Adam and Jerod sit down to answer a listener question (Hi, Alex! 👋) about how we podcast. Not how we create podcasts, but how we consume podcasts. Along the way we share an update on our comments feature, discuss the Apple Podcasts rollout debacle (and how it affected us launching Ship It!), and give a few personal recommendations of podcasts we’re listening to.
- ICYMI: Backstage #16 on comments removal
- Jerod uses Overcast
- Adam uses Castro
- Is it a lemon? Apple’s botched podcasts rollout
- Marco Arment on Apple’s developer relations
- The Podcast Index
Click here to listen along while you enjoy the transcript. 🎧
We are Backstage…
And we have a little bit of a follow-up, a little bit of a grab bag, following up to Let Us Know In the Comments… First of all, we had some nice comments on that episode.
Yeah, that was ironic.
And in Slack. And if you click through to the Discuss On Changelog News link in your show notes, you will see that the comments section is still there, partially because I was a procrastinator, and partially because we’ve just slowly changed our mind… Or at least I did. I don’t know, Adam - what’s your take on the comments now?
Well, I think we may have – so it’s good to pay attention to the law, essentially, when it comes to like our jurisdiction is the U.S, so we’re looking at the way that that kind of thing plays into comments…
Of course, yeah. We don’t wanna be outlaws.
Right. We may have exacerbated the problem though; we’re not really with those, but it’s the potential of dealing with it. So that was like the fear of and the concern of the future issues that could come with it, less like these really cool comments that are sporadic. We enjoy those. Those are great. And thankfully, that’s really what we had to deal with, is not the bad side, but the good side. So I think if we can keep more of this good side, then I’m cool with it, basically.
Yeah, there’s lots of good feedback on that. Some were in the comments of the episode, some were in Slack, some were on Twitter, some were in all sorts of places, which is kind of one of the reasons why we said “Do we really need a Comments section?” Because there are other places to discuss. But a couple of arguments, or I guess points - we’re not arguing, but points that were made that were somewhat compelling to me was why people do like the comments section.
First of all, a lot of people didn’t know we had the comments; a lot of that is probably because of the UI on our side that just doesn’t make it very prominent, especially on podcast episodes. Like, there’s a Discuss button… But if you landed on the episode page and there were comments right there, you would be more likely to comment, versus clicking away. So that’s something that we should probably –
Or give value in the comments. There’s often times when I read the comments on content and I’m just like there just to read the comments, not even participate.
Right. So there’s that. But I think the one point that was compelling to me is the comments are a very nice place when they’re attached to the episode for some aspects of permanence. So there’s really no permanence on Twitter, there’s actually no permanence in Slack, because we are on the free Slack plan, which means we get thousand messages and then they just disappear into the ether, right? Or you might think of it like that, you might think Slack holds them hostage until we have some money.
Right. The hostage ether.
So we can have those discussions, but… You know, it’s nice to have a place where you could, for example, add a link, or say “Oh, you guys discussed this. Here’s another cool thing.” And you could have that stick with the episode; even if they’re infrequent, it’s kind of a nice thing.
So there was that, and there were a few people that said “We like the comments.” Some people said “Go ahead and get rid of them. I didn’t know they existed.”
Also haven’t had too many bad comments lately, so maybe I was just a little burned out on moderation, but then we’ve gotten some good ones and we were like “Hm…” It’s more work to actually go remove them than it is just to not do anything.
Well, the spam we’ve had has been mostly profile spam, not comment spam, right?
So I think if we curb the profiles coming in and spamming, and we’ve obviously done some limitation on – if you have a profile, you have some limitations on when you can comment; that has helped to curb the comments spam, which definitely can be taxing on the moderation side.
Right. So I’ve taken some moves on the profile side so that – I think we got on some sort of list on a good place to sign up and get a free profile kind of a thing.
I’m convinced that the people that are signing up…
The affiliate marketers out there, they have their lists…
[03:58] Yeah. I’m convinced that the people that are signing up are not robots, they’re actual humans… Because we’ve used various techniques, including – we’re just using standard Google reCAPTCHA at this point, which is some of the most advanced CAPTCHA technology in the whole Universe… [laughs] And yet, plenty of people sign up every day who are clearly spammers.
So what I did was I just said, “Well, no public profile by default. You have to have an approved comment or news item before you can actually have a profile.” If we create your account for you, invite you on the show, obviously you get one, so…
You’re blessed. You’re good to go.
Exactly, you’re pretty blessed. But if you just sign up, you do not get a public profile page until you’ve had some sort of good contribution… And then you get one, which I think is fair. Because there’s really nothing on your page anyways until you have some content that you’ve created. That’s the way the profiles work.
So that’s helped insofar as we’re no longer hosting spammy profiles that we don’t know about, but it hasn’t stopped the spammers from signing up. And here’s how I know they’re humans - because when you sign up, if you try to turn on your profile, it says “You have to comment or submit a news item before you can turn on your profile.” And we’ve gotten way more spam news items lately. So they read that and then they submit a news item, which basically just to their spam page.
So now instead of getting a bunch of profiles, we’re getting a bunch of profiles with news items associated, so we get twice as much spam. But at least it’s not out there and we’re not reposting those things. Anyways… A little bit off-topic, but some of the things that we’re working on.
Well, a little bit more on that topic though, I wanna share some appreciation… So there’s an admin section to our website that no one sees besides essentially us, and I stumbled upon – you know, we have a people tab, and so you can look at all the people, essentially… And then I noticed in the dropdown we have a spammy profile, essentially; this sort of sub-list of the list. And there’s 995 people that are considered spammy - long bio, excessive links, things like that. So as a point of appreciation, I appreciated that… I didn’t build that, you built that. That’s cool.
