NPR.org’s new website: The challenge of real-time

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Without a doubt, the newly re-launched NPR.org website is tremendously improved.

From a story about the relaunch of NPR.org in today’s New York Times:

“The changes to NPR’s Web site are intended to make it easier for users to find NPR news reports on a less cluttered home page, or to jump to two other areas of emphasis, Arts and Life, and Music. Breaking news is already being posted faster, after a merger of NPR’s radio and digital news desks, and a regimen of Knight Foundation-financed digital training for NPR’s journalists. Searching for, sharing and commenting on NPR articles will be simpler, and free transcripts will be offered for the first time. By next year, when NPR expects to have secured the digital rights, the site will offer entire NPR programs for downloading on demand.”

As I mentioned in a “link note” last week, I really like the way in which they’ve used their NPR story-telling skills to help explain how to use the site. I’m a big believer in using video how-tos whenever introducing new products and this screencast of Scott Simon explaining the new website is one of the best I’ve ever seen.

A cool feature you may not notice at first: I’ve written before about how great the “add to playlist” feature is on the section of the site that was introduced about a year ago, NPR.org/music. The new site adds this feature to any segment from NPR programming, allowing a listener to mix up their own programming. Log in and use the “Add to Playlist” feature to see what I’m talking about.

Even cooler: If you’d like to mix up some programming for listening on an iPod while, say, jogging as I did this morning, you can download any segment. In other words, I was able to, with a few clicks, edit my own version of a 30 minute Morning Edition that I listened to while jogging. Longtime NPR.org users will notice they are now posting the audio of individual news segments on eastern time and only delaying the entire show posting to west coast time. (Note to NPR: You could title the segments in a more listener-friendly way.)

I could go on-and-on with kudos about the savvyness of the site, but here are a couple of concerns:

1. The challenge NPR faces with the whole local thing: This issue is too complex for me to tackle now. Last week, on this thread of a post on PaidContent.org, I and others discussed the issue some as it relates to the incredible iPhone app called Public Radio Player — that is not an NPR product but allows you to listen to any NPR affiliated station, along with other non-commercial radio stations. (The app is nothing short of amazing — and I’ll be posting about it separately later this week.) The ability for a listener to mix his or her own NPR content makes it extremely important for local NPR affiliates to have uniquely local programming — which can be an expensive challenge. On the surface of it, it might appear that having a national site like the new NPR.org that makes it easy to circumvent the local stations, would be a bad thing for the local stations — and it might be. Like I said, this topic is too big to tackle here.

2. The challenge of real time: With the old format of the site, if I was listening to a program, after almost every news program segment, the show’s host would say something like, “to listen to a chapter from John Smith’s new book, go to NPR.org” and if I did, right there on the front of the site would be a picture of John Smith. In other words, it was assumed I was listening to the radio and did the “going to NPR.org” immediately. But, of course, we can’t do that when we’re driving down the highway. This morning, the hosts were still using the same line, “Go to NPR.org” with invitations regarding specific content, but the front page does little to provide the listener with an idea of where to find the content. For example, the host said, “To read a chapter of David Baldacci’s new book, visit our website, NPR.org.” If you want to click around, you can find it, but the hosts are going to need to start giving better clues for where to go, for example: “Visit the Morning Edition program rundown at NPR.org?”

I’m sure there will be lots of other nitpiks with the site, but all-in-all, it’s a rather remarkable treasure that shows a lot of work and investment went into it.

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  • Thanks for the heads up about the Web site overhaul, Rex. I think you make a very good point here:

    This morning, the hosts were still using the same line, “Go to NPR.org” with invitations regarding specific content, but the front page does little to provide the listener with an idea of where to find the content.

    To me, this is comparable to magazines that tease a story on their cover and then make it difficult to find the story in their table of contents. I love that many magazines now have the page numbers for stories on their covers. NPR needs to keep making online content that they reference on the Web easily visible from the home page.