Podcasts

One of the very first podcasts I regularly listened to was The Talk Show, hosted by Dan Benjamin and John Gruber. Within a few months this list had grown to include Back to Work with Merlin Mann, Hypercritical with Jon Siracusa, and Build and Analyze with Marco Arment. All of these shows were hosted on the budding 5by5 podcasting network, and they all had similar themes depending on the time of year. A number of podcasting networks have come and gone since then. Some have evolved. Some have stagnated. But the wonderful thing about these shows is that just about anyone can make them so long as they put in the time and effort.

Podcasts I Listen To

Over the last few months I have not been speaking into the microphone very often, though I have been producing a bunch of Japanese shows that are starting to see some mild success in terms of downloads. Many of these shows have several thousand downloads per episode, and a few have even been approached by companies who are looking for advertisement reads. A wonderful sign of success.

That said, I miss having my own shows. Ones where it's my voice that's going out on the Internet. The issue comes down to a lack of time, and this lack of time has resulted in a number of the projects I want to work on taking a back seat to responsibilities that must be taken care of. All this is fair enough, but I still look forward to the day when I can get behind the microphone again and start putting out my own shows.

But on what subject?

There are a number of show ideas that have been put down on paper over the last few months, but few seem to have a shelf life beyond six or seven episodes. Some of the show ideas include:

  • having a kid in Japan
  • buying a house in Japan
  • a picture and 1000 words1
  • interviewing Japanese podcasters

These are all things that I'm pretty much doing right now, though not as a podcast. Would any of these appeal to me long enough to invest the time into? The first two show ideas would be for others rather than myself, which is fine. Sharing information of this kind could be incredibly useful to expatriate parents who call Japan their home. Is it something that can carry for an entire year, though? The last show idea is essentially Show Me Your Mic but with a focus on the Japanese podcast community. The show wouldn't make sense to put out in English, though, as the podcasters would not really grow their listener base.

This third idea, though, is something I've unsuccessfully been trying to build into 10C as a feature called "Places". I say it's unsuccessful because the feature is not yet released and is not fully conceptualized. There are some gaps in the tool to make this something people might be interested in, though it's most certainly an "art project". As a podcast, it would involve taking a single photo of a place, and sharing that with a short audio description describing what is not in the picture. This could be historical references, common uses, or what popular location it's adjacent to. Theatre of the mind, so to speak.

Is this something people would listen to, though? Of the four show ideas, this is the one that I would find most interesting, even if the show didn't break 100 downloads per episode. One of the things that I tend to see online is a focus on what people can see, rather than what they cannot. Going in a different direction from what's expected would be quite unique, I think.

But then there's the time issue. Where would the time come from?

If something is important enough, a person will make the time to do that thing. The question I need to ask myself is whether this is important or not, and go from there.


  1. this is something I've considered for the longest amount of time, as it sounds like an interesting idea. Take a picture of an area and, in 1000 words, describe what's not in the picture to give the image context.

A Smarter Subscription Model

At the start of 2016 I was subscribed to 38 podcasts, 21 of which being from independent creators. Since the first of January the list has seen five new additions and 18 reductions. Aside from falling out of love with a specific topic that a lot of the shows focus on, what could possibly cause a person to cull nearly 50% of the podcasts they subscribe to within just five months?

Every one of the podcasts that have disappeared from my subscription list was a show that I really looked forward to every week but, since Radiotopia's incredibly successful fundraising campaign in the autumn of 2015, other podcasts have really amped up their pleas for cash. I don't mind financially contributing to the creation of podcasts, as I have given to well over a dozen shows in the past year alone. I do, however, have a problem with 45-minute shows that consist of 5 minutes worth of sponsor reads alongside 10 minutes of "Please! Please! Pretty Please! We need your support!". It's too much! I've paid my dues. I don't want to fish the phone out of my pocket to skip minutes ahead and miss the some of the actual program I wanted to hear. There must be a better way!

We need a more respectful subscription model.

