The Power of (our) Suggestions

February 24th, 2010 → 2:37 pm @ // 2 Comments

LadyFromShanghaiOn Monday, we published a chart listing the top 20 streams on the Public Radio Player. As mentioned in that post, we are just beginning to sort through the analytics on how public radio fans are using the iPhone app. We were excited about the data and wanted to share some of it right away. Without reading too much into the specifics, I made some initial inferences based on the results. Well, it turns out I missed one very important piece of the puzzle.

I opened the Public Radio Player yesterday and it hit me like a ton of bricks. The opening page of the app lists a group of featured live streams. That list is almost identical to the Top 20 rankings published on Monday. There is such a large overlap that one must conclude that the presence of a station on the featured list is a major influence on the usage of their stream. That is, the Public Radio Player app is both cause and effect of the top station rankings.

I’m not sure if we should categorize my mistake as a case of reflexivitythe observer effectthe Hawthorne effect, or simply a hall of mirrors. I think I had my nose too deep in spreadsheets of data to see what was right in front of me. I goofed – and I apologize for the error.

But the influence of the featured stations list is an important finding. We initially included a featured stations page as a way to improve the load time of the app and to provide a jumping off point for new users (a list of 400 stations and 1000 on-demand options can be a lot to digest). The role of the featured stations list on the streaming choices of users is larger than we expected. We are making some immediate changes to rotate more stations into the featured list and introduce public radio fans to a greater variety of live streams when opening the app. We will continue to monitor the top streams and watch how the featured list influences stream performance over time.

Again, apologies for the omission of these details in our last post.

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Chart Topping Public Radio

February 22nd, 2010 → 12:07 pm @ // 9 Comments

Editor’s Note: Please read our update regarding the data in this post.

The stat we love to throw around is the big top line number: 2.5 million downloads for the Public Radio Player since its debut! Recently, we’ve been digging deeper into the details to learn more about how public radio fans are using the the Player.

We pulled data on the live station streams that are accessed most often by users – and were surprised by some of the results. Many of the popular streams on the Public Radio Player are from stations that don’t normally crack any top 20 lists for terrestrial broadcast audience.

I put together a quick comparison below. On the left are the top 20 stations on the Public Radio Player from October 1 – December 31 of 2009, as ranked by average monthly unique users. On the right are the top 20 terrestrial public radio stations as measured by average weekly cume (a measure of the total number of unique listeners) during the fall quarter, September 17 to December 9 (odd dates because broadcast Arbitron quarters correspond to specific weeks, not months). This data comes from a report published by the Radio Research Consortium.

Disclaimer: Because of differences in methodology, comparing online and broadcast audiences is often a case of apples and oranges. The lists below take two very different approaches to finding a similar type of number. Also, they are not an exact match on dates. Take it all with a grain of salt.
Streams ChartFirst thing to notice is the lack of overlap. By my count, there are only 5 stations among the top broadcast rankings that break the top 20 on the Public Radio Player. It’s great to see local stations that don’t normally enjoy huge broadcast audiences find success on the Public Radio Player.

Also, internet-only streams are making waves on the Player. KCRW Music, Folk Alley, Jazz 24, and Native Voice One are all examples of live streams with no broadcast presence anywhere on the radio dial.

Another takeaway — music stations perform well on the player. KCRW Music,KUT, Jazz 24, WXPN, WFMU, Folk Alley, KCMP, WWOZ, and WTMD all put an emphasis on music in a variety of formats. No surprise here as listening to music has long been a leading mobile activity (and a great way to beat the commuter blues).

Again, please don’t read too much into the charts. We’re just getting started understanding these stats. We’ll be watching the coming months to see if more definite trends and conclusions can be gleaned, and I will continue to highlight interesting finds here on the blog. If you’ve got some thoughts on what you see, please let us know in the comments. Thanks.

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A Sneak Peek at v2.1

February 12th, 2010 → 10:49 am @ // 2 Comments

We’re all set to submit the Public Radio Player v2.1 update to the iTunes App Store and we expect it to be available for download in a matter of days. I recently got my hands on a beta version of the update and can confirm that it includes some of the features most requested by users of the Public Radio Player.

For your eyes only
[Ninja M. / cc / Flickr]

Alarm Clock – Version 2.1 lets you set a public radio wake up call. Choose a station from your favorites list, set the alarm for the break of dawn, and get ready to rise and shine with the Public Radio Player.

Sleep Timer – Tossing and turning all night and counting sheep won’t help? No problem! Just put the new sleep timer to work. You can be lulled into dream time by the dulcet tones of Ira Glass or Terry Gross knowing your Public Radio Player will switch off at the appropriate hour.

Browser integration – Safari is now accessible within the Public Radio Player, allowing you to visit websites of the stations you stream.

Manage Favorites – You can decide which of your favorites goes to the top of the list. You can sequence your favorite stations and programs in any order you choose.

“Fresh from the Oven” Code – the PRX tech team has rewritten the code for the app from the ground up, resulting in greatly improved performance.