Yeah. Well, I was trying to scrub them more quickly and easily, and that “algorithm” - it’s actually just highfalutin to even call it an algorithm. The way that thing works is not perfect… It basically says “If you have a bio or a website link and you’re not subscribed to anything and you’ve never had a good comment, then you’re spammy.” That doesn’t mean you’re actually a spammer. If you look at some of those, they’re legit people that signed up… Because I’m in there deleting the ones that I know, I’m like “Ah, I’ll get rid of you.” It’s like pulling out weeds; I like to do it once in a while. But I look at it and I’m like “Yeah, this guy’s spammy, but I don’t think he’s actually a spammer. I think he just hasn’t done anything yet.” And then I realized the reason why it’s not perfect is because we host two of our nine newsletters off-site. So Changelog Weekly and Changelog Nightly are sent via campaign monitors mailing lists, and all of our other “newsletter”, which are kind of transactional. They’re notifications (“There’s a new episode of Go Time”), but that counts as a subscription in our system - those are all sent via campaign monitors SMTP gateways. So they’re just transactional emails.
And so we host – it’s easy and cheap for us to say “Are you subscribed to Go Time?” But it’s more expensive of a call to say “Are you subscribed to Changelog Weekly?” because we have to go ask the campaign monitor.
So those people are most likely - and I hand-check a few of them, like “Yeah, you know what - this person actually just subscribed to Weekly”, but our spammy indicator thinks they’re spammy because we don’t know about Weekly internally. All we know about is our podcast newsletters.
We talked about how to potentially bring that list inside of the site, and how that would work…
And that’s the fix. The fix is we host all of the signing up and subscribing and unsubscribing to all of our newsletters locally, and then we just send via campaign monitor. That’s on the old to-do list.
So once I can get that done, which is actually not very many steps, then we can actually get that spammy list and we can just auto-purge old ones…
Yes! I like that.
…because we know that they are actually spammy. They’re not just signing up for Weekly.
I’d prefer to weed out 95, versus almost a thousand.
It makes me wonder how people with very popular websites deal with this stuff. I guess they just live with it… Because I just don’t like having fake accounts in my system. It’s like, “Come on, man…”
Well, especially when you wanna promote to the community who’s here, legitimately.
Exactly. Well, I think maybe startups like it the other way, because if every spam account still goes in their users table, and they’re like “Look at all these users…” [laughs] I mean, probably that’s why a lot of the big social networks start reporting things like daily active users and monthly active users, because their actual user base is probably 10%, 15%, 20% fake accounts… [unintelligible 00:08:59.13] that table is not indicative of actual people, so that’s probably why they started switching to those metrics. Thankfully we’re not that popular… My psyche couldn’t handle it…
I’m looking forward to eventually creating some time to deal with this newsletter stuff, because I’d love to bring that in-house… There’s some things around the way we send that email in particular; I think we can do better…
And a side conversation that we had before, that doesn’t necessarily meet Backstage standards, is I think we can just make it better. Deal with all this spam stuff… I guess it’s not that big of a deal having this list. It’s just sitting there. But we know there’s a thousand people that are spammy, potentially…
Right. Plus there’s this aspect of it… So one thing I think would be worth doing as a gateway, so we could be official gatekeepers, is you have to subscribe to Changelog Weekly to submit news. I don’t think that’s asking too much, because that’s actually like the newsletter you’re trying to be on. It’s like, “Well, if you’re gonna be on it, then don’t you think it’s not asking too much to just subscribe to it?”
And even that’s hard to do, because it’s just expensive checks over to that, and it’s just a little bit more work than I’d want it to be. Whereas if it was just locally in our database, it would be just as easy as saying anything else. So we don’t do that, but I think that would be a next step to get rid of… I mean, all these spammers will probably just subscribe to Changelog Weekly then. We’d have a bunch of – at least then they’d have to get our emails, you know? We get their spam, they get our spam. [laughter]
It goes both ways. It goes both ways.
Yeah. If you’re gonna spam us, you’re gonna have to at least delete our newsletter once a week.
That’s fair. Well, I guess speaking –
We are off-topic though, for sure…
Yeah, speaking of the comments… So we had one specific comment from Alex R, who started talking about how they consume podcasts, and how – podcasts are a weird thing. It’s kind of nice, there’s no centralized place… We’ll talk about that with our latest Apple Podcasts run-in, where it hurt, but it didn’t hurt as bad as it could have… But “Where do you comment?” is kind of what they were talking about… Which led to a question of like “How do we discuss things with the podcasts that we listen to?” We know there’s certain social apps like Breaker, which was a podcast app, which tried to promote commenting in the community… And we get a random comment in there every once in a while.
Always good comments.
Always solid. It was never spammy.
But they could never reach a critical mass, so they got bought by Twitter, and now they’re working on Twitter Spaces; the team that was behind Breaker is now working on Twitter Spaces, so that’s gone away…
Spotify, I don’t think they’re interested in commenting and discussion. I don’t know. So that led to the question of like how do we actually consume podcasts, and that’s what I guess ostensibly this Backstage episode is about, answering Alex’s question.
[11:57] So the topic is just like “Hey, what kind of stuff do you guys use with regards to podcasts?” And actually not how do we create our podcasts. Because we could talk about our gear, and all that… This is more like how do we consume. And I think the answer is gonna be kind of boring, because we’re both gonna say probably the same thing.
Well, let’s see what happens then…
So how do you listen to podcasts?
