Giving Podcasts a Makeover

Back in 2004, Apple introduced the Podcast in the iTunes version 4.9 release notes as "... frequently updated radio-style shows downloadable over the Internet".

The simple technological nature of a Podcast—its no more than a glorified RSS feed—along with a selection of high profile content, set the Podcast up to be an immediate digital media hit.

The first Podcast I ever listened to: The Ricky Gervais Show

According to a study conducted by Pew in 2016 there's somewhere around 30,000 podcasts in existence, and 21% of the US population say that they listen to podcasts at least once per month. I must listen to about 14 hours of podcast content every week, and when us humans spend enough time doing anything, we inevitably start thinking constructively about it.

Following are some ideas I've had for improving the humble Podcast:

Quote Highlighting

If a Podcast app had this feature, I'd probably find a use for it with every episode I listen to. No more rewinding and then repeatedly pausing while noting down—line by line—something I just heard that's worth remembering.

I imagine the process going something like this:

  1. Hear something that's worth quoting.
  2. Tap 'Share quote', revealing a rolling transcript.
  3. Select the desired portion of the transcript, and then choose the appropriate action (i.e. save, share).

Embedded Content

If you listened to podcasts in the early days, you'll probably remember something that producers don't seem to use any more: sequential artwork.

For anyone not familiar with the idea, sequential artwork is where the podcast artwork changes over time as the podcast is played. Similar to a slideshow. I've seen this used for ads or to add context to different parts of the episode.

Embedded media is a similar idea to sequential artwork except it's not restricted to pictures. I can imagine this being useful for debates, academic Podcasts, and even presentations, where citations or visual aids add context to the audio.

A good use of embedded interactions could be in storytelling (especially history) when narratives aren't joined together perfectly. If the story hits a fork in the road, the listener could simply choose which direction she wants to go next, always having the option to follow a new thread.

Direct Listener Feedback

Podcasts joined us just before the internet social revolution kicked off, when sites like YouTube and Facebook and their "like economy" blew up.

I wonder, if Apple announced the Podcast now, might they be sucked into the social rabbit hole? Would social features even add any value to Podcasts?

When I got into using Periscope last year, I was fascinated by a feature that I'd never seen before elsewhere. With Periscope anybody watching your stream can tap a heart button on their screen to send you immediate 'love', transmitting to you their approval of whatever you just did. This is positive reinforcement on steroids.

Imagine if the same kind of idea could be utilised for Podcasters. A listener could send their approval, or gratitude, or love, or whatever, at the very moment it's pertinent. Never again would a listener have to stop procrastinating for long enough to send nice emails to all of their favourite Podcast hosts. They could just tap a button right there on their phone screen and make someone's day.

My favourite use case so far for this immediate feedback system would be to use it to send micro payments. Probably with a crypto currency like Bitcoin, as banks are funny about moving small sums of money. Imagine if you could tip your favourite Podcaster every time they blew your mind.

So those are some ideas I've had for improving how we Podcast. I honestly don't see any reason for Podcast app developers not to try more their own ideas out like the ones above; there's no harm in testing features if they don't affect the podcast protocol its self.

If you make a Podcast app, I'd value a chat with you. I'll even buy the coffee!