Last Updated by William Tam | Web Engineer | WNET on

At THIRTEEN, we’ve put a lot of effort into making a great user experience on our station website, THIRTEEN.ORG, so we worked as a beta partner with PBS while they were developing the 'Passport' system so that we could integrate it into our WordPress installation and our custom Thirteen Explore app. We’ve been very pleased with the results, which have led to thousands of new members joining WNET/Thirteen since we launched on December 15, 2015!  

And in an effort to help the PBS system overall, we’ve put most of the system into a WordPress plugin that we’re sharing with other PBS stations for free.

I've written a post on the WNET IEG (Internet Engagement Group) blog with the details of where to get the plugin and how all of this works.

Here's a quick rundown --

The plugin we wrote works with the 'PBS Account' system to provide a login for the visitor, via the 'oAuth' web standard.  With oAuth, visitors don't have to create a new username and login for your site;  they 'login with Google' or Facebook or some other provider.  

Next, the 'activation' process connects that 'PBS Account' login with the PBS Membership Vault record for our member. The PBS Account login tells us the visitor is who he or she says she is, and the MVault record tells us whether the visitor is a current valid member.

The PBS Account is portable across every platform that uses it -- for instance, if a visitor were to 'login with Facebook' on www.pbs.org, and then use the same 'login with Facebook' within the PBS Android app or on THIRTEEN.org, the connected Membership Vault information is the same in all three places.

Once we have the member authenticated and authorized on THIRTEEN.org, we use that information to show the member Passport-exclusive video on our website.  But if the visitor who isn't logged in tries to watch Passport video, we prompt them to become a member, using a custom instant viewer gratification process that gets a new donor access to the video within seconds after completing the donation. 

Here's a screenshot of what that video with the prompt looks like on our website.


The results: We've had over 19,000 members activate, and over 8000 new members join via instant viewer gratification forms.   A little less than half joined from THIRTEEN.org and our Thirteen Explore iPad app.

The future uses for this technology are exciting -- we have thousands of members who visit our site regularly to watch Passport video.  Because we can reliably identify who the logged-in member is, we could provide places for the member to adjust their preferences.  More interestingly, we could provide member-exclusive things such as participation in polls like 'what classic PBS shows should we bring to Passport', or member feedback on current content, or whatever else might be a good way to have validated communication with the member.  The technology and users are there, so the choice of what to do is with station policymakers.

Making this work for other PBS member stations is challenging, but doable -- TPT.org, for instance, has done it on their own. Stations that use WordPress should be able to use or adapt our plugin -- WCNY.org has done so, and stations on other platforms could use the more detailed info in my WNET IEG blog post and within the source code of our plugin to as a guide for their own work.  

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