The Top 8 Podcasting Innovations of 2016

From Twitter for audio to the best hope of making audio go viral.

Inside a recording studio.
Inside a recording studio. Flavio / Flickr (Creative Commons)

Podcasts have revived talk “radio.”

In the mid-aughts, a former MTV VJ named Adam Curry started cheerleading the opportunity audio on-the-interent-and-off-to-iPods presented, and slowly a niche developed. In the last few years, podcasting has blossomed. We’ve been watching the space closely, particularly what’s happening with the technology that gets shows out to listeners and makes creators money.

By the way, innovation is worth recognition even if it doesn’t ultimately work out. In that spirit, here’s our list of the top eight innovations in podcasting this year:

Social podcasting. Anchor is an app that came out of Betaworks that lets people have audio conversations kind of like Twitter. It can be used like any other social media service, but a creator can also use it as a sort of short form podcasting service. It doesn’t look like useage of the app has been great on SimilarWeb, but it’s still an interesting idea. Last year, we covered a sort of Periscope for podcasting, but that app is no longer being maintained.

 Automatic transcripts. The trouble with audio is you can’t search it easily. As we said in June of last year, someone needed to fix this problem. A couple of archivists, it turns out, were already on the case (among others), and they’ve built Audiosearch. The technology is still buggy, but look for it to become more important as the transcripts improve. Our prediction: one day, we won’t comprehend how anyone could have ever published spoken words without linking it to accurate text. Audible is a pioneer in a related area, with WhisperSync, which links audiobooks to Kindle titles, so readers can either switch back and forth or read the text while listening.

 Editing. Bear with me on this one: editing isn’t new. That said, people weren’t really doing it on podcasts for a long time, other than radio shows that also published as podcasts. Many podcasts are just people talking in a room, especially comedians. Until NPR got super serious about the form, it was fine to consider a show finished as soon as two talented people completed a recording session, but in a more crowded market for podcasts, this no longer flies. Shows are expected to cut out the garbage and make good use of listeners’ time. Editing is back.

The finite playlist. When I first started listening to podcasts, I used to sometimes make my own playlists on my PC for listening on my iPod. It was a chore, though. Stitcher came along and created an app that let you stitch together a playlist of shows, and you could just listen to the most recent episode each show automatically. That was nice, but it also tended to leave travelers reaching their destination in the middle of a show. So Otto has added a new twist: creating a playlist that fits a designated timeframe.

Local recording for remote interviews. Interviews are huge in podcasting, but it’s off-putting when there’s a glaring difference in how a host sounds and someone he or she is talking to over the phone. Enter Zencastr. It allows podcasters to have a voice-over-internet conversation, but record both sides on their local computer. This gives each side the best possible sound. Zencastr released version 1.0 in November, after more than 30,000 hours of use in its beta. Podcasting entrepreneur John Lee Dumas was the first to flag the software for us last year.

API streaming. This may be the most controversial item on this list. Podcasters have always bemoaned their inability to know if their listeners actually listen. This isn’t possible using the traditional podcasting distribution method, RSS. With most listening moving onto mobile devices, however, this can change. When podcasts go via an API, the data becomes a two-way street. All the big networks are getting into API distribution, but we covered Art9, a company focused on that aspect exclusively. If you don’t like the idea of shows watching you listen, though, it’s hard to imagine that RSS will ever get stamped out entirely.

StandardsWhat is a download? The professional side of podcasting may be a small niche, but when we did our story on the NPR and its affiliate decision to define a “download” internally, a lot of people had something to say about it. Who knew defining a data point could be so controversial? Since then, the Interactive Advertising Bureau has convened a working group that’s gone deeper into these issues, releasing a report in September. With that process moving, advertisers and programmers should soon speak one language when setting goals.

Making excerpts shareable. We’re making this one the number one innovation in podcasting because it’s basically complete and quite elegant. This American Life made a tool that better shares clips from audio, with backing from the Knight Foundation. To select the clips, users highlight the text of the transcript (see #7). Check out the site for the tool, which will hopefully become open source one day and all kinds of podcasters can use it to grow the medium’s overall audience more quickly. If anything can ever make audio go viral, it’s a solution like this.

We’ll leave you with an example clip, picked by Stephanie Foo, who shepherded the Shortcut project within the organization:

The Top 8 Podcasting Innovations of 2016