Espectador.com is the online presence of Uruguay’s oldest and most-respected radio station, Radio El Espectador. When covering the 2009 presidential elections, Espectador.com wanted to offer a dramatically enhanced Web experience to grow its audience and advertising revenue. The company worked with Microsoft Uruguay and Microsoft Certified Partner Innicia to create new online news offerings that used Microsoft Silverlight. A team consisting of three developers and one designer built three downloadable applications for the primary, general, and run-off elections over a period of just six months. The applications work with Espectador.com’s Linux and PHP infrastructure and take advantage of local processing and storage resources so that people can easily explore news reports, poll results, policy statements, audio and video clips, and other information.
||The 2009 general elections were an incredibly important opportunity for our organization, and Silverlight helped us lead the way in innovation on the Web.
||Gonzalo Sobral, CEO, Espectador.com
Established in 1923, Radio El Espectador is the oldest radio station in Uruguay and one of the country’s leading sources of news journalism. The group launched the first multimedia news Web site in Uruguay in 1995, Espectador.com, which now ranks as the third-most-trafficked news Web site in the nation.
“The Web offers the same immediacy that was historically the strong point of news delivered over the radio,” says Gonzalo Sobral, CEO of Espectador.com. “Our station was among the first to broadcast news from international wire feeds in the 1930s, providing people with news stories faster than ever before. Today, more and more people depend on the Web to stay informed of the latest events. Therefore, we see a close link between the two mediums, and our Web efforts have built on the established reputation of our radio business.”
Espectador.com continues to seek out new ways to enhance its news services to grow its online audience and attract more advertisers. Approaching the Uruguayan general election in 2009, Espectador.com saw an opportunity to differentiate itself from other news sources.
Uruguay’s general election is a tremendous news event in that country, taking place once every five years and deciding not only the office of president but also the entire General Assembly. Uruguay’s constitution also makes voting compulsory so that the nation’s 2.5 million registered voters (out of a total population of 3.4 million) must vote in the general election and run-off election for the office of president, if no single candidate wins a majority of the votes.
As his group was considering new approaches to cover the upcoming national elections, Sobral had the opportunity to meet with the Director of Microsoft Uruguay, Eduardo Mangarelli. “We talked about what Microsoft did with MSN.com during the 2008 U.S. presidential election, especially how it used Microsoft Silverlight to make its coverage stand out,” says Sobral. “Silverlight technology offers a new experience that is both richer and more accessible than traditional Web sites.”
Going into the 2009 general elections, the managing team at Espectador.com decided to investigate creating a new type of experience for its audience, with a goal of attracting more visitors who would spend more time engaged with the site. The team also expected to sign up more advertisers who were willing to spend more money to advertise through a more engaging medium.
Covering Three Elections in Six Months
Working with Microsoft Certified Partner Innicia, also based in Montevideo, Espectador.com created a smart-client application by using Silverlight for the primary elections held on June 28, 2009. This initial application, as seen in Figure 1, featured news, policy details, statistics, poll results, and tabulated votes for each of the 10 candidates running in the three major political-party primaries. The application also included multimedia, such as audio and video recordings of speeches.
|Figure 1. The first application covered the primary elections among |
three main political parties.
Refining its approach, Espectador.com released a second Silverlight-based application before the general election, which the Uruguayan government held only four months later on October 25. This time, the Innicia team recommended Silverlight 3, which Microsoft had just released, so that they could take advantage of more prebuilt functionality, including more than 60 customizable out-of-the-box controls; perspective for 3-D graphics; improved animation and text rendering; resource libraries; and element-to-element binding.
Because no presidential candidate received more than 50 percent of the votes in the general election, there was a run-off election between the two main presidential candidates scheduled for November 29. The Innicia team used Silverlight 3 to create a third application that focused on the two remaining candidates.
Because one of the goals of the project was to provide an experience that was much better than traditional HTML–based Web sites, the Innicia team decided to design the solutions as smart-client applications that took advantage of local memory and processing resources. Each time people connected to the Internet, the Silverlight-based applications downloaded approximately 500-KB packages that contained zipped XML files to their computers. As people used the applications, much of the data needed for rendering the display was pulled from their local machine instead of from the server, which helped to increase the responsiveness of the applications.
|Number of developers
|Number of designers
|Estimated time to
- 2 months for first application
- 3 months for second application
- 20 days for third application
148,634 unique users during election period
Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 Professional Edition
Microsoft Expression Blend 3
|Programming model and
- Microsoft Silverlight
- Microsoft .NET Framework
- Windows Presentation Foundation
Espectador.com served the application downloads from its own facilities, and handled a peak of 14,000 applications downloads in one day served from a Linux-based host server. In total, more than 148,500 unique users downloaded the applications during the election period. By comparison, print newspapers distribute an average of 15,000 newspapers each day in Uruguay.
Espectador.com also worked with Microsoft Uruguay to create an editorial desktop application by using Windows Presentation Foundation. This application, shown in Figure 2, pulled RSS feeds from 10 national news sources, including Espectador.com, and enabled the editorial team to quickly select, edit, categorize, and tag breaking news stories that would be shown in the election applications. Readers used the tags to filter news stories and other content so that they could identify candidates whose positions matched their own opinions or find out what a particular candidate said about a certain policy within a specific period of time, for example.