Podcast Subscription Rates

Podcasts cost money to produce. There's no denying this. I even asked for some help getting my own shows off the ground a few years ago with an IndieGoGo campaign. People came through, and I'm still incredibly grateful for the support. Professionally-made shows often have studios, staff, licenses, fees, and other bills to pay for. I'm told that some of the better-produced podcasts can cost several thousand dollars to produce a single 30-minute show, then hundreds more to distribute online. Shows of this calibre most certainly must be able to recoup their operational costs. At the same time listeners should not have to listen to hosts plea for money when they've already contributed to a campaign.

Let's Introduce a "Season Pass" Model

If a listener pays into a campaign or just a general donation model, they should be given a unique RSS link that gives them access to a limited number of "premium" episodes. These premium shows would very likely be the very same shows that are produced for the open web, but without the "Please! Please! Pretty Please!" begging. Maybe the premium feed could even be completely devoid of advertising altogether, but this might cause some problems when podcasters try to negotiate rates with sponsors.

After the premium access comes to a close, the RSS feed will continue to work, but will show the non-premium shows. If a person signs up again, they can once again receive a certain number of premium episodes with the same link. It's like a season pass, but with benefits. The full podcast library should still be available for listeners, but episodes falling outside the paid range will be the originals. This will reduce the amount of work podcasters need to do to keep their entire library visible and it will be invisible to the listeners, reducing friction that might accompany using a unique RSS feed. With this sort of infrastructure in place, podcasters would also be in a position to offer other benefits, like bonus episodes, minis, and excerpts that never make it into the general feed. As a listener, this is something that I would be very interested in with some of the better-produced shows out there.

There's just one problem, now: Would podcasters be willing to do this?

Creators would need to understand that, by going this route, they will have a bit more work to do on their part. In addition to this, software will need to be configured to make something like this easy enough that shows could be published without unnecessary complexity. The show notes and everything else would likely be exactly the same, and people shouldn't have to create two posts just to do something that software can do better.

Listeners might enjoy being able to buy a "Season Pass" knowing that a certain number of episodes will focus more on the content and less on the sales pitch. Some will undoubtedly only want premium shows, paying a dollar per episode or whatever the rate happens to be. With a few hundred listeners contributing every year, even smaller podcasts can take advantage of a relatively steady revenue stream.

What do you think? Is this sort of subscription model workable? Is it something that creators would find value in? Would the listeners? I can't claim to have all the answers, but anything is better than what we've got right now in the world of podcasting.

Discoverability

While digging around for some new comedy podcasts I started thinking about podcast discovery … again. There has got to be a better way of doing it than relying on multi-billion dollar companies that already control too much of our art and culture mediums. Jeremy Cherfas is working on something interesting that will help people learn about new shows. Gimlet and CBC1 also have their own variations of something similar. Of course, one of the biggest problems that people will face when it comes to finding new content revolves around time. We only have so much of it, and digging around in the various directories will only serve to expose the shows that are already incredibly popular, but not necessarily the best.

I didn't talk about this during the podcast, but one idea I've had rolling around in my head is to essentially make a few "stations" online that people can dip their toes into. I would build robots to monitor a number of social networks and spot podcast links. Shows that are mentioned often will be inserted into the station, and people can come listen at any time. Downloads would come from the host server — not my own — to ensure the creators are seeing accurate numbers, and the more common shows from big publishers would be weighted against lesser known shows to ensure a rich mix of voices and ideas. I already have the algorithms in my head that would make this all possible with very little effort on my side.

Well … no more than a week's worth of work to develop the entire infrastructure and the site people would visit. But what's a week?

The nice thing about having downloads come from the origin server is that I would not be on the hook for a bunch of bandwidth charges, and I wouldn't have to worry too much about throughput speeds. That would be the onus of the creator, as it should be.

Would people listen, though? The "station" would allow for live streaming online, of course, but it would also be little more than an RSS feed that people could subscribe to and listen while out and about. But an RSS feed that fills with 24-hours of audio every single day is way too much audio. There would need to be some sort of filter in place. Maybe limiting the total playlist time to three hours a day? Two? Heck, a person could create their own custom feeds2 that include only shows that fit in certain categories with certain criteria. It's certainly an option.

Does something like this already exist? There are lots of podcatchers that collect an awful lot of information about what people are listening to …

I'm not sure what the best answer to podcast discovery is. I know it isn't some convoluted, complex mechanism that involves passing through the gates of some Silicon Valley company, though.


