National Public Radio, the US radio network too long lagging in the technology department, relaunched NPR Music late last night. The new site is a real joy to use. While the old NPR website ran all media through RealPlayer or Windows Media, the new site employs a slick Flash pop-up player that's easy to use. The site also integrates media from 12 leading local NPR affiliates. Say what you will about their politics - NPR does a great job on music.
The new player works not just at NPR Music, but across all NPR properties. It lets you click a single link anywhere on the site to add an audio file you're reading about to your playlist. Playlists will run continuously and link back out to the articles they were derived from. In testing the site I was able to quickly assemble a playlist of both single songs and hour-long concert performances. Playback was very smooth in most circumstances though switching between multiple hour-long recordings sometimes took awhile to buffer.
In addition to the ability to quickly put together your own playlists, the new NPR Music site highlights a wide variety of pre-built playlists: from Yo-Yo Ma's Top Five Faves to five of the best songs recently released in Africa, courtesy of the hosts of the show "All Songs Considered." In an increasingly unmanageable world, expert aggregation in any field is a top-notch value add.
There's non-skippable interstitial ads, some recommended songs, shows and live concert recordings and hip celebrity music blogs (including one from my neighbor, Portland guitarist Carrie Brownstein, former member of Sleater-Kinney). NPR has truly joined the present age. Let's hope they can keep that development cycle up and not rely on the current site for the next ten years.
See also our recent coverage of the excellant new NPR Mobile site.