Video Tutorial – We recorded a great video tour (embedded below) of the Player and added a link to it within the app to help new users get to know the Public Radio Player.

Improved Search – Search results are now sorted by live stream and on-demand categories

As you can see, we’ve got some exciting additions to an already great public radio resource. We’ll be sure to let you know as soon as 2.1 goes live in the app store. In addition, an update notice will be automatically pushed to current Public Radio Player users, so keep an eye on your phone’s app manager.

About the Project &Blog &Public Radio Player &Version 2.1

An App-tastic Year Ahead

February 8th, 2010 → 5:34 pm @ // 3 Comments

There’s good news in store for Public Radio Player fans! We’re excited to announce renewed CPB funding for the project that will result in two major updates to the Public Radio Player during 2010. The first, version 2.1, will be released in the coming weeks, with a second update planned for the summer.

Green light, go!
[Flying White / cc / Flickr]

As you may know, the Public Radio Player iPhone app originated from a CPB-funded collaboration of APM, NPR, PRI, and PI, led by PRX. That first grant ended in the summer of 2009 following the release of version 2.0. PRX is once again leading the project and continues to work with Public Interactive as a source of station schedule data and on-demand programs from the NPR API.

For version 2.1, the PRX development team has rewritten the code from scratch to improve performance and introduce some great new features to the Player (we’ll be showcasing some of these in the days ahead). We’re currently adding the finishing touches to v 2.1 and will let you know as soon as it goes live in the iTunes App Store.

We’ve also been updating some stats for the Public Radio Player. The app now provides public radio fans 463 station streams and nearly 1,000 on-demand programs, with more added all the time. Since launching in the fall of 2008, the Player has logged a cumulative total of over 2.5 million downloads! Now, with the renewed funding for the project, we’re looking forward to making 2010 a great year for the Public Radio Player and all its fans.

About the Project &Blog &Public Radio Player &Version 2.0

This American Life launches iPhone app!

February 1st, 2010 → 3:54 pm @ // One Comment

This American Life iPhone appBig news for public radio fans and gadget geeks alike: This American Life has just launched a new iPhone app, and it’s available right now in the iTunes Store! While we’re not usually the type to blow our own horn (yeah, right), we can’t help this one because the new TAL app was built by the same development team that brought you the Public Radio Player: Public Radio Exchange (PRX).

The folks at This American Life partnered with PRX to bring streaming audio of the show’s full archives (dating way back to 1995) to your iPhone or iPod Touch. Each week, the app will automatically update to bring you the latest episode of the radio show. Add to that a number of great features — search the full archives by episode or favorite contributor, listen to TAL staff picks or set up your own list of favorites, view video from the This American Life television show, and get notifications of new episodes as soon as they become available.

More information about the app is on the PRX blog, and you can download the new This American Life app in the iTunes Store. This is sure to become an essential download for the TAL fanboys and fangirls everywhere.

Blog &More iPhone Apps

Public Radio App-apalooza

January 26th, 2010 → 11:38 am @ // 4 Comments

New AppsWhen the Public Radio Player first appeared in the fall of 2008 (known then as the Public Radio Tuner), there were an estimated 10,000 apps available in the iTunes App Store. Today there are well over 100,000 140,000! And with this amazing growth, we are seeing more and more iPhone apps for public radio lovers. We recently updated our catalog of public radio apps and were delighted to find the list nearly doubled in size. There are now nearly 40 apps alongside the Public Radio Player in the iTunes App Store. If you’re a fan of the Player, peruse the list and try out a few. And if you know of any public radio apps we missed, tell us about it in the comments.

We’re not going to let the Public Radio Player rest on its laurels. With nearly 2.5 million downloads of the Player to date, we’ve got a lot of public radio fans to keep happy! The PRX tech team is hard at work on an update to the Public Radio Player that will include some great new features. Keep an eye on this blog during the coming weeks for more details.

Blog &More iPhone Apps &Public Radio Player

NPR releases iPhone app

August 21st, 2009 → 9:35 am @ // One Comment

The list of public radio iPhone applications continues to grow, and we’d like to welcome the NPR News app to the party. As its title suggests, the NPR app provides the latest stories from the NPR.org website and audio from the hourly newscast. NPR has been a partner in the development of the Public Radio Player, and the two apps do share some common features as well as some common content and data behind the scenes. Like the Public Radio Player, you can listen to hundreds of local station streams and on-demand audio of NPR-produced content.

After playing with the NPR News app for a few days, I find it to be a great addition to public radio iPhone scene, and fans of the Public Radio Player should give it at try. From one pubradio app to another, consider this a tip ‘o the hat!

You can see the growing list of public radio iPhone apps here.

