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Make listening to NPR online more like listening to the radio. Open one website then start listening to public radio news stories. Skip stories you don’t like or give them a thumbs up or down rating. Over time, the stories you hear better match your interests. Basically, NPR’s new Infinite Player is Pandora for news.
Radio is, by nature, a passive medium. You turn on the radio and you listen to music or news stories. You don’t control what stories or songs come up, meaning you’ll often stumble onto something new serendipitously. That’s part of the fun of the medium. Websites, on the other hand, are active. You go to a site and you pick what you want to read, watch or listen to. When one story finishes you continue browsing.
This self-selection means you only consume news you’re interested in, because you yourself are choosing what to consume. It also means you need to take an active role in picking stories, which is problematic if you wanted to listen to the news while doing something else. NPR’s Infinite Player is an experiment aimed at addressing this. It currently works in Safari and Chrome; versions of other browsers are in development.
For Comparison’s Sake
NPR’s website, by default, looks like any other news site. You can browse and read stories, and you can pick stories to listen to. You can even make a playlist of stories.
This is an extremely active version of NPR. Basically, nothing plays unless you pick the story and tell it to play.
When Google launched the Chrome Web Store, NPR quickly put out an app version of their site. This is cleaner, and makes it easier to listen to stories you like. It’s still however, an active tool – nothing plays unless you tell it to.
Which brings me to the subject of this article – the Infinite Player. Open this site, sign in with your NPR account, and it starts playing right away:
The player always begins with the latest hourly update, giving you an overview of what’s happening right now. It will then start playing random, recent stories from a variety of NPR’s programs.
Controls are, by design, minimal. You can rewind thirty seconds and skip to the next story. You can also give each story a thumbs up or down. The more you use this, the more the player catches on to your interests. If you enjoy music stories more than political stories, for example, you’ll hear more about music and less about politics – provided you give feedback to the program as you’re listening.
You won’t hear no political stories, however. According to NPR, part of the point of this project is to bring serendipity back to Internet radio, meaning there will always be at least some variety in the stories you hear. This is important. You don’t want to create a walled garden of only stories you’re interested in. You might never learn anything new about the world that way.
Of course, there are some limitations to this project. As of this writing it only works with recent versions of Safari and Chrome, being based on media functions other browsers don’t have yet. It’s also worth noting that this tool only includes national stories from NPR, meaning you’ll need to look elsewhere for local news (although there are local-news-enhanced versions for KQED, KPLU and Michigan Radio). Still, this thing is worth checking out. I’m enjoying it immensely. I myself would love to see other media outlets take an approach like this.
What do you think? Is this a valid experiment, or are people already tired of Pandora-style radio? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Let’s try to keep the conversation about the technology and ideas behind this software. Or, if you prefer, we could just talk about how NPR is an evil liberal network and how you prefer to get your news from more nuanced sources, such as Glenn Beck. That’s cool too.