I used to be a die-hard Overcast user, and I also have Pocket Casts installed. Not a user, not a fan either… But I like Castro.
Oh… The plot thickens, because I thought you were gonna say Overcast.
So I’ve been using Castro. I think it’s just got a simpler UI… I don’t know, I think it’s got a dark background… I don’t know. It just wasn’t Overcast. Which - I have no problem with Overcast. Everybody uses it, so I wanted to go off the beaten path and try something different.
I got exposed to Castro whenever we started to do Changelog++ with Supercast, because that’s part of Andrew Wilkinson’s thing. I think Castro is one of his tiny companies…
And I think anything he does is aesthetically pleasing and has some thought behind the usefulness of the product. So I’m like “I wanna try something different”, and that’s what I did. So I tried Castro. And I’ve stuck with it, and I like it. It’s got side-loading, it’s got other features that I don’t even use, but it’s got some cool stuff in there. The main thing is it’s easy to navigate, easy to jump around the timeline, easy to get to notes, easy to add new podcasts… They have tasteful advertising of other podcasts when you search for podcasts; I think that’s always appreciated. It seems like they’re paying attention to the landscape, not just here for the money.
Yeah. I’ve heard good things. I’ve never tried Castro… I have been an Overcast user since Overcast came out, and still happily an Overcast user. Now, I might actually be hooked on it because –
Oh, is that right?
…I use it for clipping. So it’s not just a consumption software, it’s also a creation software. So I rely upon the Share Clip functionality inside overcast in order to create our highlights that we put out as audiograms on Twitter and YouTube. And I don’t know if anybody else allows that feature. Does Castro have any sort of sharing beyond just like “Share to timestamp” or “Share episode”? I think if anybody did, it would be them or Pocket Casts, because those three seem to be the indie – I’m not sure if Pocket Casts is indie anymore, but indie, dev, high-quality, sweat-the-details, and they kind of compete with each other in a positive way.
So I would expect maybe Castro has something like that, but the clipping function, especially – Overcast allows us to clip to audio only, which is what we use, because we don’t need the video. We create our own videos after the fact. So it’s just like grabbing an m4a file at the end of the day and saving it directly to Dropbox.
So that takes out a step, which would be like taking the video and stripping the audio out, which we’d have to do if we were gonna do something that did video as well… So that feature is pretty much a killer feature for me. But aside from that, it’s always been a nice, well thought out, easy to use piece of software.
There’s a trim feature, so you can definitely pull some clips… I don’t see that it gives you audio-only, however video technically is audio-only too, because you can just extract the audio from video.
So I think if you wanted to try it, it’s worth trying.
The UI looks good for trimming.
Nice. The other feature I like on Overcast is that if you’re a paid person - which I am; I think it’s like $10/year, or something along that…
That’s what it was, yeah.
[16:09] And he allows you to upload arbitrary files via the web UI and listen to them inside of Overcast… Which is kind of nice for things that you have which aren’t podcasts. So you can kind of turn them into podcasts and use the features of it like the smart silence, and the voice boost, and stuff like that.
So I use that quite a bit, too.
Oh, you do?
I thought that would be a once-in-a-while thing.
You know, I listed to old Bible preaching stuff, and a lot of those are really low-quality audio, because it was from like the ’70s or whatever…
You needs some help making them better, for sure.
Yeah. And then there’s like long silences… They’re just not great, and I don’t wanna do all the processing myself, but I wanna listen to them the same way I listen to podcasts - right there, in the same UI, same place, same features, sleep timer, skip forward, skip back etc. So I just upload them via the web UI and listen to them through there, and they sound a lot better, and it’s nice. So it’s stuff like that…
What about the 1x, 2x, 3x feature? Do you get into that?
I’m just kind of a 1x kind of a guy… I will go – I’m looking at my settings here now… Okay, so my global setting is at – the smart speed is on, which shortens silences, so that’s little bit of x-ing… But my setting is like 1.3x. That’s my default. And then certain podcasts I’ll speed up or slow down. Because you can have global processing settings inside of Overcast, and then you can override podcasts.
So for ours, I listen to all of ours at 1x, with Smart Speed off and Voice Boost off, because I’m doing basically quality assurance when I listen to ours. I wanna hear how it sounds how we put it out.
So I turn them off for ours, and then for other longer-form podcasts I’ll maybe go to 1.5x. I just can’t get used to a 2x. It’s just too chipmunky. I know Nick Nisi from JS Party does listen to everything at 3x, I think, and he consumes podcasts like I consume peanut butter jelly sandwiches, I guess… A lot of them, fast.
[laughs] Twice a day?
Yeah, exactly. [laughs]
Post-breakfast, pre-lunch, post-lunch, pre-dinner?
It’s nice, because I’ll be losing my teeth in my 80’s or something, and I’ll still be eating PB&J’s, because you can [unintelligible 00:18:35.26] with your gums, but I just loved – you know, it’s like a kid’s meal. And I’ve just loved PB&J.
Let’s get a little bit deeper into this PB&J thing.
Do you toast it?
I will eat it toast. I will appreciate it toast. But if I’m making it, no.
You don’t toast it.
No. I used to put butter on there. My dad called it PBB&J - peanut butter, butter and jelly.
Is that right?
Yeah, because it adds just a little bit more richness to it… But it’s already bad enough for you.
One more layer deeper then. You know I’m a fan of cast iron skillets, right?
So I have this little 6-inch of 7-inch cast iron skillet. So in our house we have this thing called a Sam-Sammy. It’s basically a ham sandwich grilled like a grilled cheese. So I kind of know where I’m going with this… Instead of making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a toaster, or not toasted, I’m making like a grilled cheese.
