The Open Podcast Prefix Project is a free and open source podcast prefix analytics service committed to open data and listener privacy. This hits close to home for us in a couple ways, so we invited the project’s creator, John Spurlock, Backstage to learn more about it.
|Chapter Number||Chapter Start Time||Chapter Title|
|1||00:00||Backstage vs The Changelog|
|2||02:02||The podcast movement|
|3||07:13||Launching Go Time on SoundCloud|
|4||08:13||Livewire hosting stats|
|5||09:34||O.P.P. vs OP3|
|6||12:03||Podcast analytics primer|
|7||14:03||John loved our ID3 episode|
|8||16:15||Sidebar on chapters|
|9||20:43||How we use feedback|
|12||48:02||What even is a download?|
|13||51:52||Open platforms FTW|
|14||55:34||What OP3 does today|
|15||1:02:50||OP3 is punk rock|
|16||1:05:03||Podcasting 2.0 comments|
|17||1:08:21||Indies vs centralized platforms|
|18||1:13:52||All roads lead to blockchain?|
|20||1:19:39||Outro (it's a banger)|
Play the audio to listen along while you enjoy the transcript. 🎧
We’re backstage, so it’s totally chill.
There’s no rules here.
Loose and flex.
Oh, so this is – so we can do real podcasting talk here, and this is not… So I won’t do any euphemisms; check me if I do any bromides, or anything like that…
Yeah, no bromides, man.
We’ll keep – we’ll stay honest here, yeah.
Keep it real.
Keep it real.
Keep it real real.
Well, let me ask you something there, since this is real…
Real quick - how many downloads do you get on Backstage versus your main show?
Great question. This is something that we talk about often, because Adam says, “Why you’ve got to put this on Backstage, man? It’s gonna get less listens.” I’m “Well, because it’s… It’s different.” So probably like – well, okay, so Backstage gets between 3,000 to 6,000 probably.
That’s like a tenth. Our main show gets 20,000 to 40,000. It just depends on the episode.
So it’s not a separate show, but it looks like it’s in a separate feed.
Yeah, so it is a separate show. So here’s our Backstage philosophy, which is that it’s for the superfans, the insiders, the people who care about us beyond as the interviewers, you know? So we figured that’s less than our normal people. And so we put Backstage as its own podcast, it has its own name, it has its own webpage, all that, but it doesn’t have its own feed. The feed is part of our Master feed, which is where you get it as kind of like a bonus when you get our Master feed, which is all of our shows. So if you like all of our shows, that means you’re already a big-time listener, so we’ll give you these Backstage episodes. And it doesn’t go out in its own – you can’t just subscribe to Changelog Backstage. You have to just subscribe to the Master feed. But 5,000-ish people do that, so it’s still a decent audience, I think…
These are the surprises. These are the good ones.
I feel like maybe – is my internet connection bad? I feel like there’s some latency up in here.
There’s a little bit of lag, but I think we could probably deal with it.
Do you wanna test the latency, Jerod?
I don’t know, how do we test latency? What do you mean? just keep talking and hope it goes away? Is that how you might test it?
Well, it took you a little bit to answer me, so that’s good enough right there… [laughter]
It might be me. Let me turn my video off, and…
I have fiber here, so I usually don’t have too much latency.
I wish I had fiber here…
I have fiber as well, but you know… Gosh. Alright, my cam is disabled. Maybe that’ll help. I don’t know.
Where are you at, Adam? Where are you located?
You should know that because it’s really close to Austin.
I’m actually fairly new to Texas, so I don’t know, I haven’t been completely indoctrinated yet.
Oh, is that right? You’re in Texas?
North Texas. Dallas-Plano area, North Texas.
Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.
Yeah… It was nice to go to the Podcast Movement Conference though, which happened to be in Dallas this year… So that was just a quick commute. I didn’t have to travel anymore.
Wow, that must have been good for your, I guess, in quotes, the business, right? The business of what you’re doing, not so much the business, the business, but…
Yeah, yeah. It’s there’s nothing better than meeting people in-person. you can do all these Zooms, but it’s so much more useful to talk to people one-on-one, and you get a sense of what they’re passionate about. So yeah, I thought it was great.
Hm… We question whether we should go there. I mean, we podcast, but are we part of the movement? Do we need to be part of the movement of the Podcast Movement?
You guys have been doing this for a while, so some of the tracks on how to grow your audience - you’re probably less interested in.
We probably need that still. I mean, I think everybody could still grow their audience regardless, you know? But…
There were a lot of people there. Thousands of people now at a conference like this. So if you are interested in certain monetization areas, or just what the industry is doing… and there’s some free parties, and stuff like that… But it’s your standard conference. I think there was a little bit more interaction this time because of the pandemic. So this is the first one that came back after COVID, and so everyone is just like “Let’s go!” [laughs]
[00:04:23.24] Right. Everyone’s getting out. We spend most of our time at developer conferences, kind of being more with our people, with the audience, versus like with the other makers. I do keep up though. I read the news feeds, I’ve been tracking the podcasting 2.0 stuff, we’ve implemented some of the elements, some of the tags, and stuff…
Yeah, I saw that. That’s awesome.
…that makes sense for us. Yeah. And just, you know, we want to be abreast of what’s going on. I love that there’s people trying to make technological moves; an otherwise very stagnant space… And I’ve been just seeing who’s adopting what, and what can we adopt, and help promote things that are interesting… Because we’re nerds, and when cool, nerdy things come out, it’s “Well, let’s promote this, let’s maybe use this, let’s at least think about it and talk about it, because we don’t want to just be just given to the whims of Spotify.” We don’t want to just be serving at the pleasure of the king here the next few years… So yeah, we do try to keep up.
Yeah, yeah. What I like to say is there’s no executive vice president of open podcasting. There’s no manager that goes to some management conference, and then comes back and says, “This is what podcasting will be for the next three years.” It’s so many different players, and so they end up being very reactive. So if something happens that they don’t they will try to react to that, or they’ll react to competition… But for the most part, it’s really up to individuals, or individual companies taking on the initiative of doing some of these kind of… I don’t know, keeping the stack up to date, right? Because like you said, there’s advantages to having an app like Spotify or YouTube, that has soup to nuts, the entire listener and hosting experience and monetization experience. They can create a lot by having all the pieces together, and having a central management… Whereas podcasting has to kind of do things through agreement, and through consensus, and through fear sometimes… So it’s a lot more complicated.
Right. Such is the world of decentralized collaboration, right?
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. But it’s exciting in the other way, because there are thousands of people working on it, potentially. So that’s one thing I think we have on the pro list, is that we have so many people who get up every day, and this is their job. And especially when you go to a conference like Podcast Movement, you see all the people that - this is their livelihood. And that’s pretty interesting, from someone who’s followed it from the very beginning, where you see just people throwing up RSS feeds on their Apache server.
Yeah. Well, at one point we did – we had a podcast where we literally edited the XML file, and I think we rsynced it,… Jerod, is that right? Go Time, originally, we rsynced the XML file…?
Yeah, so we were actually developing our current platform that we’re using now… But we wanted to launch Go Time, which was our second show at the time, and we didn’t want to wait for the actual app to be ready, so we launched it on SoundCloud. But we didn’t want to use SoundCloud’s other stuff. We just wanted them to host our mp3s for us for a little while, and so we manually hosted our own XML file, that just pointed at SoundCloud’s mp3s, until our platform was able to write that file automatically for us. We were writing it by hand for probably like seven or eight episodes, Adam, wasn’t it?
