Rivet - a personalised news radio app

Reviewing Rivet - a good new service that shows the future

By James Cridland
Posted 8 June 2015, 8.00am bst

A while back, I reviewed NPR One - an app that gives you a personalised version of NPR, including local and national news and reports the algorithm thinks you'd be interested in.

Chicago-based Rivet Radio does something similar. It has just raised $3.6m in funding, but has been operating since the end of 2013. It offers Apple and Android apps - I tried Android.

Signing in used Facebook, which was straightforward enough, and the app then asked me what kind of thing I was interested in from a big list, to get the personalisation off to a good start.

Rivet makes much of the audio inside the service itself. The first thing I heard was a newscast, then a few individual stories, all read by the same guy, who I'd like to think was called Bob, but probably wasn't. He wasn't called Charlie, I can guarantee that.

The individual stories were interesting, if not particularly thrilling. They were typically slightly longer news pieces, sometimes with some audio of an interviewee. The measured voice of Bob, clearly a broadcast pro, was a good listen.

And then the algorithm let me down a little. It decided that I was so interested in a recall of trucks after a safety issue - a story that contained a thrillingly long list of models - that it would play it again to me. Which was sad, because things were going quite well.

Then, bizarrely - "thank you, Charlie", said a woman from Bloomberg Radio. Rivet Radio also has bits from other broadcasters, and I'd happened upon one. Never mind that Bob wasn't called Charlie, the lady then went on to conduct quite an interesting interview about something or other, followed by a "coming up on Blomberg Radio..." tease, which was strange because a) I wasn't listening to Bloomberg Radio, and b) none of these things came up next, because next was a clip from a tech show from TWiT.

The TWiT clip I heard contained a few unidentified voices talking in very deep detail about operations per second of a RAID array, with at least one reference to what was happening on screen. It lacked an intro or an ending: it was a clipped piece from a larger podcast.

At the end of that was an advert (untargeted), then a few more Rivet-produced pieces from Bob, which worked well.

As a service, it was pretty good. I didn't hear anything that screamed out as stuff I wouldn't be interested in; I only skipped one piece, and I found the ad fitted in well, if entirely irrelevant to a UK listener. Audio levels were consistent, clips played relatively fluidly (though some pieces were clipped at the start), and it was an impressive service. The app itself was clean-looking, too.

Unlike NPR One, Rivet also gives you a neat little notification every morning with a news headline it thinks you'd like to know, drawing you in to the service. That's cute, and that worked well. (I've done a bunch of research into app notifications for clients).

Editorially, however, the wide range of audio sources it uses was a drawback, not benefit: the TWiT stuff was a bit random, really technical and didn't work well as standalone content; the Bloomberg stuff could have been clipped rather better to avoid "thanks, Charlie".

Overall, though, if you tire of the sing-song NPR voices and prefer something a little more straightforward, Rivet might keep you riveted enough during a morning commute. And that's probably for the best.

James Cridland — James runs, and is a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business. He also publishes a free daily newsletter about podcasting, Podnews, and a weekly radio trends newsletter.