That sounds spectacular.
Put some butter on the outside, then you put your jelly or jam, or your jelly jam… I mean, we can go there, too.
It could be almond butter, it could be peanut butter, it could be thick, it could be creamy, it could be crunchy… All the mixes. But I love it like that. You could make it like a grilled cheese sandwich, but on a cast iron, and it’s super-good.
Right. That sounds spectacular.
It’s like a gourmet style. It’s like, do you wanna kick it up a notch? If you’re really a PB&J guy, this is like maybe your dinner PB&J, versus like your breakfast PB&J.
Yeah, exactly. You had it regular for lunch, but this is dinner. Like, let’s get special.
“This is dinner, so I’m gonna skillet this one.” Yes.
That sounds good. It’s kind of like when you go to a restaurant and you order macaroni and cheese or something, or - what’s the other one? Ramen. But it’s not like the ramen that you ate in college. It’s gonna be spectacular. It’s gourmet, they’re gonna do it right.
Yeah, I would definitely eat that. Anyways, Nick Nisi listens at 3x, like I eat PB&J’s, which is early and often… I don’t know how you can do that. I think maybe you just get used to it over time, but both mentally, I’ve tried it. a) Chipmunk effect really bothers me. b) Mentally, I just can’t keep up. I’m just sitting there like “Uhm…” And of course, when I listen to podcasts, I’m usually multi-tasking.
You get anxious.
So I’m mowing the lawn, or I’m running, or I’m driving, and now I’m really having to pay attention hard, and I’m driving - that’s a bad combo. So I’m a 1x guy. What about you? Do you speed it up?
Okay, so I pretty much will only ever use 1x. And it’s less of – I definitely agree with your chipmunk style, and that’s definitely the issue, but I think I’m such a purist because I create podcasts… So it’s like a filmmaker trying to alter somebody else’s film to watch.
Yeah, it’s like he shot it in this aspect ratio, but now you’re stretching it to fit your screen.
Yeah, exactly. For some reason, I just can’t get past–
So do you get offended then? Do you get offended if someone listens to us at 2x?
No. I mean, you do how you do. I’m not gonna knock you. So just listen to the show, be a consumer and enjoy it… But personal taste, it’s more like – I wanna enjoy the art, because I think it is an art form. I wanna enjoy the art as it’s delivered, unaltered. I wouldn’t mind to remove silences, like Overcast has…
Voice Boost. What about Voice Boost? Some podcasts - the content is really compelling, but they aren’t treated like art…
If you need it, definitely use the tool.
…and it’s like “Nah, I can’t listen to this, because I can’t hear this person. Turn them up.”
I think so, yeah. If it’s a tool that could be used to consume it better and enjoy it better, for sure. My personal taste on speed is 1x. It’s like Texas forever, 1x forever.
1x for life. It’s not gonna happen. You’re not gonna see me at 1.2x, 1.5x, or anything above that. You’re just gonna see me at 1x. That’s just my taste. Because if you’ve got music in there, I don’t wanna hear your music 1.2x or 1.5x, I wanna hear it at 1x, as intended. So I think on that I give credit to the producers of podcasts who deliver great art, and I’ll listen to it unaltered. This is my style.
Yeah. What about interactions? Do you ever think “If I could interact with this podcast, I would”? Or do you? And is there a way?
That’s a great question, because I think that that’s the one – you know, as a podcaster for a very long time, that’s the one thing of the loop that’s missing, is that feedback loop. I think it can be overwhelming if it was like – so YouTube comments, there’s a lot of them. If you have a popular YouTube video, there’s usually hundreds if not thousands of comments. I don’t really envy that world, but I do envy that connection. So I would like to have that as part of the process, but I think to get there, you have to sort of centralize a lot of what podcasting is, which sort of gets to this Apple issue, potentially… You have to have a central bank of sort, you have to have some sort of central place to have this feature be ubiquitous across platforms, and be useful. And podcasts are just independent. There’s no real right way. You can produce a mini-series and it’s still a podcast. It’s just simply an mp3 delivery via RSS to a subscribable thing, some sort of client that can do that. That’s what podcasts are.
[23:49] So I think in that case I would like to see it, but I don’t know how. If somebody could solve this problem – so you’ve got Breaker; we’ve talked about Breaker. Great ideas, great team behind the thing, and still couldn’t get it to critical mass. They had a lot of great stuff. I mean, beautiful UI, great interactions, great team behind it… And it’s not there. Overcast - indie maker. Marco’s not – I don’t know what he’s doing with it. He’s not adding features that I can tell…
Yeah. So there’s no one really investing in the UX of podcasting at large, except for maybe the larger players now. And to some degree, that’s a back-step in Apple’s case. In Spotify’s case, they’re adding video, they’re doing other things, but maybe it’s a slower iteration process to the better…
You know, Soundcloud was great with comments.
They were, yeah.
They had timestamp comments, they would put your little avatar on the part of the song that you actually commented on, and it’d be like “I love this beat” or “I love this drop.” And it was like timestamped and nice. And I thought – for a while, we were kind of tinkering with Souncloud as like where we were gonna be, for a while…
And I don’t know why they weren’t able to capture the podcasting community and listeners. I don’t know where they are with music, I don’t really track them that closely. That was some really cool technology. I think Prometheus came out of Soundcloud.
It did, yeah.