  1. Yes, the Canadian Broadcast Corporation. Who'da thunk it?
  2. I would do this in such a way that nobody would have to give me personal information or even create an account. Custom RSS feeds are dirt cheap to produce.

Don't Worry About Those Other Guys

Yesterday my good friend, Jeremy Cherfas, released a quick episode of his Doubtfully Daily Podcasts where he expresses some concern over some potential competition from a big podcasting network for a show that he's been thinking about for the better part of a year. Concerned that his thought and efforts might go to waste, I listened to the episode of Startup that mentioned this upcoming program and, after a little bit of thought, I think he has nothing to worry about. His show will still offer something of unique value above and beyond whatever Gimlet has up its sleeve … and here's why I think so.

On the above-linked episode of Startup, we learn that a new host will be starting a show next month where clips of other podcasts are played and interviews are held with the content creators. While this might sound a lot like what Jeremy Cherfas has been planning, I get the feeling that Gimlet is not doing this with the same goals in mind. Gimlet is a for-profit company that has expenses of at least a million dollars a year1. They are all about building audiences for themselves, not others. Jeremy's podcast is not about him or his work, but about shows that other people may find enjoyable but don't want to download an entire episode to trial. Just from the bits and pieces explained in Startup, I believe this upcoming show is going to be a cross between the 99% Invisible promo shows and How Sound — these are both great podcasts and, if you don't listen, I ask that you pick a random episode and see if you like what you hear.

99% Invisible works because Roman Mars is no fool. He knows how to promote other shows and not get in the way. The promotions are for shows on his own network, of course, but they're usually the best examples of the programs he wants more people to subscribe to. How Sound is also a great show as it's hosted by a professor who teaches people the art of radio. We get to hear other people's work and a little bit about why it's so great. Occasionally we'll hear interviews, like the episode that introduced me to Errthang, but not often.

This is what I believe Gimlet is going to do. Not because it's easy, but because it's not especially hard. There are thousands of new podcasts being released online every day. There's no way anybody can listen to them all to find the new and interesting shows that are doing something different. While I believe Gimlet's new program will introduce us to new voices, I really think that they'll be focussing on podcasters that already have an audience. Again, it comes back to the idea of listenership. What's the easiest way to get an extra thousand or so listeners to your show? Interview or promote a podcaster that already has an audience. Seriously, the episode of Discover ADN featuring well-known podcaster Tim Pritlove is, to this day, the most downloaded show I've ever released by a wide margin. That one show has been downloaded more than twice as often as the other 43 shows of the series combined2.

When you're a spunky new podcast network with a million dollars a year in capital expenditures, you need as many ears as you can get. That sure as heck won't happen by promoting someone with a few hundred listeners, and it sure as heck won't happen by promoting someone as minuscule as me. What Jeremy Cherfas is going to do is introduce us to new shows, maybe some famous, maybe some less famous. But he won't be doing it to bring in sponsor money. He won't be doing it to get more listeners for his excellent Eat This Podcast show, either. Of course money and listeners would be a welcome reward for the hard work but, ultimately, he'll be doing it for the love of the medium and the desire to help others find interesting shows to listen to.

Don't let Gimlet stop you, Jeremy. There's a whole lot you can offer the world, and you don't need to spend a million dollars to start something truly amazing.


  1. 27 full time employees, hosting costs with LOTS of bandwidth, plus rent in New York City. There's no way they're doing this for under a million dollars a year.
  2. 5,821 complete downloads as of this writing.

Three Pages

One of the odd challenges that I've set for myself with the November Sleep Challenge is to write more. I joined the NaNoWriMo challenge as well but, truth be told, the stories I want to tell have either morphed into podcast productions that require a cast of voices, or would be told in fewer than 25,000 words, which is about half of what NaNoWriMo writers are being encouraged to produce. So, as I cannot use a computer for the hour or more before I drift off to sleep, I've decided to set a goal to write three A5 pages of text a night. It's not a great deal of writing, but it's certainly an achievable goal.

With this in mind, I've found my thoughts wandering a lot as of late. My concentration is slipping and I'm growing increasingly distracted and frustrated. This isn't good for the creative process in the least. The problem stems from general unhappiness. I'm not happy at work. I'm not happy at home. I don't feel as though I'm accomplishing enough of my client work and side projects, either. Looking at this from a distance, my problems are laughable at best. I'm employed by six organisations, I have a wonderful puppy who genuinely likes me, and I'm gaining valuable experience with a number of web tools that will only help me going forward. Where's the problem?