A few, yeah. A small handful, I’m gonna say. It wasn’t so many where it was like “Man, can we please get this?” It was maybe like less than ten, I’d say. Less than 10.
[00:08:13.20] So if you go to – a small, shameless plug here, but I don’t make any money from it… If you go to livewire.io, this is a site that I put together that kind of provides stats about new episodes that are coming out in the world… So I basically look at every single new episode from every podcast that comes out. There were about 1.7 million last month. I just did the stats for September. But one of those things has hosting companies. And the reason I bring it up is you’ll see SoundCloud is actually still fairly high up there. So a lot of people that were using that technique are still doing it. A lot of musicians, obviously, so there are a bunch of music podcasts that DJs will put up there… But it’s not only that. So technologies like this can hang around for quite some time.
It’s crazy, Buzzsprout is still there too, because they were the OG from way back…
Yeah. Libsyn is on there… I think they were one of the first.
Yeah, Libsyn was actually probably one of the very, very first.
Yeah, Buzzsprout’s killing it. They do a lot of the podcast namespace tags as well. So they’re really interested in all the new services coming out, and we’ve had some discussions about OP3, which I know we wanted to talk about at some point… They’re really interested in that project, because it actually solves a bunch of problems at once. So it solves different problems for different constituencies in the podcast world.
Yeah. Well, that’s the main reason why we reached out to you, John, because it’s very interesting to us. We are open source people, we’re software people, and we’ve been rolling our own everything since the 2015-2016 time range… And so that’s left us a little bit wondering for a while, were our stats accurate? Were these people’s stats accurate? How do we track what is a listen etc? All this stuff that has been going on.
I’ve been watching with some chagrin the IAB stuff, and like this whole formalization of standards for downloads, and just kind of ignoring it, for the most part… But there was a time when Chartable first came out, that we saw what they were up to and we realized, “Okay, this is a cool way for us to validate our own stats package, our own internal package to see if it’s working right.” Because we could put Chartable in front of it, let them track our stats for a while, then look at our own stats and see if they’re kind of at least correlated. And they were highly correlated. They were pretty close, which gave me some confidence. But then Chartable became kind of this somewhat Goliath for a little while; they were the only people that were doing it, and they started to get all this market share of - everyone started pointing their stuff through them, and then they got bought by Spotify, and that’s when I just turned it off. I was like, “Well, I’ve gotten what I want out of this.” But then up comes your deal, which is the Open Prefix Project. Is that the one that stands for OP3?
Open Podcast. I think Podcast is in there, too. Open Podcast Prefix Project.
There you go, there’s three P’s.
That’s right. I just call it OP3.
OP3 is a cool, cool name, I think. I call it that as well, which is why I couldn’t remember what the P’s were…
I grew up in a different era, when there was only two P’s.
Wait, is there? Wait, hold on…
Well, in my era – this was back in the day, you know… Who’s down with OPP?
Are you down with OPP?
Yeah, you know me.
Oh, right, right. You know me.
Yeah, you know me.
Yeah, a lot of those jokes are gonna… [laughs] Yup. I thought you were referring to the self-referential abbreviation of that. We used to have a building in college called the CAB building, which was like the Campus Administration Building, but they called it the CAB building. So it’s like a recursive sort of deal…
Yeah. Good news it’s not Unix.
I like OP3, though. OP3 is a good name.
Oh, cool. Yeah. It’s stuck in my head at least, but I don’t know if it’s just because I’m working on it. But it’s nice and short. And actually, several domains were available. I don’t think there’s any sort of prior company or brand that uses it, so it’s worked out so far.
[00:12:02.18] Is it worth going over how this works? Because I know everyone’s listening to the podcast, and you guys are really familiar with how the podcasts are made… But I know not everyone especially knows what an analytic service is… I don’t know. So maybe it makes sense to go over just super high-level… Like, there are podcast listening apps, like Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, and then there’s the podcast hosting side, which is usually someone like Buzzsprout, Libsyn, that the customer is the podcaster, and the podcaster, instead of doing what you guys are doing, and doing it all themselves, pays some money every month to have them hosted on WordPress, or something like WordPress.
And then there are these analytic services that are affiliated with neither one, that their value is kind of being independent. And one of the services that they have is a prefix that you can use as the podcaster. So instead of all the URLs to your episodes being like cdn.changelog.com/episode-1, it’s chartable.com/cdn/changelog.com/episode-1. So everyone that downloads your podcasts will first hit Chartable, which is one of these very famous analytics companies, and then they will redirect the listener app over to your CDN. So that gives them more or less the same info; actually, a little less info, but pretty much the same info that something was downloaded.
And again, when we talk about podcasts, we’re in a very non-scientific, non-ideal stats universe, because just because something was downloaded doesn’t mean it was listened to. Lots of podcasts will download, hundreds of podcasts – and we were talking about before the show, like, I think Changelog is in my list of a hundred of subscriptions that I subscribe to, but you guys don’t know that I don’t listen to everyone. And so what a lot of people do is they just apply these –
Oh, we know now, John. You just told us.
Yeah… Well, you know what - actually, when you said this was on Backstage, and that this would be for kind of really hardcore, I was like “Okay, so what are the very high-level topics that you guys normally discuss?” So I went to the last episode, and you guys were talking about ID3 tags. [laughter]
Well, that’s actually one of the reasons why he brought you Backstage… Yeah, we don’t like to navel gaze very often. We just did, for a whole episode. It was one of the reasons why this was Backstage. But yeah, that was–
Let me tell you, I loved that episode. So that is something near and dear to my heart.
As part of this app that I was building, that does all the new episode calculations, I actually look at the ID3 tags of every single episode… And so I know all the details, I have my own parser, I know all these tags… You guys were talking about the encoder tag, I’m like, “Oh, it’s [unintelligible 00:14:49.21] So I love that you have your own encoder, and are doing your own thing there… Because I think a lot of people use it behind the scenes, but it’s not something that’s widely talked about. There’s definitely no conferences talking about ID3 tags. So I loved that discussion, that was really cool.
It’s such a core part of the whole way you deliver the mp3, like I said earlier on. This is the metadata that goes to the mp3. I don’t understand why people don’t scrutinize more to the file that’s written. Like, we have wanted to for many years and have not been able to until now… So we’ve desired, but not have fulfilled. And now we’re fulfilling. So I think it’s like a –
It’s hard, I guess.
…it’s the deliverable. It’s the promise that we give to our listeners. This is the [unintelligible 00:15:34.26] artifact.
I’m glad you’re doing it, because there’s a huge chicken and egg problem in podcasting, because let’s say there’s a new standard, or – like, you were doing chapters. That’s a great feature. But until all the listening apps implement chapters, it’s hard to make the sell, right? It’s hard to say – you almost have to go first as being the publisher. So it is chicken and egg, but I like to say really hosts need to go first on a lot of these; and you are the host in this case.
So I’m really glad that you guys are taking the opportunity to put this info in there, and hopefully, we’ll pick up the ball and run with it and add new apps and stuff that light this kind of thing up. But you can’t do it if the data isn’t there.