I know there’s some cool stuff that’s come out of Soundcloud. Spotify - I’m not a user. I’m just an Apple music person, so I use Spotify pretty much only to make sure our stuff is working etc. I’ve never liked Spotify’s app. I tried it, and I just thought “This thing is clunky, I don’t get it.” I’m not sure why everybody love Spotify, but a lot of people sure love Spotify. 300 million active users, I think… Huge, huge audience.
But I don’t know, maybe they’re interested in doing this, because they’re trying to set themselves apart… But if they started a commenting discussion thing around podcasts, would I be excited about that? I probably wouldn’t, because not all our audience is there. Just like we had some people say “Why don’t you just start a SubReddit?” It’s like, now we’re just having the slice of our audience who also likes to hang out on Reddit, which is probably a large minority, but is a minority. I know lots of our listeners wouldn’t step foot in Reddit, and a lot of them live there, so it’s tough.
I think that’s gonna be the case though… If you wanna have any sort of threaded commenting on a podcast, it’s gonna be a sliver of the audience… Because it’s not centralized.
It’s just gonna be the case. If it’s gonna be Spotify doing it, it’s gonna be the Spotify audience. Because there’s gonna be Apple Music lovers like you, that are only there for the podcasts. They need the QA, which is a very small subset of the human race at large…
It’s not even like here in the U.S.
And I would say most of the people that I’ve seen talking about podcasting on Spotify don’t like it. They say it’s not good. And I know Spotify is putting a lot of work into it, so maybe it’s gonna get better, but the actual experience there – I mean, because you take an app/site that’s built around music from day one, and now you just kind of like shoehorn podcasting into it… It’s not gonna be built for podcasting. Like, the way they think about it –
I don’t like it. I don’t listen to podcasts there, and I’m a die-hard Spotify user. I guess I’m a Spotify user because it’s what I began with. I think Apple Music came out later than it.
It did, yeah. The streaming side of it.
So I just sort of stuck there, because I’ve got playlists there, and I don’t know how to move them. We’ve got a family plan, my wife’s there, we have kids, we have Sonos…
We’ve got going to sleep soundtracks… We just have a lot of investment into the Spotify ecosystem, and I’m not a listener of podcasts on Spotify. I can care less. But they’re there.
I don’t ever mix – I never am hopping back and forth between tunes and podcasts. It’s different moods, different scenarios…
[28:00] It’s a different UI, too. You have different needs when you listen to music than you do with podcasts, and I can appreciate some of the things they have done with music though. I love the little mini-videos… But we’re never gonna produce that for a podcast. I mean, maybe, potentially… I don’t know, that’d be kind of cool to think about… But whenever the full screen is like a video - have you ever seen this? Do you know what I’m talking about?
I’ve watched some of the Joe Rogan Experience on there, but it’s like [unintelligible 00:28:23.02]
Well, not like video like that, but more like if you’re listening to, say, The Weeknd, for example, and you’re listening to one of his songs…
It will have a mini music video. It loops over and over and over. It’s about 30 seconds long.
Okay, so it’s not like the actual music video. It’s just like a thing–
Stylistic, very cool… Yeah.
It could be like motion-based album art. That’s a cool idea. I can dig that.
Actually, in Apple Music I clicked into a portion where I thought it was gonna be like – it was like “Music Videos.” I’m like, “Oh, I haven’t watched a music video in a while. I’ll click here.” And I thought it was gonna take me to some sort of a UI, like a grid for scrolling the music videos. No. It immediately starts playing this video, which apparently is very popular right now, which is just like full-screen, on my phone, some girl bent over, twerking, with barely anything on… I’m “Whoa!! I did not sign up for this. Cancel, cancel, cancel!”
And I thought, “Yeah… I’m gonna stay away from the videos when it comes to music. They’re getting pretty racy.”
Yeah. Well, I think there’s some room in the UX front to be done, and if there’s gonna be somebody to invest the design and engineering into it, it’s probably gonna be Spotify, or Apple… Although Apple hasn’t shown much interest really, aside from just basic infrastructure for podcasts since the beginning, essentially…
Right. So that leads us into this topic around the new Apple Podcasts, and really what they have been doing.
So they announced paid subscriptions, of course Spotify announced the same thing… Again, you end up 30% take and you’re inside the walled garden… I think it’s maybe compelling… Similar to like if you’re gonna start a video show today, you do it on YouTube. If you’re starting a podcast and you want it to be paid and you don’t wanna do anything else, maybe you just go right there… But I don’t think very many people are going to use that, because you’re just requiring your audience live there if they’re gonna actually be paid.
And to be frank, Apple Podcasts is a large majority of downloads, but it’s not anywhere near a monopoly on that, especially now that Spotify is playing that game. So they’ve announced this, they botched the launch, they’ve delayed the launch, and they botched pretty much the entire infrastructure into place, and it really screwed with us, didn’t it?
It did. I got an email, or in Slack, somebody said that they couldn’t click through from Go Time to Apple Podcasts, and I’m like “That’s weird.” So I went and checked it out. Sure enough, it wouldn’t work. I’m like “This is weird”, so I opened up Podcasts, and then I think you slacked me later on that day and I’m like “Okay, this is unanimous.” Now I’m going to other podcasts we have, and sure enough, none of our podcasts would resolve to the actual URL to Apple Podcasts.
I come to find out… I log into the one place where we can – like, it’s been my user base, because it was not a multi-user system before that’s part of this roll-out to be able to provide management, and users, and roles, and whatnot… And I log in and it says – what did it say? Something like “We’re setting things up. Come back later”, essentially. And that’s a paraphrased version of it. If you want the real version, we’ll screenshot it. But it was like “That is not what I wanna see when I log into Podcast Connect.” No podcasts there, can’t manage them, couldn’t find them in search…
[32:00] You know, we have no connection to anybody at Apple, because it’s just so big… So of course, we submitted Support, we didn’t hear back for two days… Thankfully, we do have somebody we’ve connected with over the years in Apple PR, reached out to them, they helped out, and two or three days later our account is back up.