But I'm not happy.

One of the reasons I want to make a few more episodes of DiscoverADN is because I want to accomplish something good. The podcast itself isn't going to win any awards1, but I like the plans for Season 2 and might even tackle something that I am not at all qualified to talk about but am genuinely curious about … depending on whether one person wishes to be a guest or not. It's a sensitive topic in relation to change, and it's one that needs to be better understood by people before they can accept it. Maybe I can help?

Will this make me happy? I have no idea. The sooner I get out of the endless negative spirals that seem to follow me around, the better. As Dan Benjamin so eloquently put it some time ago, the only way out is through.

This marks the end of my third page for tonight. The other two were a little more positive, but I'm glad I could voice these thoughts. Our imaginations may be limitless, but a person can feel awfully claustrophobic when confined to their own mind. On that note, it's time to meditate and get some sleep.


  1. The podcasting awards that are out there don't strike me as particularly honest, either.

It Began With a Question

Last week a student of mine showed me their phone and asked a simple question: is this your podcast? On their screen was a podcast app with one of my dormant shows displayed. I told them that it was one of mine, but that there hadn't been any new episodes in a while. Since seeing the cover art for the project, a world mat with pins in it, I started thinking bout bringing the show back. It was my first "claim to fame" on the Internet as far as I know, and it was also my only attempt at an interview show. Other shows would follow of course, but this was the one people actually got excited about and looked forward to hearing.

So over the next week the idea of the show stayed in the back of my mind. I wasn't sure what to do with it, but knew it couldn't just be a reboot. Nobody would care and, worst of all, it would look too much like a lame marketing attempt to bring people to App.net rather than what I really wanted, which was to engage in intelligent discussion. What sort of subject would make sense, though?

This morning something just clicked. The pieces all came together and I knew what needed to be done. The podcast had laid dormant for exactly 400 days and now it had a new lease on life. The interview show that truly launched my podcasting would return, focussing on something affecting a number of people: change. This could be any kind of significant change, though the most common is centred around career. Using techniques learned over the last year and a bit, this show will return and look at answering the undying question of "Why" while also encouraging people to look at their own lives.

This will be the return of Discover ADN. It'll be a mini-series initially, but may morph into something else that I've wanted to do for quite some time.

Staring at Numbers

As many visitors to this website undoubtedly know, I’ve been participating in the Dog Days of Podcasting Challenge since the start of August. The goal is to release a podcast every day for a month1, and I’ve done so with a single topic to ensure I don’t run into one of those “I don’t know what to talk about, so excuse me while I ramble” episodes that I’m so well known for. Now, I’ll admit that I’m cheating by writing episodes and doing some research several days in advance of recording, which means that I can pretty much guarantee that I’ll have something in the queue, but I don’t think this spoils the spirit of the challenge.

One of the perks that comes with taking part in the challenge and registering your podcast feed to the official site is that your episodes become part of a “master feed”, which includes all of the shows that are published by the various participants. From what I can tell, there are 24 shows taking part, and 40-odd people subscribed to the main feed. As you can see with the abridged download stats graph below, I’m actually seeing some pretty decent numbers2.

Podcast Downloads

I wonder if these numbers will continue to remain where they are after the challenge is over, or if they will fall back down to the previous numbers of 35~45 downloads per episode, with two being from my devices. Either way, this particular project has me thinking about lists …

Because I’ve subscribed to the DDP Master Feed, I’m getting everyone’s shows. There are some shows that are very interesting, and I’ve done the legwork to subscribe to the podcast to ensure I always receive updates after the summer challenge finishes. Some podcasts are quite creative and well done. Others … have shown me just how spoiled I’ve been over the last few years with well-produced, well-practiced podcasts.

This is where my thinking comes in.

Podcast discovery is still a pain in the butt. There are a lot of people out there making really good things and possibly seeing numbers like mine, with fewer than 50 downloads per show despite all of the effort that may have gone into making it. Would it help to have more podcast feeds out there? More than this, though, these oft-updated feeds would have to be curated to have some of the best content being produced.

