In times of crisis, sharing information is crucial, which is why BBC News has teamed up with messaging app Viber to broadcast updates and safety tips following the earthquake in Nepal. “We just want to try and get as much useful information to people in the affected area as possible through any means at our disposal,” says BBC mobile editor Trushar Barot.
Viber was a natural fit for this purpose, as its Public Chat feature is already built to accommodate vast broadcast groups, and is incredibly easy for publishers to get to grips with. This enabled the BBC to create a special channel and start sharing information in just 36 hours.
The BBC used WhatsApp last year to target West African consumers with its Ebola public health service. However, WhatsApp has since proven its worth more as an “incoming engagement” tool rather than as a broadcasting platform. “We’ve gotten better at understanding and accepting where the strengths of the platforms are and maximising that rather than trying to put a lot of time and energy to make them work in a way they’re not designed to,” says Barot.
Viber is estimated to have over 4 million active users in Nepal, and 360 million globally, making it a valuable asset during emergencies. Multiple other platforms are contributing to earthquake relief and survivor location in Nepal, with major companies like Skype and Google waiving their international call fees. I’ve been personally notified that friends of mine are safe, thanks to Facebook’s Safety Check which the network introduced last year.
“We’ve taken the strategic view that these technologies are already hugely significant and are only going to rise in significance,” says Barot. “Millions more people are buying their first smartphones, and we know that their first contact with the internet is going to be through these chat apps.”