Anyone who has talked to me recently will be used to the refrain, “So, I heard on the radio/a podcast that…” and some astounding story goes from there. I am obsessed. As this obsession grows, I find myself streaming narrative audio wherever I can get it. I’d like to take you along as I combine two of my passions: radio and being critical of — I mean learning from — things that other people created.
Gimlet Media website
Gimlet Media is a relative newcomer to the podcast scene. They produce a number of shows that are funny and insightful, including some of my favorites: Reply All and The Mystery Show. I don’t know about you, but I consider 45 minutes fairly productive if I can laugh, cry, and sigh with the satisfaction of gaining new insight into the human condition in that short period of time. These shows will do that for you.
Oh, that is a sweet content placeholder. While the audio player and file load (via Soundcloud) you get a nice build up, always better than staring at a blank screen thinking your internet broke. They are clearly letting the audio content speak for itself, rather than fancy images or lengthy descriptions for each episode. I’m into it. A couple critiques though: you can’t pause a piece and return to where you were listening last and you can’t really browse other pages while listening without opening a new tab. Those hiccups meant that I didn’t end up finishing a couple pieces I started listening to!
In conclusion: 👍
Stitcher brings podcasts all into one app. The idea is that all of your favorite shows appear in a stream without you having to painfully deliberate over what you are going to listen to next (speaking from experience here, people). This all seems great.
I get it, Stitcher, you’re ambitious. Who doesn’t love some ambition? That, plus being able to hear all my podcasts in one place — pretty neat. That said, getting started with the app was just jumping over a bunch of hurdles of signing on and permissions. A more effective approach would be to wait for the moment when they need my info and I could directly benefit from creating a password.
There is also an intro animation showing us the evolution of radio throughout the ages. It was fun, but it left me feeling a little flat — just throwing on some pizzazz for pizzazz’s sake. I don’t know that I’ll be using this one all that often, and I didn’t get beyond the on-boarding process.
In conclusion: 👎
After losing the last part of 2014 to my obsession with Serial season 1, I’ve been on pins and needles waiting for the next season of this deep, journalistic dive into a single true crime story. It is here, people, and I am listening intently.
My, my, my, that beautiful, subtle animation in the hero image. Let the story begin! Play an episode and — wait for it — as you travel throughout the site, the AUDIO PLAYS CONTINUOUSLY. The audio player is just pinned to the bottom of your browser. So nice. Going to ignore the unlabeled hamburger menu. Heaven is a place on earth, and it is this website (not the circumstances that the subjects undergo, to be clear).
In conclusion: 👍
The Memory Palace website
The Memory Palace is a lovely collection of forgotten or overlooked stories and people from history. Episodes rarely run longer than 10 minutes. Each one is incredibly moving and always leaves me feeling pleasantly melancholy.
Simple and sweet. Sort of like this stories you hear here (although they are more likely short and melancholy, but whatever). Those lovely colors paired with historic images. That blurred text. Let’s be real though — it’s not responsive, and I don’t even want to tell you what happens when you select an episode to listen to…this site is showing its age, but I’ve still got a soft spot for it.
In conclusion: 👎*
*very reluctant on this one
NPR One app
The NPR One app provides a stream of localized National Public Radio content. I already love this on my analog radio, might as well enjoy it while taking the bus too, right? Well, spoiler alert: I did enjoy it.
Elegance, style, quality programming. I can go on and on. The onboarding experience? (Shout out to User Onboard — I want to get your take on this.) Impeccable! This app is making sure that nothing is getting between me and the soothing tones of my favorite NPR reporters. Highly recommended.
In conclusion: 👍
What did I learn, anyway?
The most successful examples above really honed in on their main distinguishing features before branching out.
A solid foundation, both design and concept-wise, makes for a better product. Beyond that, they pared down how they presented their ideas. They did not bombard the user with requests and features, but instead revealed new things at the point of need (the NPR One app didn’t ask the user to log in before they got to see how wonderful the app is).
Attention to detail went a long way (remember that subtle loading animation for Gimlet Media?). A little usability testing of the Stitcher onboarding process paired with a competitive analysis could have gone a long way (Stitcher — I’d be happy to help you out!).
There will always be something new and exciting on the horizon (Memory Palace, I hope that you’ve got something new and responsive coming out soon!), but following best practices can make for a site or app that keeps users engaged for the long term.