But essentially, this rollout made a lot of people - and Podnews covered it pretty well; we’ll link to that in our show notes. I think that’s what they’re called, right?
Yeah. They covered it pretty well. It’s a post called “Is it a lemon? Apple’s botched podcasts roll out.” And it’s essentially this big issue that not just us but many have had… And the actual error we saw was “We’re sitting up your account. This could take up to a day, so check back later. When we’re finished, you can start adding shows.” Like, we already added shows. We can’t see our shows. People can’t find our stuff.
Yeah. We had our shows years ago.
It’d be different if it was like we’d just set it up, so that’s the issue… But we’ve been in there for a decade, in some cases. It’s like, that’s weird. I don’t know how you do that. How do you mess that up that badly?
It seems like they’ve set up brand new infrastructure and there’s some sort of a transition between the two. Because they’ve been revamping search, they’re doing all this paid stuff, so there’s like private feeds now… There’s a lot more involved on this particular new version, and that’s just my best guess as like a tech guy… It’s like, okay, I think they needed to actually somehow move us between databases, and they did it in some sort of a staged or arbitrary or random roll-out process… Because people were experiencing this at different times. I remember when it first announced –
Like batches, yeah.
When they first announced, there was a bunch of people saying they got locked out. And Podnews said “Don’t sign up yet”, because they thought if you actually went in and tried to upgrade your account, then you would get locked out, and then they weren’t in the store… And at that point I went and checked all of ours, and I’m like “Oh, we’re good.” So no big whoop. Well, then later on we were in trouble.
So it seems like this is just like a technical moving data from one data center to another kind of a thing, and there’s like this in-flight time where you’re just completely – it’s like you’ve been moved into the new system, but none of your data is there, is my guess. And you’re just offline and nobody can listen to your shows and nobody gets updates…
So our download numbers over the last two weeks were just tanking, and there was nothing we could do about it. This felt kind of helpless, which is the worst feeling. It’s like, you think that you’re in a decentralized, robust, RSS-based world, but…
You’re really not.
…there’s a couple of large players, and if one of them disappears or locks you out, and they’re a black box, there’s just nothing you can do.
And then back to Overcast - we launched a show the same week this happened.
Right. It then exacerbated the problem.
So we were trying to create a new show in Apple Podcasts, which has a trickle effect; while you can’t really add to Overcast, which is also our second-biggest client (Apple Podcasts and Overcast), in most shows at least… And you can’t add to Overcast. It does it by nature of Apple Podcasts–
You can add a URL…
Right, exactly. You can add it personally, but you can’t add it to the system. It inherits from Apple Podcasts.
I think it might merge direct submits and Apple Podcasts, but I think it falls back to Apple Podcasts… I’m not sure.
Well, when I went to add it, it said that. It said “If you’re trying to add a podcast to Overcast”, for others, essentially, the way we do it is essentially we get it from Apple Podcasts. So once it’s added there, it will just appear… Is the paraphrased version of what it said. And that’s great… In a normal world, where you can rely upon this system working.
[35:59] So Marco, if you’re listening to this, rethink that, because I think there’s times where you can’t rely upon Apple, and that’s gonna happen again. And he has a recent post out there that I think is worth mentioning on developer relations in regards to Apple… And back to that sort of like subscriptions, 30% thing - on one side it’s a fractured community, where you have subscriptions on Apple, subscriptions on Spotify… I don’t know how that actually plays out, but he’d mentioned here essentially the Apple leadership continued to deny developers of two obvious truths, he says… That our apps provide substantial value to iOS, beyond the purchase commissions collected by Apple. And two, that any portion of our customers came to our apps, which they paid for, and Apple got money for, from our own marketing and reputation rather than the App Store.
So I think if we’re in this kind of world where you’re subscribing to podcasts - sure. Big ecosystem, big market. But I’m sure that there’s some part of our name that says “We should go and subscribe to this” and therefore Apple or Spotify will get some benefit of it. 30% is a lot. For an indie brand, in most cases - I would say 99% of podcasts are indie. Or 98%. I don’t know how true that is, but from my perspective, it’s probably pretty true. You know, 90%, 95%, somewhere in that portion is indie. And when you take 30% from an indie, plus taxes on your income, or if you’re a corporation, you’ve got corporate tax, which is going through the roof these days, you’re really getting hit from all angles. Plus there’s costs of doing business… It gets substantially harder to run a show of high quality that requires the time and attention to detail and the things we put into it.
Yeah. So speaking to that, I do believe this was a wake-up call specifically for Overcast, because Marco Arment did say on his podcast that around these Apple roll-outs and all of these things he’s decided to adopt the Podcast Index as a secondary source. So the Podcast Index, which is at podcastindex.org, is a relatively new effort led by some of the OG podcasters… I can’t think of the guy’s name right now who heads it up, but he’s like the father of podcasts. What’s his name? The Podfather they call him. Dave something Curry… I’m blanking
Oh yeah, Adam Curry.
From MTV back in the day.
Yeah, exactly, from MTV. So this Podcast Index is like an open source, open thing, and they say “Let’s preserve podcasting as a platform for free speech. We do this by enabling developers to have access to an open, categorized index that will always be available for free for any use.” I love this effort.
