I started this site because I recognized a problem: as podcasts continue to launch due to the low barriers of entry and the growing population of fans, the already-broken aspect of podcast discovery would only get worse. Neither iTunes, nor Stitcher, nor Overcast, or any other podcast directory really tries to address this head-on. The directories are self-perpetuating, highlighting podcasts on the channel level, rather than episodes. Favoring defaults to charts where shows like Serial, S-Town, Pod Save America, or any of the NPR shows will constantly top the charts. The rich get richer. So although there’s a low barrier of entry to create a podcast, there is very much a rigid barrier into getting your podcast to be heard.
That’s why I was excited to hear of a new podcast directory that puts both podcasters and the listeners at the forefront. Enter Podchaser. Finally a podcast directory that doesn’t suck.
Podchaser aims to be the definitive podcast directory, able to rate and review podcasts not just by channel, but by granular episode. Also, instead of intentionally-vague catch-all categories such as Society & Culture or News & Politics which typically the majority of the top podcasts are one or the other, Podchaser will rely on a targeted search algorithm and tags.
Recently, I spoke with one of Podchaser’s founders, James Hitchcock, to learn more about the product, his thoughts on the gap Podchaser will help fill, and their aspirations for the future. See our exclusive interview below.
Podchaser is launching their beta program June 10th, if you’re interested in joining go here.
Discover Pods: What is Podchaser?
James: Basically, Podchaser is a website that provides podcast hosts and listeners with two important tools: a review-able, rate-able database of shows and episodes out there, along with a set of tools for listeners to comb through that database to find the best and most personally interesting content available.
DP: What are the current issues with a podcast directory and how does Podchaser help fill them?
James: We’ve got a few bones to pick: no service offers individual episode reviews, people tracking, or meaningful filters (i.e., beyond general categories, like “Talk Radio”). There are piecemeal and often half-hearted efforts to solve some of these issues, but no one is focused primary on creating a useful, navigable database. So many are trying to reinvent the wheel with flashy players and so forth–we’re simpler than that! Inspired by engagement with hundreds of podcasters in conversation, we’re looking to build the foundation for a community-based solution.
DP: I wholeheartedly agree, the umbrella, catch-all categories of the iTunes podcast directory aren’t specific and don’t cater to the listeners or the podcasters themselves. Do you think categories themselves are necessary or should search be able to handle the bulk of the work?
James: We’re treating categories and tags similarly, with categories as a broader feature so users aren’t initially overwhelmed by the much more granular tag system. Beyond that, putting any topic in the search engine will pull up relevant results based on tagging. So we envision most people accomplishing this directly via the search engine, rather than through a more complicated, taxonomical approach.
DP: How did you and the other co-founders meet and decide to embark on the project?
James: The short of it is Reddit.
The (slightly) longer story is we’re made up of two loose social networks across continents (and time zones, which makes scheduling things tricky, occasionally). Bradley had been mulling over the idea for the project for a while and ended up posting on /r/podcasts about a year ago to find an “IMDb of podcasts.” Turned out that it didn’t exist, as other redditors had noticed. He got some interested responses, one of which came from Ben Slinger, who, together with his brother-in-law Ryan Stock, have ended up comprising our (100 percent Australian) development side.
Back here in the U.S., Bradley knew me from our shared hometown in Indiana, and, familiar with my editorial background, he asked for my thoughts on the project. After we discussed it at length, he asked me to join on to handle comms. Finally, we brought on Cole, with whom Bradley had worked on a few business projects beforehand.
It’s a really entertaining (and often delightful!) work culture, as a result. We’ve got a Slack running pretty literally 24/7 that ends up this sort of wacky mix of Australian and American humor, with debates about national fast food chains are superior, and so forth. It definitely lightens the mood in a messaging platform that’s otherwise constantly popping up notifications of discussions about alpha features and business strategies.
DP: What’s the biggest challenge for podcasters today?
James: So, this is something we’ve been working very specifically on; we’ve made an effort to reach out to hosts who’ve signed up for beta to ask them pretty much exactly this. Perhaps the most common response is the desire to escape the prison of being sorted into overly broad categories in order to connect with more specific audiences. So many people with super interesting, niche topics end up relegated to the twelve-thousandth page of a “Culture” category, which sucks. It should be easier than that; a user should be able to search for a tag like “tabletop gaming” or “Sikhism” or “covfefe” and find more precise results.
Beyond that, podcasters want better platforms for feedback on content. They want to hear how people are responding to individual episodes and specific topics they’re featuring. Part and parcel with this is the desire to better understand and connect with audiences, whether through direct communication or listener analytics.
DP: One thing missing for every tool now, at least in my opinion, is accurate listener data. We have downloads, subscribers, and other vanity stats, but no real insight into listener behavior or true consumption. Is this an area Podchaser could potentially solve?
James: Yeah, this is definitely something we want to solve–it’s something we’ve heard repeatedly from podcast hosts. We’re working on it!
DP: Are podcast reviews broken?
James: Yeah, they are. The market has some real behemoths out there, but they all have what we view as pretty fatal flaws. For example, iTunes is ubiquitous but far from platform-agnostic and lacks the ability to leave individual episode reviews. SoundCloud, similarly, doesn’t have rich podcast features. Overall, you’ve got this industry that’s experienced tremendous growth over the last few years, and it now has a critical mass that’s crying out for some sense of organization. You need individual episode reviews; you need more than ten genre categories for podcasts; you need more effective centralization. That’s what we’re looking to fix.
DP: What kind of complementary service do you think Podchaser can provide to listeners?
James: One really major goal of Podchaser is to guide people to the listening experience itself. So in terms of complementary features, we’re focusing on organization- and discovery-based features: leading listeners to interesting episodes and shows and saving them time in the process. That’s the foundation of so much of the entire site.
DP: What’s next on the roadmap?
James: As we work through the beta launch and all the bug-fixing and feature-developing it entails, one enormous focus is on populating the site’s user data–in simpler terms, to get tons of people (hosts, producers, and listeners alike) to rate stuff. That’s huge on our plate. Looking beyond that, we’re working really hard to flesh out a powerful recommendation algorithm, using the aforementioned data to do so.