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2.0.1 update now available

August 18th, 2009 → 1:51 pm @ // 6 Comments

A few tweaks have been made to the Public Radio Player, and what version 2.0 taketh away, 2.0.1 giveth back: Your favorites list! If you had favorite stations saved on version 1.2 prior to upgrading to the new Player, they should be recovered with the 2.0.1 update. In addition, 2.0.1 will provide a faster start-up of the app and improved load times for both station streams and on-demand programs. And finally, you’ll find that search results return at a snappier pace. The update notification should be auto-pushed to your phone, so just check your App Store icon for updates and install 2.0.1 to enjoy a more finely tuned Public Radio Player. And let us know how the Player is working for you on our Give Feedback page – your comments have been a great help to the development of the Player. Thanks!

Blog &Public Radio Player &Version 2.0

Even Players need to warm up

July 24th, 2009 → 9:19 am @ // 6 Comments

After downloading the Public Radio Player, you’re probably eager to listen to all the great live streams and on-demand programs now available in the new version. But upon launching the app for the first time, you may find the Public Radio Player takes a moment before it gets going. There’s a good reason for this: the Player is hard at work. To improve streaming performance, the Player stores station schedule information locally on your device. That initial data sync causes the first launch of the app to take a little longer. If you feel the load time is stalling out, a simple exit and re-launch of the app should do the trick. But if anyone has continued problems getting started with the Public Radio Player, please let us know on our Give Feedback page.

Another known issue with the upgrade to the Public Radio Player is the loss of saved Favorites lists. Unfortunately, the transition to the new version resulted in the deletion of any saved stations you had in the previous version of the app. This is the part where we say “our bad”, and apologize for any inconvenience this has caused. But hey, why not take the opportunity to try out a few new stations as you rebuild your Favorites list?  If you have a moment, please suggest a couple of stations you think fellow Public Radio Player users should sample and add to their Favorites. I’ll get the thread started in the comments. And please keep the feedback coming – your input is a vital part of making the Public Radio Player a great iPhone app!

Blog &Public Radio Player &Version 2.0

Bit rates and ballyhoo

July 9th, 2009 → 10:19 am @ // 7 Comments

A dropped stream is the nemesis of any regular Public Radio Tuner user. Nothing is worse than being caught up in a great public radio program and have it suddenly cut out. Our goal here is to minimize the occurrences of dropped streams, and we’ve been able to improve streaming on the Tuner with each new release (and will do so again with the upcoming version 2.0). But that’s only part of the story. There are many variable that impact mobile streaming: the quality of the cellular infrastructure, the internet connections it can provide, the connection speed of your iPhone, and even the speed at which you travel.

As you can imagine, mobile streaming over an Edge or 3G connection requires that a signal reach your iPhone via the nearest cell tower. When you’re driving around town using your phone for a voice call (using a hands free earpiece, of course), cell networks are able to “pass” the call from one tower to the next without interruption. Right now, the same is not true of data connections. Stream dropouts may be inevitable if you’re on the move and leave the range of one cell tower and pick up the signal of another. At that point, your phone will be issued a new IP address and the stream connection is dropped.

There’s also the issue of the “size” of the stream and the speed of your mobile connection. This is the fun part where we get to talk about bit rates. Bit rate refers to amount of information (bits) that are conveyed or processed per second (“kbps”, or often shortened to “k”). Common bit rates for live audio streams are 32k, 64k, and 128k. A higher bit rate results in a higher sound quality for the stream. But it also means that a larger amount of information needs to be squeezed into the signal to your mobile device. So a slower Edge connection can have trouble processing a high bit rate stream. Too much information is trying to pass to your phone at one time. The result: a dropped stream.

Stations are faced with finding that perfect bit rate: one that provides a decent sound quality, but small enough to provide stable streaming over a variety of internet connections. The challenge is even greater for music stations, which want to provide high sound quality and a stereo stream (which double the bit rate demand to achieve same sound quality as a mono stream).

For streaming to the iPhone, Apple recommends a minimum bit rate of 48k. But during our testing for the Tuner, we found that an EDGE connection can be spotty for any stream above 32k. So, if a station wants to be reliable on all three iPhone connection speeds (EDGE, 3G, and Wi-fi), a 32k stream is your best bet. But that’s not going to provide great sound quality, especially for a music station.

To help users navigate these muddy waters, a new feature in the upcoming version 2.0 will provide some guidance based on a station’s bit rate. When you select a station, the app will display icons informing you which connection speeds best fit that stream. You can see them below the DUQ logo on the screenshot. (click image to enlarge)

  • If a stream’s bit rate falls under 48k, the app will show icons for EDGE, 3G, & Wifi
  • Above 48k, but under 128k, the app will show only 3G & Wifi
  • 128k will show Wifi only

There may be some instances where you are able to stream high bit station on a lower quality connection. There’s no harm in trying a 128k stream over an Edge connection – but now you have a better understanding why it might drop out while listening.

Some stations offer multiple versions of their live stream at different bit rates to allow users to enjoy the best the sound quality available based on the speed their internet connection. We encourage stations to make those multiple streams available via the Public Radio Tuner. Stations who are interested in adding or updating their current stream can do so using Public Interactive’s stream submission page.

About the Project &Blog &Version 2.0