Tune in, Turn on, Say nice things

So now my dream app is ready on the iPhone. It’s just the beginning of What It Will Be, but it’s highly useful. If you have an iPhone, go there and check it out. It’s free.

As you see here, I’m involved, through the Berkman Center, which is collaborating with , which is working under a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (). Major props go to the PRX developers, who have been working very very hard on this thing. Some of the most diligent heads-down programming I’ve seen.

An interesting thing. In the old days, when an app came out, in any form, on nearly any platform, there was this assumption that it was a Done Thing, and should be critiqued on those grounds. Not the case here. This is a work in progress, and the process is open. In the long run, we should see much more opened up as well.

Paranthetically, I think right now we’re looking at some cognitive dissonance between the Static Web and the Live Web, when the latter seems to look like the former. You have a website, or an app. These seem to be static things, even when they’re live. An app like the Public Radio Tuner is more of a live than a static thing. But it’s easy, as a user, to relate to it as a static thing. Because at any one time it does have more static qualities than live ones. Imagine a house you can remodel easily and often, and at low cost and inconvenience. That’s kind of what we have here. A cross between product and process — that looks the former even when it’s doing the latter. Anyway…

Though this grant is for an iTunes app, work is sure to go on to other platforms as well — such as Android. So, rather than criticize this app for coming out first on the iPhone, please provide feedback and guidance for next steps beyond this first effort (and join me in giving the developers a high five for delivering a functional app in a remarkably short time). And in the reviews section at iTunes, provide honest and constructive reviews. At this stage I’m sure they’ll be good. (Some of the bad reviews were on the very first version released, which has since been replaced.)

To VRM followers and community members, VRM is very much on the agenda, and we’re thinking and working hard on what the VRM pieces of this will be, and how they’ll work. This may be the first piece of work where VRM components appear, and we want to do them right. Also bear in mind that this is the first step on a long, interesting and fruitful path. Or many paths. Interest and guidance is welcome there too.



  1. Jonathan Peterson’s avatar

    Why would anyone hate your app coming out on iphone “first”. Unless I greatly misunderstand what you have there – the Android has had an NPR podcast app that can pull down any NPR shows over wifi or 3g for a month or more:

    A couple other generic podcast apps, and several streaming mp3 apps that play various public radio stations.

  2. Mary Lu’s avatar

    Hope you’re aware that ClearChannel’s also got Iheartradio.com online as a “virtual radio” app for the iPhone as well. It’s broadcasting everything CC has online.

  3. Doc Searls’s avatar


    First, as an editor for Linux Journal, and with lots of friends in the FOSS (free open source software) community, I will naturally get (and in fact have already received) questions about why we came out with something on iPhone first. Also, I believe Android needs the support. So do other open platforms (Maemo, OpenMoko, et. al.).

    Second, NPR is a subset of public broadcasting (although it is the big kahuna there), and podcasting is not the same as streaming. We call this a tuner because it tunes streams. If somebody else comes out with a good stream tuner on Android (and other platforms), that’s cool. We’re not looking for market share here. Just to organize public radio streams, make them easier to find and listen to, and finally easier for listeners to pay for voluntarily. That last part is where VRM comes in.

  4. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Mary Lu,

    CC has its tuner. AOL has one that covers CBS stations and a few others. The Public Radio Tuner just does public radio stations.

    My preference in the long run is for tuners that cover all streams, and make it easy for listeners to add whatever stations they like. The AM/FM radio in your car or your kitchen doesn’t tune just Clear Channel or Public stations. Nor should the ones on your mobile device.

    User control and contribution is paramount.

    But it’s still early. There are many different stream codecs, bitrates, and degrees of metadata use. Many stations make it hard to find their streams, change URLs and IP addresses on a whim, and imagine that listeners only use browsers.

    What we’re doing with the Public Radio Tuner is not just making one broad category of streams easy to “tune,” but bringing a consistency on the “transmitting” side as well. In the long run you’ll see more useful metadata — such as program information — alongside the streams, rather than just a station logo or slogan. You’ll be able to tune more ways.

    You’ll also be able to keep track of your listening — for your own purposes, and not just for the promotional purposes of the stations or program producers. This will be your data. And that data will come in handy when you decide what you want to pay for. A whole business model for otherwise free content will arise out of this. At ProjectVRM we’ve been thinking about this, and working, for a long time. In many ways, what we’re working on here is finishing the job Cluetrain started.

    Anyway, stay tuned. 🙂

  5. smithee’s avatar

    >>This will be your data. And that data will come in handy when you decide what you want to pay for. <<
    Yes! I want to pay for public radio and I want to pay for the kind of public radio that I listen to. Can’t wait to have that feature.

  6. tim’s avatar

    Damn, Doc, glad to know you’re involved with this, and glad to know metadata is coming. I have a 1G iPhone, and need to know the bandwidth so I don’t try to stream 128kbps over Edge.

  7. Doc Searls’s avatar


    One handy thing about the otherwise somewhat lame AT&T system is that unlimited data is among their standard plans. So I don’t have to worry about “consuming too much data” or whatever you might call it. I just listen to whatever I like.

  8. Steve Laufer’s avatar

    Yes I have nice things to say! This is something I have dreamed of for years. The recent upgrade was extremely well done.

    Many thanks to the team and for continuing the work necessary to VRM-ize this “app”.

    As a new media director at a public station I must ponder how it makes our world larger and smaller, but i love it.

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