Is Jelli the future of radio?


The success of Internet-based services is based less on innovation, and more on the ability to give the illusion of innovation by adapting well-established practices to the web.

Combine that with a seemingly endless ability to create buzz by turning nouns into verbs (think Googling), and it is easy to understand why Internet companies attract so much attention and money.

Crowdsourcing, what we called collaboration in pre-Internet times, is one example. Coined by Jeff Howe in a June 2006 Wired magazine article The Rise of Crowdsourcing, crowd-sourcing is farming out a task to a large numbers of people (a crowd). Crowdsourcing isn’t new, but the Internet has expanded its uses and given it a higher profile.

Crowdsourcing has created search algorithms, art, consumer products, television commercials, and it is the driving force behind Jelli.

This is how Jelli bills itself:

Jelli is 100% user-controlled radio, enabling users to take over a radio station using their web browsers. Leveraging the power of the web to reinvent traditional broadcasting, Jelli empowers the community to interact with the broadcast in real-time and determine dynamically what plays on the air.

Read more about the company here.

In a companion post on Pandora, we questioned whether Pandora’s music genome project was a sign of radio’s future or a throwback to radio’s past. We concluded that while Pandora exploited some strengths of the Internet, it ultimately failed to offer any advantage to radio’s historical “top down” approach to programming.

Pandora simply replaces the traditional programmer’s role with musicologists and algorithms. Jelli does something very different. It puts the listener in charge.

But like most things on the Internet, it isn’t entirely new. Listeners have been gradually wresting greater control from program directors for some time.

Early on, radio Program Directors were like Pandora’s musicologists. They were the experts, and made all the decisions. Then forward thinking music stations starting paying attention to what listeners wanted to hear.

They started tracking record sales and requests. As a result, Top 40 playlists started better reflecting music tastes. Listeners were beginning to determine what they heard on the radio.

Then, in the 1980s, Program Directors discovered music testing. Music testing provided much more information than record sales and requests. Program Directors could not only determine the songs that listeners wanted to hear, they could determine which songs listeners didn’t want to hear.

Today with continuous online music testing, playlists can be refined on a nearly daily basis. Listeners are in charge to a greater degree than ever.

Jelli has taken the next step, and created a visible realtime link from listener to radio station. Not only are listeners in charge. They know it, and can watch it play out.

Jelli is also a social network, here again evolving a station-listener relationship that has existed for years.

The all request count-down has been an evening staple of Top 40 for decades.  In a sense, Top 40 evening shows were the first social network.

Listeners could call in and vote. They could hear their friends on the radio. They could interact with the DJ. And they could directly impact what songs made the count-down.

We think the concepts behind Jelli are worth watching. It is an online evolution of several effective aspects of radio that have helped the medium remain vital and relevant for 80 years.

It shows a path and a means by which radio can evolve to improve the product while at the same time better exploiting the strengths of the Internet.

Next, we’ll turn our attention to and scrobbling. Is there a scrobble in your future?

–Glenda Shrader Bos & Richard Harker of Harker Research