Listen to This! Why It’s So Hard to Share Podcasts Across Platforms

Why your friends don’t listen to your podcast recommendations

This week we bring you a guest post from Shindo N. Strzelczyk, a Pop Up Archive software engineer who’s hard at work on the problem of shareable audio. This post has been modified from his full article on Medium.

Image via Flickr: In Her World by Nana B Agyei (CC BY 2.0)

If you’ve ever tried to share a podcast with a friend, you know that it’s not only hard to figure out how to do it, but also nearly impossible to get anyone to click on whatever link you end up sharing. Even if you know your one friend will absolutely love this episode and it will change their life and make them laugh, dance, and cry all at the same time—good luck getting them to listen to it.

People share TV show and movie recommendations all the time. Why is it so much harder with podcasts?

One primary reason is behavioral. People listen to podcasts while they are otherwise visually occupied (e.g. driving), a fact oft-credited with the growth of the industry. So, when your friend sees your podcast link, you’re asking her to focus on a completely different medium for an extended period of time. With most people glued to their screens most of the time, it’s hard to catch someone at the right moment.

Listening to a podcast requires a new behavior: finding something on the web and tucking it away for non-screen time. So why can’t your friend just listen later? The fact is: podcasts are all over the place. 

You might be thinking, “TV shows and movies are all over the place, too, but people share them all the time.” And they do — but those industries are much larger and more prevalent in popular discourse, with YouTube clips and ads all over social media and web sites. There are myriad streaming services for those mediums, sure, but people are already accustomed to watching screens.

Podcasts are in a different situation: only 21% of Americans listened to a podcast in the past monthIn order for that number to continue to grow, we need more people talking about the podcasts they love. And if this is a fight for new listeners—a fight to change behaviors — the industry as a whole would benefit from making it easier to start listening in the first place.

Historically, producers generally upload their content to a hosting platforms like Libsyn or SoundCloud, then linked to it in their RSS feed. The RSS feed contains all the other information about the episode, which certain podcast apps read from directly and import.

However, some platforms — like Acast, Art19, Panoply’s Megaphone, PRX’s Dovetail, Spotify, Stitcher, and soon Google Play Music — import content to their own servers, so that listening behavior can be more closely tracked, and advertisements can be dynamically inserted and changed out. Add to the mix Pandora, which is now distributing Serial, and Audible, which is building an entire original content department to deliver audio through their own proprietary technology, and you’ve got a big messy smorgasbord of listening options. Most of the time, these services are only concerned with their own assets and have no connection to any others. 

As Pop Up Archive builds out Audiosear.ch, our search and intelligence engine for podcasts and radio, we are forced to come up with solutions to problems like these. A while back, we started generating “universal identifiers” for the podcasts and episodes in our database, with associated links to their various digital locations on different platforms and apps.

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SoundCloud and iTunes links collected for 99% Invisible on Audiosear.ch

As the podcast industry grows and we learn more about how people consume audio, we are starting to use these identifiers to connect disparate silos of content to make them easier to find and share — and make it easier for developers to build cool apps and tools for all sorts of audio content, regardless of distribution platform.Imagine if you all you needed was to share one link from one app, and your friend would automatically receive the proper link to their favorite podcast app. One potential use for the Audiosear.ch API is to take the original link and the name of the app you want to use to listen and, like an old-fashioned telephone operator, route you through to that content’s location.

With the data we’re collecting, we could even provide a universal link button that could live on any website or in any app, and clicking it would open all the locations available so people can listen to the episode any way they prefer. Reducing the immense friction people experience in finding and sharing podcasts can facilitate new behaviors and benefit platforms and producers alike.