[00:16:14.09] What do you think about the actual chapters, John, on that episode? …since you liked that episode. What did you think about the chapters?
Like the titles of the chapters?
Yeah, the fact that they were there…
[laughs] Did you use them? Did you use the chapters?
Yeah, I kind of mention it even in the episode, like, we get a chance to guide our listener through the episode; that isn’t like some mechanic behind the scenes, or some sort of script that does it. It’s me, or Jerod, or another human being we care about that’s part of our team, that crafts that for the listener, to give that guideposts, to say “This is a good spot to start listening.”
Yeah, there’s some room for innovation there. Some people are thinking about putting animated GIFs in there, or doing kind of crazy titles… I mean, you have to remember, the [unintelligible 00:16:59.11] and this was my case, I was actually out walking during it; I had the phone in the pocket, and since I was actually interested the entire episode, I wasn’t kind of looking for the chapter information to skip, and so forth. Usually it’s most useful to kind of skip to the parts of shows that you’re most interested in, and then come back to it. Or to find – do you put URLs in there as well? I kind of like that, because then instead of having to try to read a URL in the show, you can just kind of click… But again, not all – Apple Podcasts does, so that’s actually really great. So if you put the embedded chapters in there, Apple will show them. So that’s kind of an incentive for a lot of people to do it. But there’s still not amazing tools, as it sounds like you’ve found out; there’s not fantastic tools for doing that. But Apple has formally encouraged shows to do it, so actually, on that Livewire site, I just did an update of my – I kind of keep track of how many shows use chapters, and it’s a small percent; it’s like a single digit percent. But it is growing. Even this year, it has grown, especially after Apple prompted everyone to do it.
Tooling is required for the podcaster. That’s for one. Like you said, even the host, or the podcaster.
It is. It’s a high-context thing, too.
Yeah. And a lot of podcasters that I’ve talked to, they want to just get their audio out. So once they’re done, that’s the hard part, they kind of want it to go out. And if it’s embedded, that basically means it’s a step in between. So you have to have more work to do before the episode is even live. Now, the podcast namespace chapters are in a separate file. So a lot of their shows will actually put out like a stub file, and then fill it out later. So that’s one advantage to having it external, is that you don’t have to modify the actual mp3 to do it. There’s some downsides to it as well, when it comes to dynamic content.
Yeah… We support both for now.
Just because I want to support the new stuff; why not do it in both places? The information is stored in the database, so we can write it multiple times, and that way we can update it. I think it makes a lot of sense for people who are non-technical going forward, once I hope it becomes somewhat table stakes, or at least for people who care about their podcasts to do this. I think having somebody who can edit it in a CMS after the file has been sent out is such a big win that I think that it makes a lot of sense.
Yeah… I can draw the conclusion, or the distinction between the podcasts and a YouTube video, for example. Like, I will pay attention to the video more if there’s chapters for it, especially if it’s five minutes or longer in time, because it’s a guide to the episode. I don’t always care about everything they’re going to say, and in some cases, I’m going there for one piece of information. Even if it’s a review; like, just give me – can I just jump around? Give me the freedom to do so. And I feel like that’s what podcasts need as well, for the same reasons. You may have the phone in your pocket, but if you don’t, you may want to skip the sponsor read. And that’s cool. That’s your choice; it doesn’t help us if you do that, but that’s your opinion, and we give you that option.
[00:20:11.16] It’s better than not subscribing, or you know, stopping listening to the show.
and it’s also - and I’ll probably come back to this - it’s open structured data. So you could have services that pull out chapter segments from shows as kind of a way to slice and dice and find new podcasts. It’s more structured information you’re providing as the person who knows about it, to innovate on top of. So I’m all for that. But again, someone has to do it; it’s work. It’s not something that can be automated.
Yeah. On that note, I think it’s like a feedback loop. So you’d mentioned downloading, but not listening, and that lack of feedback loop in this sort of archaic mechanism, which is RSS feeds, and mp3s… Well, this is our ability to communicate to the clients, I suppose, to say “We’re a more sophisticated podcast because we support more of the format in the mp3 and the ID3v2 spec” etc. So I feel like that gives us the chance to sort of – in terms of a segment, maybe a chapter gets listened to more than any other. Maybe there’s a certain chapter in an episode that has gotten way more attention than any other, if that aggregate comes out where they pull out certain chapters or segments. There might be some better feedback loop that can be in the process five years down the road, beyond today, where it’s “We can now actually examine, at a chapter level, what is being listened to”, versus, something else; the whole entire episode, for example.
So you guys are interested in the feedback. I know, after talking about OP3 a bunch, it’s been – some people actually think it’s a negative. Like, you shouldn’t gear your show completely towards audience feedback. You should do what you’re passionate about; you’re the expert, you’re deciding the show… You shouldn’t be all about optimizing completely based on who’s listening to what, because it’ll lead you down the wrong path. But what I hear you saying is that you actually do value that feedback as far as like, “Oh, they like this topic, maybe. And they didn’t like this so much, and maybe we could tighten that up.” And that makes sense to me, but I’m not a podcaster yet.
It makes sense to everybody.
It’s a melding of the two.
Right. It’s back to like product development. If you make a product and you don’t talk to a user, and you don’t get their feedback in the thing you’re making, are you making the thing they actually want to enjoy? Or are you just making it for your own ego, or whatever you feel like you’re making the best of? I feel like if you don’t have that feedback loop, you’re sort of painting in the dark. What might you get?
Right. That being said, we’re not simply going to give exactly what’s asked for, or exactly what’s popular every time, because we have our own tastes, we have our own desires… We think we know what’s good, and we have our listeners’ best interests in mind. And so we meld the data with our own intuition, our own tastes, our own excitements, and hope that makes kind of the best of both worlds. We’re not simply going to give people exactly what they ask us for every single time, because then you end up with a Homer Simpson car, you know? So it’s both.
So I guess stats is a good jumping off point to talk about OP3… It’s a little esoteric, and so you kind of have to know all the pieces. But I think we’ve talked about the various pieces at this point. So it solves basically three problems. The first problem is the problem that Jerodd, you talked about… It’s that we actually have these nice third-party independent analytic services, but the incentive for them is to take the download data that they get, and immediately join it to other third-party IP address databases to enrich that data… Because they’re interested in not only showing how many downloads a particular show has for an advertiser, but what the demographics of that audience is, and what the income of that audience is, and breakdowns by gender, and by ethnicity, and by political affiliation.
[00:24:08.27] And I’m sure you guys know, it’s just a matter of how much you want to spend to how kind of creepy the level of detail you can get, down to the neighborhood level, down to what apps they have installed, down to what they were yelling about… And they have an incentive to do it, because that makes their product more attractive. But they also have an incentive – or even if they were not as interested in that, they also then become, if they’re popular, like Chartable and some other companies, they become a very attractive acquisition target. So they can be joined by a yet larger company with their information, for strategic reasons.
So that is kind of one problem that’s out there. So even in – you mentioned already that Chartable and Podsights, two of the largest of these analytic services got acquired in February. And you can imagine, I’m sure even some of your listeners might be thinking “Oh, this sounds like a great business, so I could probably write some Perl scripts to do this. I’ll just be the next Chartable.” And that doesn’t really solve the problem, in my estimation, long-term; it just repeats the pattern. So they’re gonna get popular, and they’re gonna have the same incentives, they’re gonna – it’s the same sort of pattern. So that’s problem one.