Here’s my idea … and please tell me if it’s a bad one.

I’d like to make a curated podcast channel. Ideally there would be multiple channels with different types of shows … but one thing at a time. The curated channel would have one really good show a day that pulls from the creator’s site (or wherever) to ensure they see the download numbers. The shows would be unaltered, and show notes would be included as they should be. What’s different is that on top of the show notes would be a quick summary of why I chose it for sharing.

The publisher would be asked permission prior to any publication, of course.

Perhaps by doing this, people can be exposed to new shows and podcasters can receive the attention they both desire and deserve. There’s a lot of really good stuff to listen to. It’s just really hard to find it. If the tools to make this sort of thing are created and openly shared, it might even open up a huge new way to discover shows.

What do you think?

What Would It Look Like

What would a conversational podcast application look like? In this 42nd episode of Doubtfully Daily Matigo I respond to Jeremy Cherfas who expressed an interest in such a project. Have an idea? Want to participate in the discussion? Join in and get in touch!

Yet Another Podcast

There’s no shortage of creativity for people who want to share with the world, and this is something that I’ve struggled with for quite some time. There’s just never enough time in the day! I love to write software, blog posts, and editorials. I enjoy cooking breakfast, snacks, and dinner. I’m passionate about drawing, sketching, and painting. And then there’s the art of story telling.

I know it’s been said on numerous occasions on this site, but I do love a good story. Not only hearing the stories, but telling the stories. This is something that humans just seem naturally wired to enjoy, and I’m no different from anybody else. So it should come as no surprise that I’ve started yet another podcast™ where I delve into my own past to tell stories of real events that have happened to me over the last 36 years. The first ten episodes are already planned with the first three scripts fully written, and I hope to get this show up to 100 episodes over the next two years on a weekly basis.

Home Fries Banner (Wide)

The show’s name is Home Fries and the first episode was made available yesterday. So long as Apple’s team can review the show soon enough, it should appear in iTunes1 in the next day or two. This particular show has been on my mind for quite some time, and I’ve refrained from making it in fear of coming across as a little too … egotistical. A podcast made by me, about me, on a web service that I created. That’s a whole lot of Jason.

This said, the episodes will cover events in my life but will not be about me specifically. Shows are written in blocks, and each block has a theme. The first theme is called “Origin Stories” and it covers some of the events and people in my life that have contributed to making me the person I am today. In addition to this, the entire series — so far as I’ve planned it, anyway — also has a second theme that will run through every episode: how 5 minutes of one person’s day can affect another person’s lifetime.

If you enjoy podcasts at all, do give it a listen and let me know what you think. I love hearing kudos, and enjoy hearing criticisms, too.

Familiar Voices

As I sat in the lecture hall at a local university, I looked around as people listened to a pre-recorded audio segment. Working in education, watching people while they work out problems is nothing new. What was new, though, was the surprised looks some people had on their face when they recognised the voice over the speakers was mine. A year ago I would have been incredibly self-conscious about people listening to my voice, as it was not a sound that I enjoyed. However, after nearly a year podcasting, I can say that it’s now just another voice … although more familiar than most.

Last year I decided to throw caution to the wind and start releasing recorded podcast episodes. Going ahead with DiscoverADN gave me a lot of experience with audio editing, interviewing, and scheduling across time zones. My First Podcast allowed me to see what challenges await a person doing a 22~30-minute show all alone. The various Discarded Prototypes were also excellent opportunities to do some experimentation. As of this writing I have two regular shows, The Nice Podcast and Spacebar, as well as two upcoming shows plus a reboot that should be out in the next two weeks. Every show is listened to at least once before publication and, as a result, I’ve become incredibly accustomed to the sound of my own voice. Listening to a show recorded with the “good mic” is by far my favourite way to listen.

What a remarkable change. As I mentioned on the very first My First Podcast, the sound of my recorded voice was something that put me off podcasting for a very long time. Not anymore. Now I’m recording audio to be used in tests at universities by other teachers and professors. The fact that I over-enunciate and move at pre-determined speeds means that it’s very easy for people to listen and understand a lot of what I have to say.

Nice.

2015 should see as much skills development as 2014. Hope you