Pop Up Archive’s founders chat about digital audio, virality, search, and transcripts with Knight Lab. Read excerpts from the interview below.
MIRANDA MULLIGAN: What is the question that no one asks you, but secretly you wish that someone would?
BAILEY SMITH: Actually, I have one, but it is a thing that I like to talk about that gets on my nerves. “Virality.” Everyone wants more clicks and more listens and I just feel like there has to be a new metric of engagement that is more meaningful than that.
ANNE WOOTTON: This is like what Alex [Blumberg of Gimlet Media] mentioned in his Q&A: A million downloads for Serial is awesome, viral YouTube videos have billions of views. It’s just a completely different world. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: only one or two million people watch each episode of FX’s Louis CK, which seems pretty successful to me.
BAILEY: We need a new metric that is more substantive…Even more valuable than time would be the “network effects” of a story. How do we track how the things we listen to are shared and discussed? There’s no way to track this, but how many times have we talked about who did it in Serial in the past month? And how many other conversations exist around that piece of media? Having a ‘cultural moment’, that’s the real effect that we want to measure.“
MIRANDA: What is hard about publishing audio to web, and born-digital content?
BAILEY: Even though we talk a lot about archives, we actually think that the search solution we’re developing is the same as the archiving solution.
People are really bad at planning for the future, they’re bad at saving money and they are bad at saving their archives. Ideally, as soon as a piece is done, as soon as it is finished, that’s the best moment to make it searchable and, inherently, that’s when it is archived.
In working with text analysis and with key words, we’re making searchable audio that can be published to your site and indexed by Google. That’s the whole point. Just by making audio searchable, you’re making it possible to find it in like 10 years, to find what was in the audio file. The two solutions are really complementary and will solve many problems for this community.
MIRANDA: Are anyone’s archives set up for searchability and content reuse? Every look-back package involves many human-hours and elbow grease.
ANNE: The reality is that stations are chipping away at a problem that didn’t even exist 10 or 15 years ago.
Take the obituary scenario: a local politician dies and a station has decades worth of interviews and coverage of this person but it’s all tied down in the tacit knowledge of the people at that station, if they’re even actually still there, who helped do that reporting and produce those pieces.
Finding and packaging those stories to present online to serve the volume of audience interest requires a lot of human effort. Contrastly, when Maya Angelou died this summer, The LA Times linked to an interview that aired on WFMT Chicago in 1970 in which she talked about “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings,” only a couple of days after it had been published. The response was incredible. After collecting dust in Chicago for decades, it was finally digitized, transcribed and indexed on the web by Pop Up Archive, so that it could be discovered and loved this summer.
The problem is that, even today, a station will broadcast a two-way interview in the morning with a celebrity or news figure and then it is almost instantly lost because they don’t have the workflows in place to publish it online, let alone publish it in a way that’s easily found and discovered…
We’re excited about a future where entering search terms into Google returns audio results. When you search for a quote and that audio is the first format returned. That’s what we think about a lot, same as our customers. They have discrete audio, or even video, components and we want that content to be indexed and surfaced regardless of the channel.