As a guy with ten years of listening to podcasts two hours per day under my belt, I feel like podcasting has evolved nicely in terms of the quality content available… but in terms of infrastructure and ecosystem, podcasting is still surprisingly immature.
Listening to podcasts in 2019 reminds me of reading weblogs in 2004:
- You bookmark or subscribe to your favorites, and you mostly stick to consuming those every day.
- You’re a passive consumer, not a creator — unless you start your own, but most people don’t, because it’s a significant chunk of work.
- There’s no third-party aggregator providing an algorithmic feed to optimize the order in which you consume individual units of content.
What’s going on — why is podcasting stuck in the blogosphere 1.0 days? Shouldn’t someone have invented the Twitter of podcasting by now?
Specifically, I’m wondering when the podcasting experience will become bite-sized, socially interactive and serendipitous.
Breaker: The Current State of the Art
My current podcast app of choice is Breaker, whose tagline is “The Social Podcast App”. At the time of this writing, Breaker’s main social feature is showing you trending podcast episodes, which sometimes helps me discover interesting new content.
But overall, it’s not yet much different from the rest of the non-social podcast apps out there. They’re a pretty new company, and it seems like their progress to date has mostly been focused on reaching feature parity with the other podcast apps. I’m optimistic that Breaker will “break” out of the pack by implementing some of the ideas I’ll describe in this post.
Bite-sized means somehow clipping 15-second to 2-minute highlights that stand on their own, so you can get these advantages:
- Faster time from pressing “play” to hearing the best parts
- Better average content quality per second
- Easier for an algorithmic feed to give you the best stuff first
I enjoy podcasts, but surely it’s not the best use of my time to listen to the full 60–90 minutes of whatever random episode came out today. In a year from now, I’m probably not going to think that that particular selection of content was optimal to listen to, compared to e.g. my favorite audiobooks.
At the same time, I really like getting a timely feed of new content from the particular podcast-creators I follow.
I need a way to compress 60–90 minutes into 5. Just give me the highlights. Do for podcasts what Blinkist does for audiobooks.
Twitter is bite-sized. I’m always excited to check Twitter because I can always get a dopamine hit in the span of a 5-second glance. Podcasts aren’t as excitingly addictive because the best nuggets from an episode don’t hit your ears within seconds after turning the podcast on; they take many minutes to unfold.
My favorite podcasts have a different kind of addictive quality, though: I’m happy to tune into them and relax while I walk my dog and chill. That’s great for my top few favorite podcasts, but I don’t have the time or patience to consume the majority of other podcasts out there by “tuning in and chilling”. I need a bite-sized hit.
I have a good sense of how much traveling my friends do, thanks to the mature social media ecosystem around photos. But I have no idea how much podcast-listening my friends do. It’s always been weird to me that listening to a podcast feels like an isolated experience even though it’s such a big part of my life.
I’d like my personal crew of Twitter followers to somehow become part of my podcasting world too.
I’d also like to somehow participate when I have a reaction to a podcast, like by voicing my agreement/disagreement or submitting a question to the podcaster, and have that somehow shared with my followers.
Serendipity means regularly getting served good content from an unpredictable source. The key to serendipity is usually that an algorithmic feed is ranking what you see.
Bite-sized content is easier for an algorithmic feed to rank, and furthermore, the algorithmic feed can easily slip in accounts you don’t follow, as long as they’re liked by people you follow.
I think that if we can get bite-sized-ness and social interactivity, we’ll get serendipity in the deal too.
Twitter already shows how this can work. On Twitter, I often discover interesting new tweeters when their tweets serendipitously land in my feed.
Twitter + Podcasts
You know how TV show viewers like to post and comment in subreddits? A subreddit is appropriate for the Serials of the world but probably overkill for most podcasts. But adding lighter-weight social interactivity makes sense.
Today, many podcasts try to boost engagement by posting their episodes and clips on YouTube and Twitter. This Week In Startups’s Twitter account is a good example of this podcast/YouTube/Twitter cross-promotion.
But personally, I can’t consume content in this form. I prefer either the fully “lean forward” experience of scrolling through Twitter like a caffeinated maniac, or the fully “lean back” experience of listening to a whole episode of a podcast while walking my dog. But scrolling through Twitter and then clicking on videos of people talking doesn’t work for me.
Literally Tweetify podcasts?
Imagine each podcast had a Twitter account. Each time they publish an hour-long episode, also tweet out the top 10 bite-sized transcripts or takeaways from that episode.
Each of these tweets can function like any other tweet. It should ideally stand alone without needing context from the podcast episode. The only difference is that somewhere, perhaps in a third-party app, each of these tweets gets associated with a specific time interval of a podcast.
Then when I’m listening to a podcast, these tweets can show up in my podcast-player app and provide navigation through the podcast.
The first thing I’d want to do is listen to the highlights of a podcast: Instead of playing 60 minutes, I’d start by playing 3 minutes of just the clips associated with each tweet.
Then feed social responses back into the podcast audio
Once each podcast has an associated 5–10 highlight-tweets on Twitter, people I follow on Twitter can tweet back text and/or audio replies. Then I’d like my podcast app to somehow merge those tweets back into my podcast-listening experience.
For example, if I’m listening to the 3-minute audio highlights of a specific podcast episode (or if I’m listening to the whole podcast episode and the clipped timecode comes up), my podcast player can pause to play relevant replies from people I follow.
More content creators
Twitter proved that many people turn into content creators once you replace the difficulty of blogging with the ease of microblogging.
Similarly, many people who wouldn’t bother to start a podcast today are surely ready to be micropodcasters as soon as the bar is lowered and it becomes as easy as tweeting.
What is a micropodcaster? I’ve tried to give some key properties to design around, but it’s hard to predict exactly what kind of user-generated content will take off in the podcasting space.
Imagine you’re back in the 2004 blogosphere days, and you get a sense that some kind of microblogging is probably on the horizon. You couldn’t realistically predict the future product spec for Twitter including 140 characters, @-mentions, hashtags, and reply threads, but it’s plausible that you could predict the future evolution of key trends:
- Content will become more bite-sized
- Consuming content will become more socially interactive
- The mix of content you consume will be more serendipitous
Similarly, I’m not sure exactly how the podcast-listening experience will evolve, but I think it will evolve to share the above three traits that characterized the evolution from blogging to microblogging.