This article was written by Contributing Writer Erik van Mechelen with input from Yu-kai Chou and Jun Loayza.
Have you noticed yourself listening to more podcasts lately? Compared to five years ago, I definitely listen to more audio content.
It’s easy to understand why. With improvements in the production and consumption infrastructure, more and more quality podcasts are being created.
There are also more ways to listen and access to better curations.
In this article, I’m taking a close look at how and where I listen to audio content, of any kind. Then, I’ll transition into a side-by-side analysis of two podcast-focused apps on my iPhone’s home screen: Overcast and Tung. I want to understand if they will help me discover podcasts I wouldn’t have otherwise discovered through friend or family or coworker recommendations.
As always, I’ll use the 8 Core Drives of Octalysis in my breakdown.
What to Listen To and How to Listen To It
If you could listen to anything in the world, what would it be?
I’ve monitored my listening behavior lately, and here are some things I’ve listened to:
- A Wise Man’s Fear on Audible
- Ready Player One on Scribd
- Sam Harris’s podcast on his website
- A Way with Words podcast on Overcast.fm
- This video on YouTube from Simon Sinek
- This podcast featuring Sierra DeMulder on Soundcloud
- 99% Invisible on Tung.fm
So, we have podcasts, audiobooks, and some audio from video-centric content ranging from fiction to interviews. (I’m a fiction writer, so I view it as part of my work to read or listen to at least a book a week–this means Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment and Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity are in play.)
- A Wise Man’s Fear on Audible >>> My brother
- Ready Player One on Scribd >>> While listening to a Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast
- Sam Harris’s podcast on his website >>> Enjoyed reading Sam’s book, then checked out his podcast
- A Way with Words podcast on Overcast.fm >>> My friend
- This video on YouTube from Simon Sinek >>> Up Next feature/algorithm
- This podcast featuring Sierra DeMulder on Soundcloud >>> Discover tab of Soundcloud
- 99% Invisible on Tung.fm >>> In the founder’s activity feed
In summary, a combination of family/friend recommendations and algorithms, with a major lean toward family/friend recommendations when we factor the length of my committed attention to audiobooks and a small number of podcasts.
Notice that I didn’t just decide to listen to any of these from “first principles”. Even discovery is a recommendation of a sort.
I suggest doing this short exercise yourself to help you understand where you are getting your recommendations from. It’s easy to believe we are making decisions–but are you really making a decision when your options are already vastly filtered and reduced?
Next, I wanted to take a look at Overcast.fm and Tung.fm, two podcast player apps, to understand if their social features might help me discover podcasts I wouldn’t have otherwise found through algorithmic recommendations.
Marco Arment started working on Overcast in 2013 with the overarching goal of supporting creators and improving the podcast-listening experience. He entered a crowded app marketplace in 2014 and has steadily grown his userbase. When deciding what app to use, Marco’s story is actually pretty convincing.
But since we are focusing on Discovery, I want to look at the features. One useful note from the YouTube video above: Marco’s intentions and design will likely continue to supporting the creators and listeners over advertisers. This is a good thing for relevant podcast discovery on his platform.
Here we see that I’m given recommendations from Twitter, Most Recommended, then Category-specific recommendations. I do quite like the Twitter recommendations because I should get somewhat relevant recommendations. This is a good use of Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness. Then again, I may have to improve my twitter followers :).
These are simple Top Charts and Leaderboards.
From a Discovery standpoint, by choosing these I know others have recommended them or that they are somehow popular. I have to dig deeper into the descriptions to get a sense of whether they actually would be interesting to me.
Choosing New Podcasts
It’s taking me quite a bit of time to figure out if this is something for me or not.
I kind of just want to sample an episode, you know?
Otherwise, the UI is very clean. But remember, we’re talking about discovering new podcasts in this article.
Tung’s homepage describes what it is trying to be: a social podcast player.
I spoke to Jamie, founder of Tung.fm, over the phone to understand what his vision was in building Tung.
It was simple. He thought: Why isn’t there an app that you can see and listen to what your friends are listening to?
And so he set out to build Tung in 2015.
He wanted an app that gives the user the ability to see and listen to what her friends are listening to.
In my experience with the app, I was pleasantly surprised not to be asked what my favorite categories were. Instead, it was up to me to discover them for myself. (Of course, I do have some subscribed-to podcasts I added right away.)
Jamie backed up this first impression. He talked about how–counter-intuitively–algorithms can actually reduce discovery. Let’s imagine that during Onboarding I choose several categories, like Science and Technology or Storytelling. In this pre-selection I’m already limiting the types of podcasts I’m exposing myself to later.
Focusing on Social
Jamie described a few other features. I’ll focus on the social aspect which leads to discovery (Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness).
- Share clip: gives you the chance to taste the podcast instead of investing a 20-minute listen [CD7]
- Make comments: interaction with other users on a specific episode of the podcast with timestamps [CD5]
- Follow user: the chance to view other listeners’ activity feeds [CD5]
- Jump between episodes: better navigation [CD3, CD4]
- Save for offline playback: improving usability [CD4]
- Position remembered: improving usability [CD4]
- Reminders for new episodes: pings user when episodes release of subscribed podcasts [CD2/4]
- @ mentions: the ability to interact with other users more easily through comments or recommendations [CD5, CD7 for recipient]
- Share profile link: to improve social connection [CD5]
- Create playlists: and sharing them [CD3, CD5 when you share them]
I also asked Jamie what he’s going to build next, and how he decides what to build next. Since he built Tung.fm solo, he has to think carefully about how to use his time. He said the next step is building an Android version–you can get in touch with Jamie if you’re a developer.
As for me, I’m enjoying using the comment features and interacting a bit with other listeners (CD5).
I use the activity feeds to browse what my friends and influencers are actually listening to in real time (CD5 and CD7).
I also like the ability to clip and share (this isn’t possible on Overcast). I can embed clips, tweet them with twitter card support and they will play instantly. I can also play a podcast from a timestamp. For example, I can long-press on a clip or comment in the feed, and then have the option to play it from that timestamp.
Is Social Next?
The real question is how much do users really want social embedded in their podcast experience?
It’s true we’re getting recommendations from many places. Why not simply add this in to the experience, as Tung is doing?
The user will decide.
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