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NPR Experiments with Infinite Player to Provide a Serendipitous Experience

By Cory Huff | Posted on March 28, 2012

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Back in November, NPR announced on their blog a very interesting experiment called the Infinite Player. This is a really great example of how companies can tie interactive, useful experiences to their users in a personalized way.

Essentially, the Infinite Player acts as a recommendation engine for public radio content. Each user can customize the selection of content by voting up or down on what they are listening to in similar style to the voting on An up vote tells the Infinite Player to play more similar content. A down vote skips the current program and tells the Infinite Player to play less similar content.


Distracted Listening On A Per-User Basis

NPR points out that when radio began, it was a communal activity. Everybody gathered around to listen to the radio together. This communal activity evolved into an individual experience as radios became smaller and more portable. People could choose which station they wanted to listen to and this created demand for more diverse stations that fit the needs of various audiences. People could listen while they were doing other things. NPR calls this Distracted Listening.

The limitation was that each radio station could only play a limited amount of material. Even with song requests, every person listening to a particular station at a particular time heard the same content. It was a shared experience, even if you didn’t really want that.

The technology now exists, of course, to allow people to listen to whatever they want whenever they want. I listen to around 30 podcasts per week from NPR and other sources, all at my own leisure as I walk and bike around the city. But what about discovery?

There’s something magical about discovering a new song, story, or piece of journalism. Having your world expanded is an enlightening experience, and this is something NPR’s Infinite Player does well. By offering endless amounts of content in an asynchronous fashion, NPR can expose listeners to programs that they normally do not listen to, and together, NPR and the listener can create a personalized station that expands their world in a comfortable way that is unique to each listener.

Going Deeper on Personalization

Of course, offering listeners the ability to vote on what they are listening to is just one way of helping them discover new content. NPR has opportunities to take other factors in to play in their personalization efforts.

Infinite player

NPR requires that a user log in before listening to the Infinite Player. This enables them to not only personalize the individual listening session, but also, by tying the sessions to the user’s NPR profile to create a deeper personalized experience over time. The longer the voting history, the better the experience for the listener. Of course, it doesn’t end there either.

Once a user is logged in, NPR can take other factors into consideration for future personalization. While they are not doing these things yet they could potentially consider user intelligence like:

  • on-site behavior- time on individual pages or what the user shares and comments on.
  • social profile data -if the user logs in with their Facebook or LinkedIn account, then, if the user allows it, a certain amount of data is shared with NPR. This might include employment, professional organizations, music interests, and other data.
  • friend’s activity- if a listener’s connections on social networks are interested in certain content, then that listener may be interested as well.

Once they personalize listening content in this way, NPR could expand that into it’s website experience as well. Logged in users could land on the site and see content from their local member stations. A music enthusiast might be presented All Songs Considered as the front page story, while an economics junkie might see Planet Money’s blog posts front and center.

Exciting Times

As a Janrain employee, I get really excited about this level of personalization. I think that an Internet that responds to our intent and interests is far more engaging and enjoyable than an Internet full of content pushed by a handful of taste makers. Not only is it more enjoyable, but it’s also better business.

The more engaging your website is, the better chance you have of keeping a customer’s attention, having them spread the word about you, and eventually move into your sales funnel. This kind of personalization is what I aspire to help all Janrain customers achieve.

What about you? What kind of personalization have you seen that gets you excited? What do you think about the direction of personalized web experiences?

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About the author

Cory Huff

Cory Huff

Strategic Business Analyst

Cory Huff is a Strategic Business Analyst at Janrain. For the last five years, Cory has been helping clients build connections with their customers and create personalized marketing experiences with the social web. Working with customers like Universal Music, National Public Radio and MTV, Cory has led teams of marketers and sales people in a variety of initiatives.

View all posts by Cory Huff