Problem two is that the hosting companies themselves, there’s all of these hosting companies now; they are very mature, and they all offer very similar features. As you say, table stakes features. They all now have to have some sort of stats ability, so they have to task someone as part of their sprint every month, like “Oh, make sure the stats are clean, that we’re filtering out all the bots, and making sure we’re performing the calculations properly.” And they’re basically all showing very similar charts, similar charts and graphs. And it’s even more ironic, because the larger shows then turn around and use a third-party service to they use their stats, because they don’t trust the host stats.
So it’s table stakes, and it’s a lot of work, and they’re all doing it separately, right? So it’s not really value-add anymore. It used to be. Maybe even five years ago, it was like a selling point; you could say, “Hey, we offer great stats.” But now, most offer stats, and they don’t really view – they would love to get on and work on other things. So they kind of view stats as a – I don’t want to say a commodity, but you know, you specialize; when an industry gets mature, you specialize into functions.
So that’s problem two… Problem three is a little more esoteric, but it’s the whole notion of – we talked a little bit about kind of open podcasting before we started here. One of the cool things… I was around – I’m old enough to know, like, before the internet was around at all. And when the internet came around, as somebody who likes to build things, you just have this limitless possibility of “Oh, how cool would it be if we did this? Or that?” and you’re only limited by your ideas and the building blocks that are available. Obviously, there’s some downsides that we’ve seen as well, but there’s still so much opportunity there. And podcasting is one of those sort of interesting places where you, anyone can publish an audio file and have it pretty much distributed automatically to all these different venues while they sleep. So it’s not that hard. However, there’s some big chunks of the system that are not like that, even in open podcasting.
So let’s say you had a great idea for an app, you wanted to create the next big podcasting app. You can go out and scrape all the RSS feeds, you can get the show and episode level information, you put it all together… Hopefully, they have nice chapter information, and tags, and so forth. But think about what YouTube does - they have some things that you currently can do, like comments and monetization. But even a more core thing is recommendations. So what podcasts are people listening to? What podcasts are people listening to around you? People that subscribe to this, subscribe to that. Even if it’s a very popular app, they know within their app stats like that, but they don’t know across the whole industry, because it’s so distributed. There’s no place where that information resides. It resides basically in silos, at different levels; at hosts, and so forth.
[00:28:23.18] The services, these third-party analytic services - they have it, actually a fairly broad sample, but they don’t make it available. So that’s kind of a third aspect, is it would be great, it would unlock all kind of more features that we could build on top of the open podcasting system, keep it competitive, if that data was available. But then, as a listener being available in a safe way, right? Because more people listen to podcasts than make podcasts; you kind of need to satisfy both concerns. And as a listener, I’m not sure I love the fact that my IP address is going everywhere, right? That’s where these analytics services come in. And most apps don’t disclose that this kind of stuff is happening, right? So you want services to kind of do right by the listener, even without an explicit agreement there.
So OP3 is a system that I was putting together, I was like, “This is the internet, and I can build stuff… Let’s try to build an ideal system that solves a bunch of these problems at once.” So it is an analytic service in that is very similar to Chartable. You add a prefix, op3.dev/whatever to your episodes; it’s completely free. It runs on a CDN platform, so it’s up 100% of the time. It’ll never be the bottleneck in getting to your content… But it’s sort of radical in that it turns around and does all the minimization, and so forth. It throws away most of the requested information, and it stores it. But it turns around and makes all the participating shows data, the minimized data, the minimized request logs available to anyone. So it turns around and makes hashed IP addresses, what episode was downloaded, when it was downloaded, the user agent… Things that are not user-identifying necessarily - it turns around and makes that data available, so that now a startup can go and look at that data to say, “Oh, this is a signal of what podcasts are trending in Cleveland”, that sort of thing. So that is radical, because none of these other services will – you know, they are very against that. That’s kind of the core mission, is not to do that.
Yeah… Don’t do that.
It solves the stats problem for the hosting companies, because now they can sort of outsource. They can say – even a new hosting company can come up and say, “We’re gonna use OP3 for our stats. That solves the stats problem.” And then they don’t have to do it.
So everything is out there on GitHub, even the deployment. So it deploys via GitHub Actions, so anyone can kind of see, flow through, and not have to take my word for it. And we’ll have better docs at some point… But the idea is, I wouldn’t trust a system myself if I didn’t know or trust the people behind it. So this is one way to kind of jumpstart that process. Does that make sense? Now, it’s very early days, but right now I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on “Hey, we want this thing to exist.”
You’re speaking my language. I want you to get to the part where you say what’s in it for John.
So I’m mostly known right now as the data guy, right? So I have all these data reports that I do on the podcast industry. I’m interested in it from several angles, but one of it is the data aspect, right? You can’t make a good app without knowing all this information. And I’m working on some apps and services to do that. But this particular OP3 project is not a get-rich-quick scheme. This is something that I plan on actually publishing the bill.
[00:32:14.07] So I created a separate Cloudflare account for this, it all runs under that account… I am asking for sponsorship, so I imagine that this will take – I’m a developer, so it’ll probably take a couple of weeks, several weeks of initial development, and then some ongoing maintenance, and so forth. And then ongoing data costs. But all of that should be doable with sustaining sponsors. And again, I’ve talked to a lot of the big players in the system, but if you are someone that wants this to exist, it won’t happen unless I get enough of those sponsorships.
So right now I have kind of what I call pioneer sponsorship, where you can support monthly, just to kind of kickstart development. But that’s the model. The model here is to always be an independent, non-IP brokering service, that kind of self-sustains itself. And all the information there is actually on the GitHub site. So if you go to the GitHub site, it kind of provides a roadmap, and then it provides some of the commitments around how we want this thing to work. And if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. But I’ve done a lot of projects like this, and I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback on this so far, even in such an early state. And again, I think it’s because it’s sort of zeitgeisty, and it solves some problems, like I said, for different constituents.
But it’s serverless, right? So it’ll run automatically. I don’t need to poke around and upgrade the servers.
It’s interesting to have this as an independent thing though, because we’ve been part of certain organizations in the past with our podcasts that had inflated downloads, and we thought we had more listeners than we did at one point during our show… And then when we changed to our own platform, we were kind of bummed, weren’t we, Jerod? I mean, if we’re being honest, we were like, “Oh, actually our show isn’t quite as popular as we thought it was.” It was still popular, but it was not quite to the level we thought.
So with many stats platforms, you have many possibilities for error, essentially. Conservative stats versus non-conservative stats, being like overly inflated, or whatever it might be. And then also the data problem, like the people’s identity. Our desire, to be clear, John - and you may know this already, but it is not to circumvent our listeners’ privacy. It’s more so to understand how does our show perform out there at large, one, because we are a sponsored, primarily sponsored show. We do have Changelog++, which is bridging that gap, but we don’t believe that our Plus-plus membership – maybe one day it might, Jerod, I don’t know… But I think we’d be crazy to say that it will dwarf the ability of money we can make as a business from sponsors. So our desire isn’t to circumvent any of that system and remove our listeners’ privacy. We want that stuff to be theirs. I mean, it’s just not something we want at all. And then you’ve got all sorts of things in the mix there; you’ve got different platforms… And that’s half the reason why we decided to go the route we did. One, we made an early bet that we can get Fastly to work with us. And so since the beginning of the platform we built, we have had Fastly as our primary CDN partner. And every bit of that bandwidth since 2016 when we launched this open source platform has been - thank you, big thank you to Fastly for taking that burden on for us. Because one, we’re a small business, but two, we wanted to make sure that we can actually deliver globally.
