Archive for April 2009
I was introduced to public radio when I was working at Cambridge around the summer of 2006. WBUR, the local NPR station was my companion everyday during my bus rides to and from work. I was a recent graduate new to the working world who thought it was high time I made an honest effort in being aware of what’s happening in the world that surrounded me. Since then, NPR has become a great source of information, entertainment and enhanced my overall awareness of the world around me.
Despite being a regular listener, I had not really thought of the reasons why I liked NPR so much until I heard a recent episode of a On Point with Tom Ashbrook, one of the many shows that I listen to on a regular basis. The guest on that show was NPR’s CEO, Vivian Schiller who talked about the popularity of NPR and the whole public radio experience. The show shed some light on NPR’s success which is especially impressive in the current times when newspapers are struggling to survive. Listeners called in to share their NPR experience and give ideas on how to make the listener experience even better.
It is fairly evident that NPR is popular, both based on the listener comments on the show’s website and elsewhere. Some love it because it brings them comprehensive coverage of news and other stories. Others like it because it brings a smile to their faces. Then there are a few who like its specific coverage of areas that they care most about. Rarely you will find some that are shallow and like NPR because they think its cool (I hope this is a small group of people).
The reason I love NPR is a combination of all of the above (except for “I like it coz it makes me look cool”). I love the in depth coverage of the latest news stories pertaining to anything from pressing world issues to local news. I rely on their analysis of the financial markets and economy because I have limited time and capacity to understand all the moving pieces on my own. They are there right when I am looking for some laughs on the weekends or when I want to look beyond the news and get to know the people that are affected by it and their stories. Then there are shows like On Point and Fresh Air that look at everything under the sun and create an amazing learning (and entertaining) experience for the listener. Most of all, I love NPR because they have managed to adapt to changing times when most other news sources and television networks have struggled to do so.
I have to admit that if it was not for the portability of NPR, I probably would not be able to listen to it as much as I do now (I listen to most of the show as podcasts). They understand that their listeners do not always have time to listen to the show when its aired on their local stations. So they have made majority of their shows available for users to listen whenever they can in the form of podcasts. They have also been able to adopt new media and interact with their listeners through Facebook & Twitter. I feel there is a lot companies can learn from NPR and its success on how to engage their audience and get valuable insight and feedback from them to enhance the customer experience.
But that is a conversation for some other time. In the meantime, I just want to share with everyone why I love NPR. If you are someone who listens to NPR and have stumbled across my blog, please feel free to share your reasons for loving/loathing NPR.
UPDATE: Just watched Ira Glass on Colbert Report and realized that PRI and NPR are competing companies. However, since my exposure to them is through NPR member stations and since these shows are part of NPR, this does not change anything that I mention above. I do want to give PRI the credit for bringing This American Life to its audience every weekend. I also would like to acknowledge that Marketplace is produced by American Public Media.
I am usually open to changes, sometimes even a little too eager to be an early adopter. I admire developers and companies that constantly revisit their design decisions and add features to increase usability of their product and enhance the user experience. Google, especially in case of GMail, has been the poster child of this style of development and Facebook has been an exemplary follower of this style. In few short years, Facebook has managed to not only generate a huge userbase but also has become a platform for businesses all over to reach out to their users and get valuable feedback.
While I have been critical, I have been in favor of most of the features that were added (I wish Facebook allowed me to link to a particular status like Twitter does so I can link instances here but you are going to have to take my word for it on this one). I have generally liked the layouts and have been tolerant of them mixing advertisements with highlights on the home page. However, they recently did something that has hit a nerve and I am not the only one.
Jo Lilore hits the nail on the head when he says “Facebook needs a User Experience intervention.” I understand that they are trying to attract businesses to use facebook as the platform of choice for their marketing and customer outreach campaigns, especially with Twitter’s popularity soaring among businesses. However, they are completely missing the point that businesses will not be there when all the users leave. For me, People you may know was a useful feature that helped me connect with old friends. It was not perfect by any means but the noise in the data was bearable. With the conversion into Suggestions, Facebook has made it almost impossible to find old friends among Mylie Cyrus, Jonas Brothers and any other sad excuse for a celebrity elevated to stardom by MTV, VH1, or any other channel with majority if viewrship going to teenagers.
