On being accessible

A few years back we at SVTi decided to become bilingual. All essential documentation, code comments and this very blog are now written in English. If there are non-Swedish speaking co-workers participating in demos we do the presentations in English as well. This makes for some amusing moments of embarrassing swenglish—but more importantly it’s a practical step for a more inclusive workplace. Besides, the two main languages at SVTi are Java and Javascript anyway.

The notion of inclusivity affects not only how we do things but of course also what we do. In every step of the product design process our decisions take a slightly unorthodox path, guided by public service values and the idea of accessibility. Let’s talk about the three kinds of accessibility that are the foundation of SVT Play and the other digital products at SVT:

To be accessible regardless of the users’ personal capabilities
Being injured, tired, drunk, distracted or with a medical impairment should not prevent you from using our services. It permeates how we design our GUIs, how we do our testing and how we evaluate our projects. But it’s also about the content itself, in the digital world our offerings for users with visual or hearing impairment can exist as a first class citizen in a way it couldn’t possibly be in our broadcast transmission.

There are also other capabilities we take into account: Using as little bandwidth as possible to be accessible all over the country in spite of bad networks and expensive mobile phone tariffs. Not too long ago we even released the popular feature “even worse video quality”.

For new colleagues and external development partners this high standard of accessibility and attention to detail is sometimes shocking. ‘To work at SVTi you really have to embrace this as one of the perks of operating outside the realm of common market practices.

To be accessible regardless of technological platform
The open web is central to our mission and to our independence. But also to our budget. Our goal is to be available wherever the user is—mobile, tablet, desktop, TV set—and given our limited resources that’s no mean feat.

Last month over 5000 different device models accessed SVT Play: thousands of mobile phones; desktop computers ready for the dumpster; obsolete browsers in not-very-smart TV sets. That’s why we build web services like svtplay.se with the ambition to work on even the oldest computers running outdated browsers. It’s the old Sinatra method: if we can make it there, we’ll make it anywhere.

But running a world class in-house web shop built on responsive design and progressive enhancement is not enough. As of now our users are watching more hours of SVT Play through TV apps than on our web service. Adoption of SVT Play’s native apps on mobile and tablet is on a dramatic rise.

To stay relevant and accessible to our users we have to embrace the more or less closed systems used by Google, Apple and Samsung. It’s a new journey for us, one that is at the same time daunting and exciting.

To be accessible in tonality—the friendly personality of SVT Play
This last form of accessibility is all about how SVT Play feels, looks and talks with you when you use the service. Making new technology a bit less scary one På spåret episode at a time has been a hallmark of SVT Play since it’s inception some ten years ago. That mission statement still holds true, but now we cater to users who in large part are not only unafraid but also highly demanding.

One million people are now consuming SVT’s content exclusively on SVT Play. They expect the same personalized experience from us that they get from their other favorite online services.

How can we show the whole depth of our content and at the same time create that personal experience? How do we engineer a public service algorithm that steers clear of filter bubbles? What kinds of content make the most sense for public service in a digital context?

That’s an exciting challenge to come to grips with as we get ready to enter the second half of 2017.