[00:35:50.07] When you’re a global show by default, which we are - well, we don’t want somebody in New Zealand to get the show later, or slower, or whatever, or have a lesser experience. Having that CDN in place for that part of it was a big deal for us. But just the independence of OP3 I think is an interesting aspect. I guess the concern is - and what you may not be able to guarantee now is how long can it remain independent? Will always be independent? How can we ensure that it is independent? If it needs to be in place for the listeners’ sake and for the hosts’ sake, and the one place to go to get stats done right, and keep it third-party, and keep it independent - how do we make sure that it remains independent?
I mean, the classic answer to that, or from some of the models that are out there for open source projects, is an organization of some sort. So some sort of umbrella organization that has its own tax ID, and that sort of thing… And honestly, I would love to do that. And I’m basically writing it in such a way so that that is an option in the future. But as you know, some of these projects - you don’t want to do that upfront, because it’s a lot of work, and then it goes nowhere. But I’m definitely – again, it’s a separate account. So you could easily hand those keys over to multiple people, and have it run seamlessly. And then same thing with GitHub; right now, it’s on my kind of LLC account. But you could easily imagine that going to an open source approach if there are more people willing to sponsor it, and having more constituents. So that’s something I’m definitely open to.
Again, it’s not something I want to necessarily – I do have experience running these kinds of things, but I don’t want to have this be my full-time job forever. I’d like to get back to writing some other things, too. But I see this as so strategically important that – and I see the possibility that we could kind of do it wrong, that I do think it’s important to kind of get it right, get it out there, and at least have existence proof, have people using it… And kind of do it the right way, to give it the most chance of succeeding. And then we’ll see where that takes us later on. But yeah, I’m definitely open to [unintelligible 00:37:50.05] this, because that’s something that really you want multiple owners. It’s really owned by some of the larger players, and the people that use it, really.
Is there a chance for this thing to make money though? Like, could it be a “commercial open source” company? Could it be a cause company? Could it be an open source company, basically? Could you build something around this that turns it – or does it remove the independence aspect of it?
Exactly. I don’t think you ever want to charge podcasters directly, because then we’d have incentives to kind of bring in podcasters kind of the wrong way. You want them to – well, first of all, the fact that it’s open, kind of right now is a barrier. It’s actually less of a barrier than it used to be, but the fact that their numbers are public is a barrier for many shows… And you kind of have to ask - and I’ve had these conversations… “So what is a concern about being open?” Again, if the data was handled properly and you get over that hurdle, what is the hurdle of “Why don’t you want your numbers to be public?” And everyone has their own answers to that, but I think getting over that hump is one thing. I could see charging though, and I’ve already had discussions like this, because a lot of these new hosting companies want to basically do the outsource, “Hey, can you do our stats for us?” And in order to do that, they do need some of their shows to have that guarantee that it’s not gonna be part of the public pool. And so that is something you definitely see, and they’re willing to pay money for that, obviously. So that’s something that could be a very –
To pay for privacy of those stats?
Pay for – so they would be the primary customers of that, yeah. I mean, obviously, we’d probably try to make as many of those shows open, and I’m sure a lot of those shows would be open, but you’d need to have the checkbox that’s like “Hey, keep this private.” And since they would then be the only consumer of that info, I think it’s fair to have them pay for it. So I can see that as a pretty easy way to make money.
What’s the main pushback from podcasters on why they don’t want their stats to be open? Is it just because they just don’t want them to, or what are the concerns they generally share with you?
[00:39:56.27] Yeah, exactly. I try to keep the conversation very open, just kind of let it hang out there… Because if you think about it yourself - and you guys are very open with your download numbers - really, it comes down… It’s all of the internet entrepreneur, you kind of want to fake it till you make it; you kind of want to put out the presence of, “Oh, this show is bigger than you think.” And once you get the real numbers, then it’s like “Oh.” And it is negative if – let’s say your show numbers are public, and you’re doing great; there’s no problem there. But then your numbers start to trail off. And it’s one thing if it’s only the podcaster that knows this; maybe they get a little bit depressed, or they get energized to do a better job… But now it’s a little bit worse if that’s public, right? You can see that heading in bad directions, potentially. So it’s really just making that [unintelligible 00:40:40.10] But Twitter - everyone sees your follower count.
I feel like especially younger people, they’re much more open and authentic from the beginning, so I think that’s not as much of a problem. It’s really more of people that are still in that old mindset of “I want to project that I’m this global show”, whereas that may not reflect reality. But again, I think having everyone’s stats in the same pool makes it a little less – because as you say, there’s actually a lot of difference between hosts, which is really tough right now. Even if they have the same IAB certification, the certification is such that the major inputs to that function can be variable. So which IPs you use to do different things are not specified. So even though you paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for these certifications, you don’t get apples to apples comparisons out the other end. And so you move shows, and all of a sudden your show numbers move, and that can be – some people actually use that as a selling point; they say “Actually, your numbers will be higher on our list, because we do a worse job.”
Hah! “We can’t promise you more listeners; we can promise you more downloads.”
Right. And I don’t know if you’ve been following the – there was a big to-do in the podcast world last week. In Bloomberg there was an article about now that all these systems exist, they are gameable. So there’s apps that will have a third-party library that will ingest podcasts, or download podcasts effectively to get coins in a particular game. So you can get 1,000 coins by listening to 30 seconds of a podcast. Why is it 30 seconds? Because that is the Certified IAB download that triggers all of the “Oh, this is an authentic download. All the ads were fired.” And so that’s problematic, obviously. And I’m not against ads either, and I think actually some of these channels are legitimate marketing channels, but if you don’t know that going into an ad deal, let’s say, and now all of a sudden you get all this very cut-rate traffic, then that becomes extremely problematic.
So I think what OP3 is going to do is it’s going to hopefully identify the traffic, so you can slice and dice and see, “Oh, this show actually 50% of it is so-called rewarded traffic. So that’s interesting. We’re not going to throw it out, but we’ll show you… Maybe the CPMs for this should not be what they are.”
On that note, what about – I mean, I’ve wanted to improve this for a while, which is essentially enable people with money to sponsor more shows in ways that actually benefit them. One of the things we say when we sit down with the sponsors, like “Can we actually help you? Can we actually help you reach the audience you think you want to? Do we actually talk to the audience you think you want to talk to? And can we help communicate your message effectively, in a way that gets attention?” And if the answer is no, then we don’t work with them. We don’t take their money. We value the relationship and the ability to help them, because we care about our audience. If our audience would not care about you, or would not be in your wheelhouse, why would we broadcast your message? It doesn’t make any sense.