At the outset of the project, the technical staff at Espectador.com had doubts about whether the applications would work with their Web site infrastructure, which is based on Linux and PHP, or run on a Linux-based machine. However, those concerns proved to be unfounded, and the Silverlight-based applications made calls to PHP–based pages on the Web site without any problems and had no compatibility issues with the Linux-based host machine.
Collaboration Between Developers and Designers
Three developers and one designer from Innicia worked on the smart-client applications for Espectador.com and collaborated with each other by using Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 Professional Edition and Microsoft Expression Blend 3. These tools enabled the developers and designer to work together by using the same XAML code base. In this way, the team eliminated the technical barriers that separated the original design and its implementation in software code.
“By using Visual Studio and Expression Blend, everyone feels like they are on the same team,” says Pablo Panedas, CEO of Innicia. “The developers don’t have to start from scratch—the designer actually delivers functioning code for developers to work with. In addition, the designer feels more confident knowing he is working on the ‘real thing.’ They can run the solution in the design tool and see how it works—it isn’t just a mock-up.”
Planning for the Future
|Figure 2. The editorial desktop application created with Windows |
Espectador.com is currently working with Innicia to launch another smart-client application that would cover upcoming regional elections in Uruguay. Because the two companies built the other applications by using the Microsoft .NET Framework and Silverlight, it is relatively easy to reuse components for new out-of-browser applications.
By using Silverlight in its coverage of the general elections, Espectador.com provided its audience with an experience that was much different than what traditional news Web sites offered. “The 2009 general elections were an incredibly important opportunity for our organization, and Silverlight helped us lead the way in innovation on the Web,” explains Sobral.
Unique Out-of-Browser Experience
Because it uses local memory and processing resources, the smart-client applications are extremely responsive and render complex data visualizations with virtually no wait times. “The applications bring enormous visual power unlike any other online news solution that is now available on the Web, either in Uruguay or anywhere else. Our work with Silverlight represents a major qualitative leap in the way we present news information, perhaps the greatest in the history of Espectador.com,” says Sobral.
||For the general election application, we had three developers, one designer, and two months to go live, and we were able to go live one week before the deadline.
||Pablo Panedas, CEO, Innicia
The applications make it possible for the audience to explore news reports, video and audio from campaign speeches, poll results, and policy statements in ways that are not possible with normal Web sites. For example, people who use the application can easily navigate by simply clicking on graphics—there are no scroll bars or noticeable page load times as with regular HTML–based Web sites.
“The challenge we faced was presenting tremendous amounts of data to our audience in a way that was responsive and easy to interact with,” says Sobral. “We met this challenge by using Silverlight to create a compelling out-of-browser experience.”
Broad Appeal, New Audiences and Advertisers
In Uruguay, voting in the general elections is compulsory, and Espectador.com recognized the elections as a perfect opportunity to reach out to new groups of people that did not normally engage with the Web site. The company also wanted to increase its appeal to advertisers and was able to sign up new advertising sponsors for its applications. “Silverlight helped us engage with our audience on a deeper level that was very appealing to our advertisers,” explains Sobral. “They understood that people would spend much more time using these unique applications and that the applications would appeal to a broader audience.”
An anecdote from one of the employees at Espectador.com illustrates how the applications appealed to people who do not normally visit the Web site. “One of our managers was using the general election application at home when his 80-year-old grandfather passed by and noticed,” says Sobral. “This man, who had never used a computer before in his life, was able to sit down and begin using the application immediately because all he needed to do was click with the computer mouse to drill down or filter results. Silverlight helps make applications extremely intuitive.”
Besides offering a unique look-and-feel, the applications that Espectador.com and Innicia created enabled people to explore an impressive amount of data and multimedia. In addition to news from the Espectador.com Web site itself, the applications incorporated extensive policy details, campaign elements, and RSS feeds from 10 national news sources.
|Figure 3. The election applications took advantage of local storage and processing |
resources to minimize latency.
“When it comes to data-driven applications like those we created for Espectador.com, there is no better toolset than that from Microsoft,” says Panedas. “For animations, Adobe Flash is good. But Microsoft Silverlight handles not only the design component but also solutions that have a significant development component.”
Panedas credits the toolset from Microsoft for helping the development team to create these out-of-browser applications under very tight deadlines. In addition, he notes that the learning curve for Silverlight in Microsoft Expression Blend is very low for developers who are experienced with the .NET Framework.
“For the general election application, we had three developers, one designer, and two months to go live, and we were able to go live one week before the deadline,” says Panedas. “In less than half of that time frame, just 20 days, we went live with the run-off election application. This was possible with the wonderful toolset from Microsoft.”
Microsoft Silverlight is a cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in for delivering the next generation of .NET-based media experiences and rich interactive applications for the Web and mobile devices. Fully supported by Visual Studio and Expression Blend, Silverlight includes major media enhancements, out-of-browser support for Web applications on the desktop, smooth streaming capabilities, browser ubiquity, GPU acceleration, and support for 3D graphics and H.264 video.
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For more information about El Espectador products and services, call (5982) 902-3531 or visit the Web site at:
For more information about Innicia products and services, call 5982 901 49 77 or visit the Web site at: