When I listen to a really excellent episode of a podcast, I rarely share it with anyone. For such an intimate and engaging medium, listening to podcasts can be a very isolated experience.
Any podcast fan knows the frustration of trying to get a friend to listen to a show or episode you know they will love with no success. Sharing a podcast is nothing like gchatting a funny clip of Broad City or sending a great New Yorker longread from my Pocket queue via email to a friend.
Despite the success of a certain SNL-parody level of fame podcast, podcasts aren't “suddenly back” — they've just been steadily growing in audience, ad dollars, fundraising, networks and acquisitions. And sort of in technology — but not as much as I'd like as a listener.
One of my favorite developments in digital audio in recent months has actually been an email newsletter: Hot Pod, a weekly curation of industry news, podcast recommendations, interviews and other tidbits.
Creator of Hot Pod, Nick Quah, put out an open call for opinions on technological barriers facing podcasts in response to a tweet I posted after attending a “Radio on the Internet” panel at WNYC (at which Nick was a panelist) and another panel on podcasting at The New School.
I sent Nick some of my thoughts, which he posted in this week’s newsletter, and I thought I'd expand a bit on them here (and give some shout outs to the folks already working on addressing some of these problems!)
About once a day I get very frustrated that I can’t easily tweet a really funny or sweet or sad moment of the podcast I'm listening to.
The morning after Harris Wittels died, I was listening to his fairly recent interview on You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes, and there was this gut flipping, eerie moment. I wanted to capture that moment. I wanted, as we sometimes do when someone we admire but don't personally know passes, to share it. I want to share it now, but the best I can do is tell you to go here and listen to 15:33–15:52.
The newly launched Audiosear.ch from the folks at Pop Up Archive lets users search for key words in a text transcript (!) of a podcast (only shows hosted on SoundCloud for now) and share links to audio at particular start points (like YouTube allows) like this (so meta):
I love a good pull quote, but wouldn't it be great if I could click on that quote and hear the corresponding audio (especially with Twitter’s audio cards), right in my twitter or instagram feed?
I'd love to see audio clips integrated into text more often. This Washington Post article combines two of my loves: song lyrics and in-line audio! It utilizes the nifty inline audio clip player creator Soundcite.
Where is the Instagram for audio? Why isn’t there a hugely popular open audio sharing platform yet? There are many reasons why this hasn't happened quite yet… but that is perhaps a post for another time.
I use Evernote as my memory and Pocket as my personal library. When I come across a quote I love in an article I am reading in Pocket, I can save it directly to Evernote.
Most of the moments and episodes of podcasts I love, I’ve lost.
I need more than just a (untrustworthy) mental file of my favorite podcast episodes. I need to be able to archive old episodes with an easy way to sort by host, guest, topic, etc. (Popup Archive is working on these types of tags).
I need to be able to “drop a pin” or “bookmark” segments within audio, a similar action to leaving a comment in SoundCloud, but for personal use.
Side note: I often complain about how fragmented music sharing is, but podcast sharing is just the worst. It is a very siloed experience.
When Nick shares podcast recommendations in Hot Pod, there is no easy way for me to add those episodes directly to my listening queue. When Slate shares a list of the best podcast episodes ever there is no easy way for me to make a playlist or add these to my queue.
I often use Bop.fm, a content resolution service for music, to create playlists that include songs from SoundCloud and YouTube and Rdio and Spotify. The service lets users share universal song links and playlists that work for everyone by automatically detecting the user’s best available source. It isn’t optimized for podcasts, but I was able to find a few random episodes I like from SoundCloud and YouTube and create a playlist here:
I personally don't want to listen to a pre-roll ad for Jaguar on Stitcher before I listen to a podcast that also has ads. I don’t know where that money is going and I don’t know if the people who created the show that follows approved that ad. I’d rather listen to a pledge drive (I don’t want to listen to a pledge drive).
I’d like to support the shows I love directly, in a simple way.
In the future I imagine a modernized system of pledging. Kickstarter is great for raising the funds to start a project, but how do we create a system that continuously and consistently supports podcasts? I like the Drip.fm and Patreon models which let users pledge to individual projects per month (Patreon does have a per podcast episode option), but what I imagine is a bit more analgolous to Google Contributor.
I’d love a podcast service that lets users set a monthly pledge amount on a sliding scale that is algorithmically recommended based on the time that user spends listening (maybe a casual listener spends $2–4 while a fanatic listener spends $8–10, etc.) Not quite like subscription streaming a la Netflix or Spotify (where there is little transparency on how subscription fees are allocated to creators). That fee should be allocated between the shows I listen to, not evenly but based on listening hours/number of plays (the more I listen to a show, the greater percentage of my monthly pledge it receives).
As a user, I’d get detailed listening analytics on how many hours/month I spent listening to You Made It Weird vs. The Moment with Brian Koppelman, Radiotopia shows vs. Panopoly, etc. (sort of like a podcast version of Last.fm). I could earn badges and swag by reaching levels of financial support and total hours listened (imagine a podcast listener leaderboard where listeners compete in an uber fan ranking.)
Is there an industry standard for audience measurement? The problem with using listens vs listeners vs downloads vs downloaders is very well covered in this Medium piece by Pete Davies:
So many issues here with data duplication and lack of insight into actual listening behavior. There needs to be a weekly podcast episode chart that ranks the most listened to episodes of the week, from a variety of data sources (iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud, Overcast, etc). There are obviously hurdles with proprietary data here but I’d be very interested in building a podcast chart and would love to hear thoughts and opinions on an ideal ranking formula/
Why I Love Podcasts
“Podcasts get you through the boring, repetitive, and grueling parts of the day, when your body is busy, but your mind is free.” ~ from The Verge
Listening to podcasts is this precious time for me when I am not looking at a screen. Not reading. Just listening and laughing and learning and feeling connected. At a podcast panel just the week before he passed, David Carr spoke a little about turning to audio storytelling as a response to being overwhelmed by text:
“I have been staring at text since I got up.
All this shit is whooshing by me all the time”
Audio competes for attention, not just amongst itself (my own podcast listening has started to eclipse my music listening, which freaks me out a bit as someone who works in the music industry) but against text, video and the rest of your life. And audio has some handicaps in that competition: You can’t skim it. It doesn’t go viral. It’s really hard to share and discover within the feeds most of us use to filter our daily input.
Podcasts have been quietly, subtly adopting all the best lessons from the total digital upending of the music, publishing and television industries, while continually experimenting with such pure heart and passion — covering and connecting to niches in wonderful ways.
I would love to hear opinions on this and to continue the discussion! I’m on twitter @emwhitenoise.
Note: this is not my area of technological expertise and I am not a podcast creator or distributor myself, just an invested listener! There are a plethora of tech barriers from a creation standpoint I don’t get to here but would love to learn more about.
There are many other topics and challenges to digital audio (especially from a creator and distributor perspective) that I did not touch on here and plenty of other thoughts that I will perhaps share another time like:
- Pop up annotations that display on smartphone lock screen as a podcast is playing: text, photos, animation, ads partner logos….
- Can we please stop using the word podcast? What about “audioshow”?
- Inter-app and in-app linking
If you enjoyed reading this, please log in and click “Recommend” below.
This will help to share the story with others.