And they’re even working on extending the podcast RSS features via a new namespace, which we do support in our feeds… And added enclosures, there’s open debate on it on GitHub etc. And so there’s new enclosures; you can put your hosts in there, with avatars, and your guests in there, you can put location… There’s lots of different new podcast:*, where * is these new enclosures, inside the podcast namespace in this spec.
So I think we’ll see more and more, at least the small apps, the open source apps, the indie dev apps – you’re not gonna see Apple Podcasts probably support this, you’re probably never gonna see Spotify support this… But people out there on the indie scene to take care of each other, us indies, and not make it so dependent on two big organizations.
[39:58] Yeah… Which can show some of their motivation, right? I think if Spotify would not want to support this, and the tagline essentially for Podcast Index is “The open index for everyone” – it’s essentially like saying multi-cloud, or no cloud lock-in, in our world… It’s kind of like that, where this isn’t locking you into the Spotify world or into the Apple world; that you can move about as necessary, because podcasts are an independent infrastructure. This is like saying no to that independence, and saying yes to “We want to be a walled garden and control it.”
And that to me is icky. That’s not cool. Despite the purchase or the license or however you wanna frame the Joe Rogan thing, despite the pedestal they’ve put podcasts on to popularize it from a marketing/news standpoint, that’s not cool to me.
Somebody who’s been doing this for a very long time wants to keep doing it for a very long time. People like us whose livelihoods are built on this podcast [unintelligible 00:41:06.24] that’s a threat. It’s not cool. It’s like saying – we wanna determine what screws and nuts and woods you can buy to build your things.
Totally. On the bright side, which is kind of the side that I had to take in order to not get excruciatingly mad while we’re offline… I think it was exacerbated by the fact that we were trying to put Ship It in there, and people were asking why is it not on Apple Podcasts, and we’re like “Well, it’s embarrassing, to a certain degree.”
It was embarrassing.
You’re trying to launch a show and you can’t launch it to a large portion of –
Yeah. You have people telling you “Hey, I’m trying to check this out and I can’t find it. What’s going on?”
Yeah. Meanwhile, to Spotify’s credit, we added it to Spotify and it was there within hours.
I mean, they gave us the URL immediately, but the actual information populated within hours. So when we were offline on Apple, I think we lost - or we couldn’t reach - about 30%, maybe 40%… 30% to 40% of our audience, which is too much.
But what it’s not is 100%.
Yes. The optimism. I love it.
What it’s not is everybody. Because look at YouTube. Look at Spotify. I guess Spotify doesn’t count if you’re – I mean, if you’re exclusively on Spotify…
If you go exclusive…
Which people do.
And I think YouTube’s the best anti-pattern, because that is the one that is like everyone’s exclusive, because nobody’s video is anywhere else… And if we were trying to launch Ship It on YouTube and we couldn’t get on, or we were on there and all of a sudden we lost the entire – I mean, that’s 100% of your audience just cut out from underneath you.
So podcasting is more robust than video is, as is evidenced by this… But it’s potentially getting more and more centralized, as Apple and Spotify get more serious about it.
Yeah. It’s hub-and-spoke. Podcasting is definitely more hub-and-spoke, where the RSS feed, and our site, and where we store it and host it is the hub, and the spokes are the individual places you can consume it… That makes sense. And then YouTube is straight up just the hub. There is no spokes.
To Apple’s credit though too, once they were back up, once we had Podcasts connect back up and we added Ship It, it was there in hours.
It was there quickly. Because I even changed [unintelligible 00:43:32.22] They have changed too, where they would take a couple days to publish it; it would be inactive or pending for a day or so, until they manually vetted it. And I don’t know what it was this time, but it said “Published” essentially immediately. And then I went and searched in Podcasts and found it pretty quickly… So that was quick, man.
[44:02] These are going to have ebb and flows, that’s for sure, but maybe one question to tail off on would be finding good podcasts. Consuming is one thing, but finding good podcasts - that’s the hard thing, I think. How do you do it?
Every time, right?
Is that like a tweet, is that like an email? Does it vary?
Usually I ask people like– it’s kind of like “Have you read any good books lately?”
Hacker News, comments?
No, that’s not personal. That’s impersonal. It’s usually personal. Like “Hey, this podcast is awesome. Check it out.” That’s usually how I find stuff. Now, there have been some that I’ve found other ways. A lot of times it’s just following people that I appreciate listening to them talk, so I’ll just follow them on to some other podcast, and I’ll say “Oh, this is a pretty good podcast. I’ll give them a listen.” But most of it is personal recommendation; people saying “Oh, I was listening to this show the other day. You’ve gotta listen to it.” And maybe it’s just an episode. “Oh, this was a great episode.” And I’ll go check it out. And that’s pretty much it… How about you?
I mean, I don’t go searching for podcasts… Do you? Like, “I need a new podcast. I’m gonna search Google for podcasts about low and slow.
Yeah, I think my finding of sources is different. And it’s actually kind of weird to say this, because I don’t go and search out a podcast to find new content… I will search straight up Google, in some cases, find some things. YouTube… TikTok has become a new source for me to find certain things. I’m into plants these days
…and bioactive habitats, and spiders and stuff like that? It’s pretty cool, man…
You’re pretty hip to be on TikTok.
I think so. Well, I’m not on there as a producer, I’m on there as a consumer. But that’s where I’ll find my creators. And then from there, I might track their podcast. So I think in that case, the way people find people like us like – you know, they’re searching for something on React, or searching for something on Kubernetes, or infrastructure, whatever it might be; or the latest open source thing. Or what’s happening with Deno. “Oh, there’s a podcast here. I listened to this Ryan Dahl podcast on The Changelog. Oh wow, they’ve got a whole backlog for years”, and get lost in it.
