with some beers and relaxation.