As a metrics person, I have a love/hate relationship with graphs, especially those that start to resemble a child's collage.* Graphs are supposed to tell a single story really clearly and then get out of your way. By that standard, this graph fails miserably.
So why showcase it here?
To be a little Zen for a moment, we currently have a "beginner's mind" when it comes to analyzing audio usage across platforms. Since the world is full of websites, the world is also full of sophisticated formulas for defining success on the Web. News and music apps with lots of streaming audio? Not so much. We're still learning, and that means that you're going to have to cope with a little ambiguity for now. This isn't so much a chart as it is a whiteboard with an x and y axis, but here's what I see:
The Main Site is still kicking butt. The mobile platforms are crucial to NPR's long term strategy but from a basic monthly unique visitor standpoint, the main site still dominates. The closest second is our iPhone News App at about 5% the size of the main site; the others are between 1% and 2%. This is less a reflection of the appeal of each app as it is a reflection of the available user base. Fewer people own iPhones than computers and, if this graph reflected relative market share instead of just relative visitors, the iPhone apps would dominate (but the graph would be incomprehensible).
The iPad App is the most radio-like. I know this because it's at the bottom of the "High Audio Usage/Lean Back" quadrant. What's the absolutely most "High Audio Usage/Lean Back" device out there? That's right, (if you're over 30) it might be the thing on your nightstand next to the lamp and the pile of books. The radio. So what about the iPad App is making it most radio like? Statistically speaking, 85% of the audio requests on the iPad are for long continuous streams provided by stations. In other words, 85% the time, people are using it like a radio. In some cases, they're even leaving it on their nightstand.
The iPhone Music App is not where I would have thought it would be. Unencumbered by information, I would have guessed that the iPhone Music App –with its bevy of genre specific station streams and long stories and concerts – would have been off the charts for both "High Audio Usage" and "Lean Back". Not so, but I think it's actually good news. The Music App gets the highest page views per visit of any of our apps, so it's possible that people are using it for reading about music as much as they are using it for listening about music – a unique value proposition in the music app space and something really worth exploring.
And all this means that...? Uh, dunno. My fancy graph seems to be doing a good job of illustrating the obvious and pointing out a few anomalies but it's not getting us any closer to really grasping what's going on across platforms. Are we succeeding at our cross-platform goals? I don't think this graph can tell us that. I think it can only frame things in one of a million possible ways so that we can start to really become sophisticated audio metrics consumers. Or, to invoke Zen one more time, perhaps this graph is getting us pupils ready, so that the teacher may appear.
* If you squint while looking at this graph, the "Main Site" looks like the sun and the other platforms look like little flowers.
Sondra Russell is the Web Metrics Analyst for NPR's Digital Media department.