We have all seen many posts circulating the web that say something along the lines of “The world is divided between two kinds of people” and then all sorts of comparisons begin.
Now, I’m about to add one more. I believe we can also divide the world between podcast listeners and podcast ignorers. There is something very particular about the culture of the podcast that you either love it and is your go-to staying-sane-while-you-commute tool, or you overheard a lot of people talk about Serial last winter and still weren’t interested in finding out more.
I am a bit new to the world of podcasts, but the first one I got my hands –and ears– on was StartUp, created and narrated by Alex Blumberg (originally from NPR’s This American Life). His subject is very meta: it’s a podcast about him trying to get his podcast company up and running and I must say, it’s very inspiring. From the beginning we listen to him talk to some big names, such as Chris Sacca and Matt Mazzeo, both Silicon Valley investors who have stocks in a few tech companies, but I don’t know if you’ve heard of them, do Uber and Twitter sound familiar?
At some point in the development of the story, Matt says to Alex that just creating another podcast won’t be enough. That he needs to come up with a way to make audio more social. Like we have Instagram for photos and YouTube for videos, there should be a platform for us to upload our audios. And yes, both iOS and Android have apps where you can listen to podcasts, but what Mazzeo wants is to make them social. He wants to tweet an excerpt of the podcast, he wants to message two minutes from the audio he found interesting to his friends. He wants to change the way we relate to this type of audio content, to make it less personal and more shareable.
This conversation happened over a year ago and it is safe to say that we still don’t have it. As a fairly new podcast consumer, this matter tickled my curiosity and I started doing some research on it.
I found a very interesting and well-researched Digg post by Stan Alcorn called “Is this thing on?” where the author is trying to understand how audio files behave in the social media atmosphere.
“Audio never goes viral,” writes radio and podcast producer Nate DiMeo. “If you posted the most incredible story — literally, the most incredible story that has ever been told since people have had the ability to tell stories, it will never, ever get as many hits as a video of a cat with a moustache.”
Maybe it’s due to that convenience that it doesn’t go viral. Maybe it is exactly because we can listen to it at any point we want, while doing something else and not paying attention to the screen that we don’t deem it a necessity to share it. Also, podcasts are long and we live in an economy of attention. Usually the viral videos are short because everyone knows that no one is going to watch a cat be scared by a cucumber for more than three minutes.
Let’s take music, for example. Right now, Justin Bieber is having his moment –even among the non-Beliebers. But no one talks about a Justin Bieber song that’s on the new album but hasn’t been promoted with a video or a TV performance.
It is also difficult for podcasts to go viral because they are hard to find. Listening to a podcast is a bit like reading a book, you recommend it to the people you know are going to be interested in that subject. It’s more of a one-on-one, very personalized suggestion, because you’re asking that the other person looks it up and pays attention to it so you can discuss it later.
However, if you go online looking for podcasts, you’ll find in the descriptions an eight of the content that they actually contain. And this is because the search engine spiders only capture what’s in the descriptions their creators write about them. So the spiders can’t wander through the audio and highlight some other interesting pieces of information because the format is not supported by them.
As told by Alcorn:
To listen to a podcast, however, you have to search for it on an app or in the iTunes store, sign up for it, wait for it to download. (…) Click “share” on Apple’s podcasting app, and you’ll be prompted to post an RSS feed, which is a bit like trying to share a new Tom Junod article and instead passing on a password that readers can use to subscribe to Esquire.
The process differs so much from looking up a song on Spotify or a video on YouTube.
And since our society is too lazy to look things up online, finding a good podcast might get harder and harder. Everyone with access to a computer and Internet can produce a podcast, but no one seems to be curating the final product in terms of quality.
Social sharing won’t be happening any time soon, unless someone creates an app that acts as the Instagram of audio or one that breaks the audio up in tweet-friendly excerpts.
In the mean time, I’ll leave you with my second personal recommendation, which is Reply All.
I first found Reply All through StartUp. After I watched all the effort that Blumberg and his partner Matthew Lieber had put into it, I felt obligated to listen to the first podcast that they launched under Gimlet Media (nice one, guys!)
It is a show about all things Internet. Viral or not, extremely popular or extremely rare and it is well worth to check it out:
Any comments, podcast suggestions, like, reblogs and a multi-million dollar idea to create the new Instagram of audio are more than welcome, so feel free to keep in touch!