Tuesday, March 3, 2009

National Public Radio (NPR) goes mobile

clip_image002 I’ve had a love/hate relationship with NPR over the years. There’s lots to like about NPR, for it has some great content and unique programming along with being one of the few sources of classical music. I like Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor, and Car Talk with those zany brothers. I appreciate Fresh Air, All Things Considered, and the news.

On the other hand, NPR has some serious negative features in my opinion. On the weekends, it has that awful Celtic music, which is repetitive, boring, and banal. Who would choose to listen to that stuff? And yet it goes on and on, year after year. There must be some heavy-duty, deluded sponsor who keeps it going. Certainly there could be far better, more creative programming to fill that slot. For a supposedly commercial-free platform, I grow weary hearing about their sponsors incessantly, and solicitations for more sponsors.

An improvement I would suggest is broadcasting scrolling text for the music being played and the composer/artist. I certainly appreciate this feature when listening to satellite radio and many other AM/FM stations. News can be broadcast this way as well while multi-tasking with other programming. I suppose it could also be used for mentioning sponsors. Perhaps this will change when stations begin HD broadcasting. But then how many people will have radios capable of receiving HD signals?

Another problem with NPR is that it seems every time I turn it on there is a fundraiser going on and on and on. While it bugs me, I usually fork over a donation every year because I want to support what I do like. However, it is usually a major inconvenience to make a contribution. I would be much more inclined to do so and more regularly if it were possible to do on my mobile phone or with PayPal instead of having to write a check, find a stamp/envelope, go to post office—fergetaboutit. Dropping everything to call on the phone and digging out a credit card isn’t much better. Get with it NPR—go mobile.

clip_image004 Actually, NPR has gone mobile with a truncated version of its full Website. You can access it at www.mobile.npr.org. You’d think they would have used www.npr.mobi instead. There is a decent array of offerings there including “Local” News, Most Popular Stories, Story of the Day, Music, Politics, Business, Health and Science, Movies, Books, Interviews, Commentary, Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me! Quiz. Opening each of these headings brings up mostly text stories, but if the word “call” is next to a story, you can get a recording.

There are some 35 “local” stations representing only the larger markets. If you want to listen to one of these stations, you can place a “call” to connect. This could cost serious money if don’t have the right data plan. Hasn’t NPR ever heard of Wi-Fi? You can search for a station in your area by zip code or city name, but chances are it will not be online if it’s in a smaller market. There is also an opportunity to donate to your “local” station. But, again, it’s only the large market stations. The joke is that they give you a phone number to call. NPR just doesn’t get it, and is losing out on the power of mobile phones as a tool for charitable contributions.

I think they need to retool their entire money-raising machine. It’s outmoded and annoying. I recently sent our regional NPR fundraising representative a proposal for an innovative approach to fundraising that would have generated a sustainable residual income. She didn’t even have the courtesy to respond. It’s a good thing she doesn’t work for me; she would be looking for another job without a recommendation.

What amuses me is that the mobile version does not even mention RSS feeds, Podcasts, links for iPhone/Blackberry, text only site, API archives, Newsletters, MobiRadio, or Mspot. What about Windows Mobile?

NPR seems to be totally unencumbered with any knowledge of the interactive possibilities of mobile technology. There isn’t even an opinion section on the mobile version, nor are there any blogs. NPR needs to hire someone knowledgeable in Web 2.0. NPR is missing so many opportunities. It should have a presence on all the social networks. It should be Twittering away with timely Tweets. It should be texting and allowing its sponsors to have contests, sales, promotions, conducting surveys, texting coupons, sending out optimized mobile sites, and MMS messages as well. What an incredible waste not to be building an opt-in subscriber base for fundraising and communication purposes. Shame on NPR. Does NPR stand for Neo-Paleolithic Radio?

I suppose congratulations should be extended to NPR for offering a mobile version, but it is so lacking in mobile technology features that it is pathetic. One does wonder about in what century the mobile site was built. While it is certainly a start in the right direction, there is much room for improvement, which I hope will be forthcoming before the next ice age. Meanwhile I shall restrict my NPR experience to listening via satellite radio over Wi-Fi.


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