NPR One: a 30-minute Test Run

I found NPR One to be an unpolished, experimental radio app with a tremendous amount of promise. As I pulled up the radio screen I was immediately reminded of Pandora (the music discovery platform). The “interesting” button mimics the “thumbs up” on Pandora, the skips perform the same functions. I won’t turn this into a comparison review, but I think it’s interesting to note the unmistakable similarities:

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The advantages of NPR One? I didn’t encounter one advertisement and could skip as many stories as I wanted. Pandora has ads that cover 90% of the album art and even audio ads in between some songs. I think ad-free is a good move for NPR.

I also found it convenient to have the news readily available on my phone. Instead of being in a car or on my laptop (my usual sources for news), I could listen to stories on my walk to class or the library. I could multitask. The app ran smoothly and never crashed. This convenience is invaluable, particularly to my age group. With classwork to complete and the transportation and social activities involved in university living, NPR made a smart move with the implementation of simplicity.

There isn’t a comments section on NPR One, which I also think is a plus. I believe in the preservation of source-backed, legitimate journalism and can’t tolerate some of the rumors and uneducated lies that anyone with a phone can spread on news sites. I find comfort in NPR’s support of this. I also like that stories are easily sharable via iMessage, Facebook and other outlets.

As much as I enjoyed the simplicity and design of NPR One, there are some significant downsides. For one, it may be too simple. Even Pandora, an app made for music discovery, has more customizable search options than NPR One. the entire profile page looks like this:image1 (1)

The semi-useless sleep timer and donation buttons basically scream, “Someone please develop this page into something useful!” It seems like we could see improvement on their profile system in the future.

There’s no way to view a list of categories and check off the ones you like. All that exists is a list of recent stories and an open-ended search bar. There isn’t really a “top stories” page, just a constantly-updated list to sift through. Another criticism: some of the headlines aren’t even formatted for the app; they’re cut off with “…” until you actually start playing the broadcast.

As far as tailoring to my interests, I’d give NPR One an above-average grade. I tried to click “interesting” on stories about technology, science, US domestic policy and a few other categories.

My first article was this one:image1

NPR actually featured the woman who voices for Siri. She explained the different dialects and sheer amount of words that she had to pronounce to make Apple the leader in voice recognition and playback. She also explained the neglect of street-name/location recordings and how the technology isn’t foolproof yet. In short, I love learning about technology and I loved hearing this broadcast.

Next a story focused on gun control in the US was featured. I learned that just over 1/3 of Americans have guns in their homes and that there are 300 million total firearms in the US, gun deaths are down 40% since the 90’s, etc etc. Recent shootings were then brought up and an informative debate followed. This became the pattern for my half hour with NPR One: listen to the broadcaster introduce the guest(s) and the topic, and then receive and process the info that followed.

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I enjoyed almost all of the stories I heard in this half hour. It may be that I find numerous news topics interesting, or it may be that NPR One’s algorithm is actually a reliable one. I couldn’t reach a conclusion on this; however, I determined that for an experimental application catering to a modern, media-savvy audience, NPR One has potential to preserve news radio’s legitimacy and relevance. I would definitely experiment with NPR One again and dig deeper into its algorithm. How does a smartphone app know what news I like? In this case, simply because I touched the “skip” and “interesting” buttons during stories that piqued my interests.

Conclusions: I was impressed with NPR One and would use it again. It has a simple Pandora-type format with breaking news content. It’s adapted for the modern age, although lacking in additional features and development. Considering this is one of (if not the only) app of its kind, I applaud NPR. This is a step in the right direction for journalism.

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