Public radio media organization, NPR, has created an app with an intent to cater more successfully to the interests of next-generation listeners. I tested the app out for myself, and I was impressed and satisfied with my user experience.
Upon my initial interaction with NPR One, I was given the story, “Presidential Candidates Campaign in New Hampshire” followed by, “How Scientists are Working to Eradicate Zika Mosquitoes.” While these first two stories were interesting to me, I didn’t feel as though they were interesting enough, or relevant enough to my own life for me to listen to them in their entirety. I stuck it out through the first one, however I skipped the second before it came to an end.
“Listeners don’t have to start off by making choices; instead they’re guided into listening through an NPR newscast, which jumps into more stories from there. The ensuing mix is guided by the choices users make on what they like or skip,” Justin Ellis writes in his article, “Deciphering what the next generation of public radio listeners wants through NPR One.” I wondered if my first skip would affect the stories that followed.
The third story was of more interest to me. Music is a huge part of my life, and I am a fan Bernie Sanders, so I listened to “Behind the Music: Bernie Sanders” for a while, and I tagged it as “Interesting.”
4. “Our obsession with tax cuts has led to a crumbling infrastructure”
Though perhaps an important story, this was not one that I wanted to spend my time on. So, I skipped it. NPR One then brought me to another story pertaining to democratic presidential candidates – perhaps due to my explicit interest in the Bernie Sanders story.
5. “Clinton Runs As Wonk In Chief, Trying To Win Hearts With Plans”
At this point I was a little tired of hearing about politics, but Hilary Clinton’s attempt at winning voters’ hearts was something that I thought I should hear about, so I listened to the story. One of the things that I love about the NPR One app is the way it allows its listeners to multitask. When I don’t want to allot my full attention to the story at hand, but I would like to let it play in the background, I can minimize the app and continue to listen while I surf Instagram or send emails. Kelly McBride mentions this aspect in her article, dubbing it one of the reasons that the user experience was “slightly addicting” to her.
The 6th story that was presented to me was called, “Roundtable: Donald Trump’s Media Tactics.” While Donald Trump’s radical, often comical daily doings are of interest to me, I only listened to a small portion of this story, eventually skipping it and being brought to story number 7, “Wal-Mart’s Closures Leave Small Towns Without Convenience,” No thank you. Skip.
8. “Brains Sweep Themselves Clean Of Toxins During Sleep”
Finally NPR One was beginning to move away from politics. The topic of sleep is a topic that has been relevant to my life lately, as it is something I have been struggling with every night for a month now. This story let me know just how terrible this is for my body, and how vital it is for me to make a change immediately. I knew that sleep deprivation was unhealthy, however this story emphasized a severity that I was unaware of. I marked this story as “Interesting” and did not skip any part of it.
9. “Marc Edwards bringing expertise to new Flint water council”
Living less than an hour away from Flint, Michigan, this story was relevant and interesting. Everyone is talking about the Flint water crisis, it’s huge, and it is important to understand what is going on in order for this issue to be resolved and prevented in the future. At this point the app was definitely steering away from political candidate stories, and focusing more on stories that were relevant, on a local level, and therefore interesting to me.
The 10th story I was presented with focused on the Sundance Film Festival. There we go. Finally we’ve reached the arts. I’m interested.
10. “Biopic About Nat Turner Is a Success At Sundance Film Festival”
Another nice aspect of the NPR One app is its lack of pauses between stories. When one story ends, another begins immediately, without missing a beat.
11. “Karen Korematsu asks Michigan to honor her father’s fight for civil liberties.”
Though this story is not of utmost interest to me, I’m all about individuals fighting for civil liberties, so I listened for a short while before skipping.
For my 12th story, NPR One offered a 30-minute report called, “Is My Phone Eavesdropping On Me?” Of course I was immediately intrigued. Like much of the 20-something-American-girl population, my phone is a significant part of my every-day life. I have heard comments here and there about how our cell phones may be “spying” on us, but I’ve never really looked into it. This is a somewhat scary idea, and a topic that I felt like I should be more aware of. So, I turned up the volume and replaced my regular music playlist with this story as I took a shower and got ready for the night.
Interesting side note: The interviewee in this story spoke about the way that some apps ask users for permission to access their microphone upon the initial use of the app, and an app will do this so that it can listen to its users – to get to know them better or send their information to advertising companies. As Kelly McBride mentions in her article entitled, “NPR One app potential is huge,” and as I soon found out after downloading, NPR One does this exact thing. Neither Kelly nor I really understood, at the time, why they asked for this access, however I granted the permission anyway. I didn’t think twice about it until I came upon the eavesdropping cell phone story. Ironic indeed.
This story was so interesting that I could write an entire thesis on it. Really. Needless to say, I listened to all thirty minutes of it and tagged it “Interesting.”
The final story I listened to was so relevant to my life it was almost strange.
13. “Walter Martin Remembers Art History Class With ‘Arts and Leisure’”
This story discussed the life of a man who chose to dedicate the majority of his existence to art; pertinent to the artists of the world. The story’s host and interviewee mentioned common questions posed to him and those like him by outsiders, “What in the world are you going to do with a degree in art history?” This story hit home for me, as a substantial portion of my life is dedicated to music and dance, and I often face questions of this nature. I listened to this story to find out what this man does with his life and how he responds to these questions.
My final grade for the NPR One app is a B+. I am grading primarily in regards to customization.
The app eventually got the picture. I was over hearing about political topics within the first ten minutes. If I was going to listen to this app for an hour, I would’ve been less than amused had they continued to pepper my feed with stories of that nature. I believe that my use of skips and tagging led the app to recognize this preference. Eventually, the stories were aligning so well with my interests that I continued to listen out of pleasure, rather than necessity to complete an assignment.
Another difference I began to notice was the tone of the host’s voice. Throughout the hour, the stories being offered transformed from a very professional, impersonal tone, to a more casual one in which hosts sounded like they were speaking to a friend. This is the tone I enjoy listening to the most, and perhaps my interaction with the app also led to this recognition. A negative aspect mentioned in McBride’s article was the repetition of stories and the repeated plea for donations, even though she was already a donor. In my hour+ of listening, I was never asked for a donation. Perhaps the app uses its different customization techniques to discover the demographics of its listeners, thus identifying who would be most likely to donate. I also did not come across any repeated stories.
The app could have aligned with my interests at a more consistent rate, and perhaps this could have been more successfully accomplished by initiating the experience with a demographic analysis and questions regarding my interests. However, it is also vital to become and remain educated and enlightened in areas that one may not find the most intriguing or entertaining (like economic or political areas for me) especially with a presidential election on the horizon. Justin Ellis touched on this in his article: “Deciphering what users want is important in perfecting an audio stream that both seems to know what kinds of stories and shows you like but is also still capable of surprising you with something new, Sarasohn said.” For this reason, I do applaud NPR One for providing me with a few stories here and there that I may not have sought out on my own. Overall, the NPR One experience was a great one, and I will keep the app and most likely add it to my daily routine.