But at the same time, for them to come to different shows and assume potential value, there has to be some sort of data, something from them to say “Okay, these are worthwhile shows.” Is that something that OP3 will help with, to be able to provide more data or more awareness to – maybe not to the geographics and the genders and stuff like that you’d mentioned, if this is all hashed IP addresses etc. But will it help them find better places to put their money, so that more businesses like ours, more podcasts like ours can actually flourish, because it’s easier, and we’re not the ones saying, “Hey, our shows are great. Come buy from us”, which we don’t say that necessarily. We do say our shows are great, but we don’t say “Hey, come buy from us”, necessarily like that. It’s more like if we can help you, yes, please. But give them somewhere to start to investigate and say “Okay, these six shows speak to our audience.”
[00:44:40.09] That’s really interesting. I’m glad you said that, because that’s something – and one of the reasons I’ve made this project open, uncomfortably open from the beginning… Right now, just to be clear, it has no charts, or graphs, or fancy stats yet, because we’re starting at the lower level. So right now it does reflect back out the minimized requests, but only if you’re a programmer would you care about that. But one of the cool things of having it open from the beginning is you get feedback on these sorts of things, and that’s really interesting, and you could use it as a discovery mechanism for new shows… And the fact that it’s using the same function means it’s an apples-to-apples comparison. You don’t have to worry about –
They’ll pay you. It’s like a headhunter, right? It’s like a headhunter. “Can I use my marketing dollars effectively?” “Yes, thank you, John. We’ll pay you to help me do that effectively.”
Yeah, that’s a really good idea.
Because that might be a way that you can turn this into something that, like Jerod said, “What’s in it for John?”
Mm-hm. It’s not something that’s completely representative, right? Because it’s only those that participate. But it’s free to participate, and it’s for the shows that want to have the open system survive, right? And kind of have these services like this discovery service that I honestly wasn’t thinking about it until just now. Someone could build that on top of it.
I’d share our data for those reasons; it’s the exact reason why we say “Well, why do people say “I don’t want my data to be open.” Well, it would be because you want to inflate, or you have an ego to protect, or you want to have a certain perception or… And that’s totally cool. I totally get that. Fake it till you make it; I love it. I have done it, maybe still do it a little bit here and there… But we’ve been around enough to be established, to feel, I would say, confident in our ability to gain an audience, capture an audience, and keep an audience. And it’s cool when we start from zero. We’re fine with that, because we know where we can go. Maybe that’s because we have thicker skin and we’ve been there for a while. Those who may be new to the space might be less confident in those ways.
So for us, I’m like, “I would love to give that kind of data out there”, because if it attracts us brands that make sense to work with us on that front - cool. Don’t think that I’m out here selling you, because I’m not. One of the main things I do when I sit down with people is like “I’m not here to sell you ads. I want to know what your business is trying to do, who you’re trying to talk to, what you’re trying to do in your trajectory, and can we help you connect with that audience in an meaningful way? Because that’s what I want to do. I don’t want to sell you an ad. Kind of that’s what I do, that’s what we do, but that’s not what we really do.”
And there’s enough metadata in all these shows to provide, you know, categories. You don’t have to be – what are the most popular podcasts everywhere? You can target, basically, just on public information. So you can target based on the topics of the shows, now a lot of the shows have transcripts, you can envision targeting in based off that public information… Just the iTunes categories might be a good first pass filter, other tech shows, stuff like that. But all of that, to me, doesn’t cross – as a listener that’s interested in privacy, that doesn’t cross the creepy line. Because it’s basically just a sense of activity on these various dimensions, without having to zoom in on what neighborhood you’re in. So I really like that idea.
[00:48:01.00] So how does it work – you’re at the lower layers right now, but how does it work in terms of the actual nuts and bolts of knowing what a download is, and who it is coming from, and are you IAB-certified? Tell us all that. Because you had to make these decisions, right? Just like everybody else had to. So how did you decide on what to track exactly?
Just lots and lots of Perl scripts.
There are certain agreed upon ways… So there’s a few things. I could talk about this for a long time, but let me try to keep it short. Basically, you need to identify the things that are common, like what the app is, right? So you have to know, is this a request coming in from an app that a user is using, versus Chrome, or a bot, or something like that? So that’s one dimension, is like what the app is; you can get that from the user agent. The harder thing is IP address, right? So there are ranges where you know to expect some interesting data coming in from them, for various reasons. Some are VPNs, some are corporate networks, where you see thousands of requests coming in from the same IP, with different user agents, so they’re legitimate… And then you see the bad actors, you see the bots… Any open system is open to all sorts of automated traffic that you have to identify. And they often use Overcast as their user agent, right? So you have to do some application of filtering at the IP level as well.
That used to be easier, because you could kind of identify users versus servers, and just kind of block all servers. But now it’s harder, because a lot of people use VPNs, and a lot of people use Amazon Web Services for listener apps. So a lot of traffic goes through Amazon that is actually representing a listener hitting Play on an episode. So it has to be sophisticated.
There are shared – obviously, Amazon publishes their ranges, there’s some public server lists, and I plan on incorporating as much public info into the calculation as I can… But as I’m sure you know, there’s like day-to-day things that you have to identify. Like, you kind of rate limit some things, and then certain ones pop up and you have to add exceptions for those… That will just be part of the operation of the site. But that’s part of why sponsorship is needed, because there will be some aspect to this maintenance-wise going forward.
There are certain – and I’ve talked to certain people that are doing something similar. So they are doing their own for-pay analytic service. They have the same problems, they need to identify the app, so there’s common ways of identifying user agents… And I’ve been having good conversations on sharing a lot of the even IP ranges as well, because that’s something that – it’s not super-high-value-add, especially for identifying VPNs, Tor, that sort of thing.
So I could see – there’s some existing server lists, but I could see kind of getting together and putting those in the public as well, specifically for podcasting user agents, because that traffic actually looks a little bit different than regular web traffic.
So Cloudflare actually has really good bot detection, but it’s really horrible for podcasts, because their bots look different. It’s something that will have to be sort of domain-specific, but I do have – it’s not impossible, right? And it’s something that you do the best you can. We haven’t even talked about – I guess we have a little bit, the downloads themselves are not listens. So it’s already sort of like – you already take a percentage and just say… You just pick a number and say – so you really do the best you can and you identify certain anomalies as they come up… But anyone in accurate digital marketing has to deal with this.
[00:51:54.07] Yeah. But this is an open platform though, and you’ve got indie developers like Marco Arment, or Overcast, or different folks that are building these clients… If you could provide them a mechanism, like, on-play, fire off to the indie thing, that’s some sort of account, and then you sort of be able to munge the numbers together. “Okay, well, the downloads are this, but the play count seems to be this.” I don’t know, is there room for this – I feel like this indie player that you can be could be a key to helping everybody talk, and not be siloed. You know what I mean? To give that feedback loop to everybody, really.
Yeah, that would be awesome. I mean, that would be great. And actually, this is a perfect time to do it, given that a lot of the hosting companies - and I don’t want to disclose all of the people I’m talking to, but a lot of the big players are really mad about what has happened with downloads and the gaming of downloads. And so they are willing and ready for a solution that you just described, where yeah, we still have downloads - we’ll probably always have downloads, because that’s the mechanism that you get the content on the phone… But if you think about who has the actual play data, that’s Apple. And Apple actually provides – do you guys log into your Apple Connect and look at your listens numbers from there? Because they will show you –
Here and there.
