Friday, April 10, 2015

A curated news highlight service using Wordpress and Mailchimp

With all the news sources that are available out there and are populating our email boxes and social newsfeeds, how do you help reduce the noise to signal ratio? And how do you measure if what you’re doing is valued and used by the people that are benefiting from this service?

In work we are doing to support KM in the Building Demand for Sanitation (BDS) programme, we started to experiment last year with a selection of monthly curated updates about water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). This activity came as response to the strong recommendation from BDS grantees about the problems of information overload and the need for support in navigating the flood of documentation and evidence.

We were lucky enough to find in Jonny Crocker and Shankar Narayanan two great curators, willing to work with us to identify 4 to 5 recommendations per month, curated and based on their own reading and selected from other peers’ recommendations.

But how to implement such activity?
Screenshot from last issue of the Curated WASH updates

A newsletter, with some extra features 

First and foremost, we wanted something as easy as possible for users. And having run several interactions and surveys with them, we know that if we wanted to have some hope for success, we had to plan around email. So our WASH Curated Updates had to be an email newsletter.

But we also wanted to be sure that each curated resource could remain easily accessible and searchable, into a browsable online archive that would grow with the content posted in each issue. And that this library of resources could potentially be exported and included into other archives and datasets.

Finally, we wanted to give readers the opportunity to rate the individual contents we would post in the newsletter. Something easy to use and without readers having to be logging into any account, because we know this is a major barrier to participation for some.

How does our Curated Updates work?

After testing various options (for example, using a social bookmarking service such as Diigo, which allow users to rate each bookmark shared in a group, or Scoopit), we developed an online system that works as follows:

  • Curated Updates are posted by our two curators each month as blog posts on a simple Wordpress website ( - they are properly categorized, using a custom taxonomy for type of resources, geographical and thematic coverage; 
  • For each (short) post, the ‘read on’ link is shortened using bitly and brings users to the original resource, whether it’s an external website, article or PDF uploaded on the Wordpress site; 
  • The RSS feed from the Curated Updates section of the blog feeds into MailChimp to populate an RSS-driven campaign that goes out in the first week of the month to the newsletter subscribers; 
  • When subscribers receive the newsletter, they can read the full post and click on the link to read the original source. Alternatively, they can click to read each post online and rate it; 
  • The rating can be done on the website using the RatingWidget Wordpress plugin, which is displayed after each post and website page. 
So how do we measure if this activity is working well, and grantees are using the curated news put together by their peers? In the next post, we’ll present the tools and indicators we use in our basic M&E system.