So I think you’re searching topically and finding creators, and then discovering what ways they share their content. It could be blog, it could be podcast, it could be TikTok, it could be Twitter threads… There’s all sorts of ways you can share ideas, and I don’t think we’ve chosen podcasts as the best medium.
With that in mind, a few personal recommendations; if you’re looking for a new podcast, I will not recommend to you Ship It, because that’s just self-serving. But you should probably check that one out, our brand new podcast from Changelog Media, with Gerhard Lazu… But a couple podcasts that you will probably enjoy - Decoder with Nilay Patel, if you’re into big ideas. If you like The Vergecast or anything that they put out over there. Nilay does a great job interviewing people who are generally smart and high up at important places. For example, Ford just announced their new F-150 Lightning, which is the first time in the history of me owning Tesla stock that I’ve been a little bit nervous about my Tesla stock… Because it’s a compelling vehicle, and I did reserve one just in case, for $100; you can get it out at any time. And right after they announced it, he had Ford’s CEO on the show, which was, I thought, a very good interview. Jim Farley was on Decoder. So Decoder is a good one.
If you like Star Wars, like I do, Full of Sith is a great podcast, where they go deep, deep, deep on Star Wars. And it’s very positive. They’re very positive people. They don’t like to tear it down and complain… Even though there are things to complain about with Star Wars nowadays.
[47:58] What else - The Way I Heard It with Mike Rowe is great. It used to be very short stories that he wrote, and then reads; now they’re kind of becoming longer stories, but it’s still good.
If you like movies, /Filmcast is spectacular. The All-in Podcast is great for startup news and analysis with what’s going on in the Silicon Valley world… What else do I have…? EconTalk - I’ve talked about that one before.
Lots of insights around the economy.
I was surprised you Ryan Singer had that in common, because you guys are both knee-deep in EconTalk.
And I felt like an outsider, I’m like “Wow, you guys are so deep into this. You both subscribe to the same podcast.”
He was deeper than I was. I was like – I hop in and out of EconTalk. Usually I don’t listen to it, and he was like–
He was steeped in it, for sure.
He was very much. Lex Fridman has been doing a lot of great shows…
But how [unintelligible 00:48:44.19] listening to the same podcasts as somebody else? And I guess that maybe does make sense. You guys are both–
I think EconTalk is more popular than maybe we give it credit, because he’s not the first person that I’ve said EconTalk to and they’ve been super-excited. So I think EconTalk is pretty popular amongst economists and those types.
If you want a good comedy podcast, Monday Morning Podcast with Bill Burr. He basically just comes on there and just rambles, and curses and says ridiculous things, and it’s pretty funny. And I won’t go on… There’s more, but I’ll just stop there, because you can’t give too many recommendations.
I’ve got one recommendation.
Yeah, go ahead. What have you got?
Now, this is for anybody, really. If you have kids, it’s a bonus. But it’s for anybody. Blue’s Clues & You.
Yeah. Story time with – I don’t know who. Tim somebody.
The Blue’s Clues guy.
Story time with – I think his name is John. Yeah, John. I believe his name is John. It’s the guy that does the show. So they launched a new Blue’s Clues. They’ve had – I would imagine they’re like hosts; so Blue’s Clues & You is a show. And they’ve had a couple different people host the show, and now they have a brand new person… And they have this awesome podcast. It’s like four minutes, five minutes long… It’s not very long. It’s a very cool story, all the cool sound effects that you hear on the show… [unintelligible 00:50:03.19] That’s how Blue talks.
And my son, Micah, loves it. It’s a fan-favorite in our household. So I say it’s a bonus if you have kids, because I think adults can enjoy it too, but it’s probably better with kids.
Yeah. Excellent. Well, there’s a few recommendations. We’ll link to those in our show notes. If you’re listening to cool podcasts that you would like to recommend to us - well, let us know in the comments. You can also hop in the Slack and let us know. We’re always looking for personal recommends. We do appreciate if you do like our shows that you recommend those to people… And I do say that at the end of the show, because I think Adam has said if before, that’s the best way you can support us. You can also directly support us with Changelog++. In fact, if you’re listening to this, you’re either on our master feed, which means you’re awesome, or you’re a Changelog++ person, which means you’re awesome as well… But personal recommendations are, I think, probably still the best way. I never would have found Blue’s Clues Story Hour if it wasn’t for Adam.
Blue’s Clues & You.
Blue’s Clues & You, sorry. I already renamed it… Look at me, always trying to rename things.
I’d like a little bit more… Come on, five minutes? It’s too easy. Give us more. So we of course do appreciate if you like one of our shows or more, even if it’s just a specific episode - tell your friends, tell your colleagues… And like I like to say, they’ll thank you later – no. What do I say? They’ll thank you now and we’ll thank you later? Oh, they’ll thank you later, we’ll thank you right now. There you go.
There you go.
There’s my saying.
That’s a good one.
I like that. I always appreciate those tweets. There’s people who will say “I’ve found this podcast from Changelog, and their whole catalog is awesome.” We put a lot of work into our shows, we show up to overachieve and to succeed in it, and we just pour everything we can into the quality of it, the people we work with, to the people on the show, to the audio quality, all the processes, there’s transcripts on every podcast, comments as you know… So yeah, enjoy.
Yeah. There you go.
Thanks for hanging with us…
Our transcripts are open source on GitHub. Improvements are welcome. 💚