These are the Droids You've Been Looking For

Short blog entry today, just letting you know that you can watch the April 29 launch of STS-134 on your Android device. Go to and select the “Watch NASA TV Live” link at the top. Be forewarned: it’s a beta, and we may reach a capacity limit. Also, because there are so many different devices using Android, some of them using different flavors of the OS, it’s possible the feed won’t work on some devices. We’ve tested them on as many as we can, but it’s impossible to be exhaustive. If you can’t get the feed, please let us know what device you’re using and, if you can, the version of Android and the media player.

Certainly has been an interesting few days for live video around here. Last week Yahoo, which has provided WindowsMedia streams of NASA TV since 2005, told us they wouldn’t be able to support the launch as they were reserving all their capacity for the royal wedding earlier in the day. They’re apparently expecting quite a bit of on-demand traffic for replays. Fortunately, we were able to work with Ustream to beef up our connections there.

There’s still a bit of a scramble since our primary feed comes out of the Marshall Space Flight Center, which was severely affected along with the rest of northern Alabama by Wednesday’s severe storms. As far as we know here in D.C., our people are fine, which is good. But our thoughts are with everybody there and across the south who has been touched by the storms.

As always, let us know how we’re doing, whether it’s with the Android stream or any other aspect of the site.

Android App — What Happened?

Mea culpa.

We were so eager to get our Android spinoffs app out that we — I — skipped a couple of steps, specifically ensuring Google’s Terms of Service agreement was something NASA could sign up to, and following our own software-release process. We’re working those and hope to have the app back out soon, along with an Android app for watching live NASA TV. Thanks for your patience, and apologies — to the public and to Todd Powell, the developer who spent so much time putting together a great app.

Brian Dunbar

Comparing the Interwebs to Social Media

Spent part of this week checking the spread of Monday’s Chandra story across the web, both from and social media. Though the social media channels are increasing in importance, especially in spreading the word on the first day, the web site still takes the preponderance of traffic, particularly the follow up in the days after the event.

Not surprisingly, attention generated by Facebook drops very quickly as the story moves down NASA’s Facebook page. Plays of the video fall off on both the site and our YouTube channel, but traffic remains higher on the site, paralleled by the drop we see on the site.

Notice that the reach of Twitter can increase as days go by, especially as people start retweeting others’ retweets.

The point of social media is not explicitly to generate traffic to the site, but it’s worth noting that a very small but growing fraction of people are coming to the site that way.
Trying to ascertain patterns and identify the strengths of each channel will be a key element as we start formulating ideas for the next version of in the weeks to come. As always, suggestions welcome.

(FB: Facebook; YT: YouTube. Like you didn’t know.)


Chandra FindsYoungest Nearby Black Hole (Nov. 15, 2010)







Chandra main page downloads





Feature story downloads





Shares via Add This





Video on





Video on NASA TV YT




12,286 (2)

Press release on


N / A

N / A

N / A

Press release via Gov Delivery


N / A

N / A

N / A

Press release via listserve


N / A

N / A

N / A

Impressions on FB page





Likes on FB page





Comments on FB





FB likes on




2,000 (4)

Reach of retweets (people)




42,213 (3)

Retweets from




210 (4)

Referrals to from FB





Referrals to from Twitter





Total visits to

1.85 million




Live press conference streams on


N / A

N / A

N / A

Press conference replays on NTV YT




767 (4)


(1) Data not available until Saturday due to the size of logfiles to be processed

(2) Total for Wednesday and Thursday

(3) Includes retweets from other sites, e.g., NationalGeographic

(4) Cumulative for the week

Hokey smokes, Bullwinkle! Beat Google!

If you’ve visited often enough, you’ve been asked to take a survey about the site. It asks you about the content, whether you find the site relevant and other things, including some demographic questions. I’ve you’re one of the people who have answered, thank you. The survey provides one of the key metrics that lets us know how we’re doing. (Here’s an explanation of how the ACSI works, for the technically inclined.)

So how are we doing? Pretty well it seems. Our scores for September and for the third quarter of 2010 were the highest we’ve ever gotten. We continue to outpace web sites generally and most other federal-government sites, and we remain fairly close to some of the most widely used commercial sites. Our September score of 83 wasn’t too far behind Netflix and Amazon, and it was well ahead of some others. (Here’s a chart for comparison.)

And, heck yeah, we were higher than Google last month. I can only recall one other month that we were even; Google is usually the highest rated site of all that use this particular service. Most likely it’s a one-month aberration, and the more interesting question is what caused them to drop so precipitately. But you’ll have to ask them.

The real value of this survey is in comparing our ratings over time. In that respect, we’re doing very well. Over any standard time period (months, quarters, years) our customer-satisfaction rating continues to climb. We’re convinced that’s because we pay attention to what you say, whether it’s via e-mail to us,  indirectly through your click paths across the site or through the survey itself.

We take what learn and use it to improve the site by developing prototypes and taking them to usability testing, then incorporating the testing results into our development. We’ve done three major overhauls of the site (1997, 2003 and 2007) and with each new iteration our scores have climbed. We also continue to make minor changes within the existing design, like deploying our new video player last spring and changes to how we display top news stories last month.

