Unlocking Podcasts with Search, Browsing, and Transcripts

I love podcasts. I listen on long car trips, short errands, and while doing chores around the house. Podcasts fill similar niches in many peope’s lives, but far more people either don’t have or don’t want to fill those niches. Wouldn’t it be great if all the content currently locked away in podcasts were available to them too? And even for podcast fans, the content of podcasts is difficult to browse and nearly impossible to search.

These issues of podcast accessibility are particularly acute for what I call “timeless” podcasts. These are podcasts that are not tied to recent events or news. Marc Meron has insightful conversations with amazing guests, and I spend more time browsing his back catalog than listening to his most recent. I discovered the Requiem Metal Podcast in the middle of its two year hiatus, and I had a great time digging through old episodes. I would love to be able to easily search their 179 episode archive for particular bands.

Over the last two years, the Teach Better Podcast has built up its own 45 episode archive of content begging to be unlocked. In fact, we have big plans on this front.

1. Readability

The obvious answer here is transcripts. There are automated solutions, but the results are pretty unpleasant to read. Manual transcription services cost about $60-90/hour. That adds up to more than we’re willing to spend, but we’re actively looking for a podcast sponsor who would. If you’re interested or you know someone who is, please do get in touch!

2. Searchability

If we have transcripts, search comes for free. The nice thing here is that cheap/free automatically-generated transcripts work well enough for search. If we don’t find a sponsor to cover manual transcript costs, we might go this route. Renowned iOS developer _DavidSmith recently created PodSearch, a proof-of-concept site where he automatically indexes a few of his favorite podcasts, and the results are promising.

3. Browsability:

The state of the art in podcast browsability is a chronological list of episodes, each of which links to a page that contains show notes and a button for playing the episode. That’s what TBP offers now, but we can do so much better. I want to see episodes grouped by academic discipline. I want to see episodes grouped by pedagogy (e.g., online, pure lecture, seminar, or flipped classes). I want to be able to read the show notes and play just the chunk that looks most interesting in that moment. I want everything to be clickable, just like the original hypertext vision of the web. I want visitors to be able to share links to not just episodes but specific chunks of episodes. I want to open up our podcast content to a whole new way of listening and exploring.

So this is the vision. The plan is to implement gradually over the next six months. Check back often to see how we’re doing!