…not only like what down– but they will show you like a graph of like, over the particular episode “Oh, they dropped off starting at minute 50”, and that sort of thing. That is something that if they are willing to - and we come up with a protocol to get that down to stat services in a privacy-protecting way, that could really shake things up. And so I think what you’ve just identified is one of the most interesting kind of conversations going on in the industry right now. So if you have any good ideas on how to make that happen, it’s something that someone like Marco would actually do…
It seems like we have lots of good ideas, John… Lots of good ideas around here. We’ll just keep talking, we’ll just keep talking.
Because that as well is something that’s resistant against fraud, because that’s another huge – like, if you can just generate requests, you have to make sure that it’s signed, and that sort of thing. So I do think it’s possible, and it’s kind of fun to think about. And I think now is a really good time to do it, because in a couple months I think people will be on to other things, and worried about other things, so I think now’s a really good time to capture this. So any sort of emerging standard that comes out, OP3 will definitely support.
It wouldn’t make sense for anybody who’s in our position to want to know that information. I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t want to know all that detail. Obviously, not to the level of like what neighborhood, or what gender, what political affiliations you mentioned before… Like, that’s not of importance. But more like – okay, sure, we get 40,000 downloads, 50,000 downloads, whatever that number is, but 35,000 play, or whatever the number is. Like, I would not want to operate on inflated ideas, I suppose, or awareness of what our episodes perform at. I want to be a bit more clear about that. Not so much that we’re even looking at our stats every single day… I think for us it’s more like “How do we trend? Was last year better than this year? Can we continue in this trajectory?” Not like “Oh, well, this episode did x, so we’re upset.” It’s just more like “What was different about that show than this show, that outperformed?” We didn’t even think that show would be great. Not so much that it would be bad, but more like “What stood out about that show that made it overly perform, while this one underperformed in comparison?” “Well, on this episode we did this, this or this”, or you know, we could at least address some anomalies, or investigate, and try our best to either stop that if it’s bad, or repeat it if it’s good.
What works today? Like, what does it do today? Can we redirect? Can we start plugging our stuff in?
Oh, don’t ask that. Don’t ask that, don’t ask that… [laughs] Yes, so that is the base level – I basically put it out there in the minimum possible working version. So what happens today is it 100% will redirect your episode, and by sticking it in there – and you guys could do this easily, because you own your RSS feed. Most hosting companies – so if you’re with Megaphone, or Libsyn, or whatever… Some actually have a UI in their CMS that you can specify a prefix, but all of them have a workflow now because of Chartable and these other companies. If you email them a prefix, they’ll test it out and they’ll add it for you. So that’s always the backdoor to it.
[00:56:22.15] But yeah, if anyone thinks this idea is great and wants to kind of play around with their own data, or just contribute data almost as a donation, just go ahead and add the prefix. It works great today; it’s been running for a few weeks now. And we’ve put some really huge shows on it, and it’s been really solid. I’ve been really thrilled with the way it’s performed so far. Now, we’ll see what the bill comes in at the end of the month… But from a stability point of view, and from a “Your users are going to get your episode” point of view, it’s definitely there.
We do have an API, and it has a Swagger definition, and everything like that… But right now, it’s just a single endpoint, and it’s “Give me the raw redirect log.” So it’s, again, very similar to the Apache logs that you get, except that you get only hashed IPs and the very few attributes that we currently capture, like what the URL was, what the user agent was. So if you wanted to, you could write - and people are actually doing this - just taking that data and performing their own downloads calculations for various things… And they’re finding all sorts of things. So they’re finding open source user agent identification libraries that weren’t as robust as they thought they were. So they’re already improving that, just by looking at data, now that it’s available. And again, this is non-user-identifying data; this is just like user agents.
So even that, it’s kind of the interesting aspects of something being open, that you don’t – you can’t predict all of the ways that it will be used, and it’ll be useful. But that’s really interesting. So if anyone has a huge show, I would say a medium to large audience, I would love it if you guys would be able to try the prefix out, almost as a way of saying “We want this to exist.” And then I’m working really hard on rolling that all up in a high-quality way to show episodes, and then downloads. So that’s what I’m going to be focusing on full-time for the next four weeks or so probably. But just to be clear, that’s not available right now.
So if you’re a podcaster and you just kind of want to get a chart out of something, stick with your current providers. But if you want to start at least being a participant in this – and we can always back-calculate the stats. So once we get the calculations done, we’ll be able to light up any data that you’ve put in to date. I’d love that. So just the more, the merrier, because you always find things… You know, it’s trending in this area of the world, and you didn’t expect that; or they’re sending weird-looking data in. So all of that is great.
Are there any existing Perl scripts? Like, are there stuff that people, the community have been writing, that are – is there a collection of places where I could just point it at the API, at my data, and get some of these numbers in a hackery kind of way in the meantime?
From OP3, or from like Apache –
From what you’re providing at your API.
Yeah, I mean, again, this is super-early. So it’s the early adopters. But if you go to the – have you gone into the Podcast Social, the Podcast Namespace project Mastodon yet?
That might be the best place to find those kinds of things, because I know they are in development. I think it’s just podcastindex.social, and you can sign up there. That’s where everyone interested in the new podcast tags are kind of talking about. So that might be one place to look.
As far as open downloads, I think it was Podsites… One of the existing companies, three years ago, introduced this notion of open downloads, which is basically a way of saying “For a given request log, let’s come up with a deterministic calculation of downloads.” And it’s fairly simplistic, because they’re a prefix. But I know some people are looking at that.
[00:59:54.14] So if you search for ODL, or “open downloads” on GitHub, there’s some code there that takes standard Apache logs, or it needs to be [unintelligible 01:00:02.02] or something like that. There’s some actual code there. And I would imagine, when I do my download calculation, I’m going to basically use that as the first pass; not the code, but basically the approach. And then my own IP lists, and any sort of other clever things we have to do there.
So that’s an interesting – if you want to contribute back to kind of a shared… Like, if you want to start your own project like this, check out ODL, because that’s another sort of open project that wants to do kind of open code on this data, as well as the data.
All these O-project names…
Yes. OMG, so many ODLs… For ways to open downloads… I’ve not seen it at the time. Operator Discretization library… That doesn’t look like it’s it. Maybe you’ll need to link us up, because my initial GitHub requests are failing, but…
It’s fairly small, and it went nowhere, but it’s one of those weird things where a lot of times the spec goes nowhere, and then it’s found when it’s needed.
I know people are looking at breathing new life into that. And I definitely plan on using that approach, if not the code directly.
Dang, man, so this is super-early days. I knew it was early, but I thought you at least had some download numbers or something.
Oh, it’s early.
Dang, man. You’re hilarious, Jerod.
You’re just funny, man, the way you come at him like that. It’s funny. “Dang, man…”
I’m not mad at him. I’m just – it’s factual.
Yeah, I know. It’s just funny.
It is early. And again, usually, this is not comfortable for me… I mean, I’ve worked in big tech, I’ve worked in –
“This is not comfortable…” [laughs] Sorry to make you so uncomfortable, John.
No, not this, but the whole notion of putting things out early in public. Usually, I’m the type of person that really spends a long time polishing everything, and then the announcement blog post, right? That’s the standard. But I’m sort of glad I did it in this case, because I’m getting fantastic ideas, and places to go in the future… And I’m so glad I did it. Because I would have gone heads down and did a particular thing, and then have to do a bunch of other additional work. It’s great to have this feedback from the beginning, if a little uncomfortable in the beginning. So yeah, if you’re looking for graphs, or download numbers right now, and that’s all you want to get out of it, just hold on a few weeks, and then we will do a proper announcement blog post.
