The two biggest challenges in podcasting

Back in June, I wrote to you a couple of times about Google’s latest venture into podcasting distribution. There’s widespread agreement among podcasting people that Android smartphone users represent a big potential growth area for podcasts, if only there was a solid pre-installed default app they could use (like Apple Podcasts on iOS) instead of having to fiddle around downloading third party options before they can even start listening.

I’m still keeping an eye on the Google Podcasts app that launched a couple of months ago, and I like the changes they’ve made so far — it has good homescreen recommendations based on prior listening and easy to use controls. I was very surprised, therefore, to read yesterday that there is another podcast app in development at Google, apparently called Shortwave.

The app was revealed via a trademark filing, which states its purpose as “allow[ing] users to search, access, and play digital audio files, and to share links to audio files”. It’s being worked on by an experimental unit within Google called Area 120, apparently, and has no connection to their other podcast operations.

A spokesperson has said that Shortwave “helps users discover and consume spoken word audio in new ways”, prompting a lot of speculation on the Android blogosphere that this is Google’s attempt to make audio more easily shareable and podcasts more discoverable.

Those are two of the biggest and most talked-about challenges in podcasting: how do we make it easier for people to share podcasts they like in a way that makes them accessible for new listeners (ie not an iTunes store link, shudder), and how do we make it easier for people who listen to one podcast to find five more shows that they will like? Commonly-asked questions, which currently lack any definitive answers.

Who knows if Shortwave will ever make it onto our phones, and whether it will be popular and useful if it does (remember that app called “Google Listen”, which died a death in 2012? Nobody else does). But I feel slightly buoyed by the news that Google is experimenting in this space — it’s only by trying new ways of passing audio around that we’ll ever get to good solutions.

Another live in person update: I’ll be at the London Podcast Festival on 16 September for two events: an onstage conversation with Starlee Kine called “Cracking the Mystery of Mystery Show” (tickets here) and a workshop called “Marketing Your Podcast” (very affordable tickets here). I’ll also be generally around the festival that day, so hopefully see some of you there.