It seems that Facebook is trying to capture any piece of the market that Twitter has won over and they are doing so at the user’s expense. Twitter is lightweight tool with an excellent API and while Facebook allows one to do much more than have live conversations, majority of businesses are interested in just these conversations (and conversations are where Twitter shines). While Facebook pages and application platform have been popular marketing platform for businesses, they are quickly realizing that they can engage with their audience in the same way with a lot less effort using Twitter.
The one thing that is going for Facebook is that it has a large user base and there are still quite a few people who do not “get” Twitter. However, if Facebook continues to annoy users by constantly “suggesting” what people/products/things they should be a fan, its userbase is going to plateau and the time that users spend on the site is going to go down.
UPDATE: There are a few things that Facebook could do where I think users would be ok with it marketing celebrities/products/services.It could give the user the option to hide the suggestions portion so that you no longer have to deal with it. However, this would be similar to TVs giving you the option to skip/hide commercials which we all know is not going to happen. The other option would be for Facebook to use a better algorithm where it uses information the user has provided to best guess who they might actually would be a fan of rather that just showing a slew of people loosely based on the fact that one of your facebook friends became a fan. I am sure they can do a better job than that. This is one way they can emulate Google.
I decided that it might be a good idea to aggregate as much of my online identity under one umbrella/handle as possible. So here is my brand new blog with all the information imported from my old blog. To be honest, the only thing that is new is the URL. Everything else looks the same. Thanks to great people at WordPress, the move was easy and seamless. Yay for changes!
Recently, a friend of mine was charged for over usage by her wireless provider, whose initials I will not disclose here. My friend was shocked as the provider’s online account management system failed to inform her that she had no minutes left. Outraged, she called the customer service and the representative told her that she should have checked her minutes using her phone as the information available online was not accurate. Frustrated with this and previous nightmarish experiences with the provider, she threatened to switch but failed to get any reaction from the rep. Feeling helpless, she paid the amount and decided that she will take her business somewhere else once her contract expires.
I only came to know about this via her outraged facebook status:
can’t wait until June when I can actually end my contract with <provider>. Worst customer service!!!
When I inquired further, she told me the whole story. Having spent multiple hours on the customer service line of the said provider myself, I could relate to her frustrations. It did not make sense that a customer has to pay for a limitation in the provider’s reporting system. I decided to contact the customer service (via e-mail because I knew better) and was told that usage information retrieved via the web as well as the phone are both an estimate and it is up to the user to use caution as they get closer to the limit. That meant that the customer service rep was incorrect to tell my friend that she should have checked her minutes using her phone. SHOCKER, I know!
I myself was absolutely unaware of this delay in reporting. Since they said it was due to technical reasons, I was curious if only this provider was plagued by this limitation. Turns out that at least one other major provider also has the same limitation. Since this seems to be a common problem, I am okay with just estimates. However, this information needs to be clearly communicated to the user wherever usage estimates are displayed.
I want to make it clear that the provider in question does communicate this delay at the very bottom of the usage page. However, there is no clear indication at the beginning of the page that will inform the user that they should look for this additional information. It would be much better if a succinct version of the disclosure with a link to a detailed version was displayed wherever these estimates appear so that the user is fully informed about the limitation of the reporting system. With the current placement of this information at the bottom of the page, majority of users are not going to be aware of this limitation unless they or someone they know are slammed with over usage fees.
I recommended that the provider make the aforementioned changes and the representative I was in contact with has promised to forward my suggestions to the people responsible for the website. Let’s hope for the sake of customers & the provider that they make these changes. When companies grow as big as these providers, they often tend to lose sight of little things. In the days before, getting your voice heard was difficult but internet in its current form has given us a truly remarkable power to bring these issues to light and force change for the better. To better understand true power bestowed onto customers and new expectations from companies, I recommend that you read The Cluetrain Manifesto.
I leave you with the following excerpt from the book:
…People of Earth
The sky is open to the stars.
Clouds roll over us night and day.
Oceans rise and fall.
Whatever you may have heard, this is our world, our place to be.
Whatever you’ve been told, our flags fly free.
Our heart goes on forever.
People of Earth, remember.