So thank you again for all your feedback. We’ll keep paying attention.

Web 1.5

NASA has recently received a lot of kudos for its social media efforts. We had 150 Tweeters, who in turn had about 150,000 followers, attend the Tweetup at the last space shuttle launch. NASA’s Twitter feed, now up to 417,000-plus followers, is one of the most influential on the service. The agency has embraced Facebook, YouTube and other social media services as well. (Though by now everyone should be aware that most of the channels tagged with “NASA” on those sites have nothing to do with the agency.) One of the things the Web team has been figuring out is how the social media efforts relate to the existing Web site, and how we get them to work together.

Fair warning: I’m about give rein to my inner numbers nerd.

The growth in NASA’s social media efforts hasn’t lessened the impact of the website. We’re up to 190,000 web pages on Traffic grew by 18 percent from 2008 to 2009, outpacing the growth of the global online population (14 percent). Google says we’re the 604th most-popular site on the Web. Our customer-satisfaction ratings continue to be among the best on the Web, noticeably higher than most government agencies and not too far behind such popular sites as Google, Amazon and Netflix. And we were honored this year with our third People’s Voice Webby for best government site, for which we thank you.

Comparing metrics offers some insight to the relation between the website and social-media sites, with the weight of numbers tilting heavily toward the website. Compared to the Twitter followers, we had more than 8 million visits to the site in May, with an additional 12 million hits to our RSS feeds. Videos of the STS-132 launch were viewed more than 168,000 times from, and about half that many times on official NASA YouTube channels.

The benefit of social media, of course, isn’t the raw numbers of people coming to official sites; it’s in the sharing those people do with others. Non-NASA posts of private STS-132 launch videos were downloaded from YouTube another 50,000 times. (And if you haven’t seen it, check out the launch video shot out the window of a commercial airliner. Warning: contains profanity.) Similarly, at least according to one source, NASA is the 48th-most retweeted Twitter feed. NASA’s Facebook page has 59,000 fans, and though there’s no way to tell how many friends those fans have, it’s not unreasonable to think they could reach several million more.

So how do these tools work together? Social media is terrific for quickly releasing the constant parade of news that NASA has on any given day, from the minor to the extraordinary: Tweet it, share it on Facebook, post it to YouTube and Flickr. But limits on character counts and the types of content that can be posted to each site restrict one’s ability to supply background and context. They’re great at “Hey, this is cool”, but not as much in explaining why the cool thing is also important, or where it came from or where it might lead. That’s why that boring old Web 1.0 site — referred to by one of our bosses as the “brick-and-mortar website” — will always exist and continue to be important. That’s where the big picture is, where all the pieces of the puzzle — text, video images — can be pulled together in one place.

(As a government agency, we’re also concerned about what happens to the content on third-party sites if those sites disappear. Granted, in 2010 it’s hard to imagine YouTube going away. But in 1997 it was equally hard to imagine Netscape and AOL going away.)

At NASA we’re starting to try to merge the efforts. We’ve embedded our Twitter feed on the main page. Our new video player adopts some of the features of YouTube that have become de facto standards. The NASA web community is embracing third-party apps and sites sanctioned by the government. Integrating them all is going to have to become a fundamental part of any communications plan. Like everyone on the Net, we’ll learn as we go. If you’ve got suggestions, you’re welcome to post them here.

— Brian Dunbar

Why We Went with Flash

So we’ve rolled out our brand new video player– Flash, no multiple formats, only one plug-in required for most browsers, interface and controls that have been made de facto standards by a certain popular video site – and we’ve rolled right into the latest technology firefight, encapsulated by this comment from a discerning user:

“Why are you wasting time on Flash? HTML5 is the coming thing and makes any plug-in unnecessary. Plus your Flash player won’t work on my iPhone or iPad.” – Steve Jobs

No, not really. But it’s a valid thought, and the response has to do with how we work around here, sometimes by choice, but most times by necessity.

We’ve been working on the Flash video system for some time, because we’re as tired as everyone else of dealing with multiple formats to cover all major platforms. As YouTube has demonstrated, Flash is a great format for getting video across platforms with a minimum of hassle for the user.

I realize no one wants to hear about limited staff or budgets, but the reality of our world is that our staffing at NASA HQ (3 editors and 3 multimedia developers) and rigid budget always puts development on the back burner relative to daily operations. Between shuttle missions, high-profile anniversaries and fundamental shifts in U.S. national space policy, we haven’t had a lot of time recently to work on new things.

And as we just as we shift to Flash, the technology is already moving beyond it. That’s not surprising. In fact, I’d argue that’s exactly the way it should be. As a government web site, we spend taxpayer dollars. The best use of that money is to spend it on making our content available to the widest number of people, and that means developing to more widespread – i.e., older — technology.

The biggest problem with HTML5 is that it’s not a seamless presentation on all browsers yet, including IE, which is still about half the global market. Flash penetration, meanwhile, is about 97 percent of better, according to Adobe. For web video, Flash, regardless of its shortcomings and critics, is the de facto standard. HTML5 may well get there, and when it does, so will we. At which time its current advocates will be pillorying us for not keeping up with whatever they’re enjoying then. (I think this is what Elton John once referred to as “The Circle of Life”.)