The NPR product team talks a lot about two ways people interact with audio: engaged listening and distracted listening. Engaged listening would be something like this:
There's listening and really not much of anything else going on (except perhaps looking for other things to listen to every now and then). We believe we've done a pretty solid job capturing this use case in our digital products. If finding and listening to audio is first and foremost in your mind, we offer tons of podcasts and program audio clips. You can queue these stories up on a playlist to run consecutively, or just hunt around individually to find the ones you want. You can even sync your playlist across browsers. All this requires a lot of the user's attention.
That model works very well for some people in some cases; but it's a far cry from the roots of radio in which the listener simply hits a button and listens. We've been referring to this second mode as distracted listening. Audio is playing in the background. You may be listening quite intently. But you're also doing other things, like driving, or the dishes.
The explosion of Internet-connected devices has created listening opportunities almost everywhere. Phones, tablets, computers, home stereos, car stereos, and TVs can all now connect to the Internet, vastly expanding the ways people find and listen to audio. Many of these new use cases lend themselves particularly well, if not exclusively, to this distracted listening model.
NPR and its member stations already offer some great options for this use case. The radio, of course, is the most obvious. NPR station streams are also available on desktop and mobile devices. But new platforms have created an opportunity to explore completely different approaches to distracted listening.
Today we are launching (in beta) an experiment we're calling the Infinite Player (works in recent versions of Safari and Chrome; registration required).
It's dead simple: you press a button and it plays. First you hear the latest NPR newscast. That's followed by stories we think you'll like from NPR's three main focus areas, news, arts and life, and music. The only controls are skip, pause and 30-second rewind.
We're calling it the Infinite Player because it will continue playing stories until you turn it off, just like the radio.
Taking a cue from popular products already using personalization (think Facebook, Zite, Flipboard, Pandora, YouTube's LeanBack), the player allows you to indicate whether you're interested in a particular story or not. If you are, we'll try to give you similar stories. If you're not, we'll do our best to find others you'll enjoy. The player should deliver the type of serendipitous experience you expect from NPR, with recommendations based on your input, NPR editors' judgment and story popularity.
The real value of the NPR experience is the local / national partnership with member stations. We are working with NPR Digital Services and a number of stations to release versions of the player that combine both local and NPR audio into a seamless experience. You can try out three of them here: KQED, Michigan Radio and KPLU.
Please keep in mind that the Infinite Player is an experiment. And it's in beta — at this time the player only works in Safari or Chrome (works best on Chrome in its own window). We'd love to hear your feedback on the experience, the content, the technology and anything else you want to share with us about the Infinite Player. Enjoy!