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Pitfalls of the Infinite Playlist

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Were you a child of the 70s, 80s, or 90s? If you were, you probably remember your first music album — whether it was on vinyl, cassette, or CD.

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Mine was a cassette tape of The Doors Greatest Hits.

The album had a distinct beginning, middle and end — starting slowly with Hello, I Love You and ending in a flurry with LA Woman. I enjoyed taking that journey with Jim each time I listened.

Beginning with the original iPod’s promise of “1000 songs in your pocket,” today’s model of the seemingly infinite playlist, while on the one hand amazing, has, as a side effect, devalued each song and has obscured the album as we once knew it.

At Otto Radio, we recognize the same challenge with news and podcasts.

While TV stations still provide an encapsulated broadcast due to the linear nature of the medium and programmed time constraints, most on-demand news sources subscribe to the infinite playlist.

This puts the burden of search and curation on the user. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have time to make the perfect playlist everyday.

We’ve become a generation of “content surfers” navigating a vast, sometimes overwhelming sea of music and information.

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Jerry Seinfeld foreshadowed the content-surfing generation with his observation: “Men don’t care what’s on TV. They only care what ELSE is on TV.”

How then can we avoid being overwhelmed in this new world of the infinite playlist?

A Little Science for Ammo

To answer this question, let’s consider how our brain processes information.

It turns out that, unlike Jim Morrison, most of us are at peace with clarity and order.

We can break down the way our brains process information into three categories of cognitive load:

  1. Intrinsic: The inherent complexity of the subject matter . Think quantum mechanics. Not much to do here except simplify. Think Science for Dummies.
  2. Extraneous: The noise surrounding the subject matter. We want to minimize this noise with good design.
  3. Germane: The schema or framework that commonly surrounds the subject matter. This can be positive if a little germane load up front makes intrinsic understanding easier. Think tables of content, floor plans and flowcharts.

Could it be then, that the infinite playlist, with its lack of focus and structure, increases distractions and deprives us of the germane cognition necessary to better comprehend the material within?

Addressing the Challenge

We’ve addressed these challenges, at the core of our product, by presenting a curated, structured broadcast matched to the length of your commute.

Our curation process is based on your interests and feedback. So, you’ll get more of the stories you want the more you listen.

The structured, finite broadcast allows you to focus on the material by knowing what type of content to expect next and how much of it you’re going to get.

The Otto Radio broadcast has a consistent structure (like a table of contents), so you’ll know to expect news flashes, then podcasts, then in-depth articles in that order, every time.

Our goal is to move away from surfing endless stories, and move toward the “album” model, so you can experience a broadcast that you’ll love from beginning to end.