That’s not ALL I want to get out of it. I just would like to get that out of it at some point. Happy to throw one of our shows behind the prefix and see what happens… But it’s always more satisfying to get some sort of numbers back.
Yeah. Well, you could do – again, the documentation makes it fairly easy to filter on your URLs. So you could very easily - and this is what people are doing right off the bat, is writing little scripts that hit the API every so often for that URL; you could do that today fairly easily.
So that sounds cool. So this podcast social thing - so is this podcasting 2.0? Are we talking about podcasting 2.0? Or is this like a separate thing? Help us understand. Because there’s like a [unintelligible 01:02:56.20]
Oh, we’re changing topics.
No, same topic. I’m talking about OP3. Like, are you podcasting 2.0 or not?
Oh, yeah. So which site did you hit? So the Mastodon for the podcasting 2.0 project is PodcastIndex.social.
I’m just asking, like, that deal, that group of people - are you one of them? Are you podcasting 2.0?
I’m in there. I’m in there quite a bit. What’s interesting about all of these new tags is it’s something that’s not necessarily new to the industry… A lot of the existing players, like Blueberry and Buzzsprout, have wanted to do this for a long time… But as soon as they come up with a new standard, all their competitors are like “We’re not going to implement the Blueberry standard.”
So what’s nice about the Podcast Namespace Project, as interesting a cast of characters as it is, is that it’s completely anti – it’s completely independent. It’s anti-corporate, like punk rock. There’s no question that all they care about is making podcasting better, and not helping one of the various companies.
So that’s why I think a lot of people are interested. It’s maybe not new from an idea point of view, but it’s a fantastic way of standardizing a lot of competitors, ultimately.
Yeah, I guess what I’m trying to drive at, like OP3, is it punk rock?
Okay. So you’re right there. In essence, in spirit you are a podcasting 2.0 movement person. Maybe it’s not part of the namespace; it’s a different thing altogether. But OP3 is part of this group of miscreants or something, that are like doing cool, interesting things.
Well, again, there’s no coordinator… So you need to have – I don’t know, you need to have some sort of loose idea of where people are going. Otherwise, it’s just everyone running in different directions. So I do try to post in there, and if people have questions and that sort of thing, I do try to participate in those conversations.
I was known for a while for being the comment– so if anyone has questions on their commenting standard, they actually have a way of defining cross-application comments for podcasting. So think about Goodpods, but something that’s open, that every app could participate in, using Activity Pub, if –
Are people using that?
I would love for that to be a thing, but no one’s using it, right?
And all these things are huge chicken and egg problems. And that more than most, because even if the apps and the host implemented it tomorrow, people have to comment. So it’s like, that is the hardest one by far. If we ever crack that, then we’ll know that there’s been a lot of forward progress behind this initiative. But I’m not giving up. I think it’s a good idea. Comments are one of those things – when you go to YouTube, there’s a lot of negative comments, obviously… But I don’t know – personally, I don’t interact in the comments that much. But sometimes you do, and the comments are extremely funny, or helpful, or you rabbit hole on something. So it’s something I’d love to have, at least it as a possibility for podcasters.
And you mentioned before feedback… Stats are one way of knowing that people are out there, but I think new podcasters love to hear back from their listeners. So anything that makes that easier I think would be cool as well. But that’s a complicated tag…
I glanced at it and I thought “Nope, not going there.” We have comments just on site, and we get some comments…
Well, what do you use for your comments? What’s the backend for the comments? What protocol do you use?
We use an HTML form, like the form tag on HTML. So it’s old-school, man. You just go to the website –
And Postgres to store the data.
And we store the data in a database. There’s no smarts there. It’s all stupid.
And it’s not even WordPress. Because WordPress, actually – a lot of people that self-host use WordPress; they have their own comment model, and there is someone, not affiliated with podcasting 2.0, but that has an activity plugin that works great with these comments. So once that gets a little more finalized, I think that will be an easy way to light up, at least those self-hosters that use WordPress; because basically, then it’s just a checkbox of making it available.
Wasn’t that like Disqus? Disqus was like – isn’t that just like commenting services out there?
Yeah, but you want to be able – if it’s an open protocol, you want to be able for each app to be able to pull the data into their app without shooting them off to a separate iFrame, without shooting them off to another app… So it basically supports any protocol that allows you to do that. Activitypub/fediverse/mastodon… That’s, actually a great protocol for this problem, but there’s not a lot of libraries out there; the spec is actually very loosely defined. It’s really like what Mastodon does.
And Twitter is actually another supported one. I think Twitter is actually not bad, because a lot of shows post to Twitter when they release a new episode, and all the protocol is for – the tag itself is fairly easy to implement. You just say “podcast social interact” and point it to the Twitter URL. The hard part is having the apps take that URL, call the Twitter data API, integrate it nicely, integrate replies… So the tag itself is easy to implement, and a lot of people have done actually just that part. But the ecosystem needs to evolve quite a bit, especially on the player side, to take advantage of it.
[01:08:22.03] As somebody who’s on the punk-rock/indie side of things, what do you say then whenever Instagram, or Tiktok, or YouTube seem to win the eyeballs or the attention, because they’re the platform, they have this stuff baked in? There’s no argument on like which spec, which protocol, which API should we pull in…? This is going to be a systemic problem long-term if we can’t get somebody to win in this space, and get somebody to implement this and run with it?
Or some idea to win.
Well, the idea, but you’ve got clients… There’s no unification in podcasting, which is like the good thing and the band thing. You know what I mean? Like, on YouTube, you can go be a YouTuber, and YouTube provides the platform, and the comments are there. And on TikTok, you can go be a TikTokker. I’m not saying I want to be that, but… And the comments are baked in. The creator doesn’t care really at all, or think at all about the platform necessarily, except for that it’s there to enable them to connect and create even more… Where I think podcasting is like self-made, indie, but then it’s also like laggy, and doesn’t have that cohesiveness across clients… Like, there’s no one way to podcast. You ask anybody, you grab five people who actually listen to podcasts, and they all listen to them differently. Different clients, there’s no one way… You know, do they comment? Is there comments? Are there chapters? Do they know what ID3 even means? Like, no. None of that stuff, because they just don’t care. They’re there to consume. And that’s what worries me, I guess, about podcasting - it doesn’t have its act together like a platform might. But then that’s kind of like the good thing, because it’s independent. I get that. But it’s still the Achilles heel of where we thrive, and where we’re investing all of our efforts.
I think we know what our target should be, at least in the short-term. We all have YouTube on our phones, we all have Spotify on our phones… I think we know the minimum bar of like what people expect now. We all have TikTok on our phones. The minimum bar of what people expect from an app that delivers high-quality media, audio/video. So that can keep us busy for quite some time. I do think a lot of the Podcast Namespace features are kind of going beyond that, actually, in some ways… There’s some interesting things we’re doing with cryptocurrencies, and that sort of thing… But we don’t even have to get to that point yet, because we have something else, and this something else is something that I think is more top-of-mind to people, and people that listen to the podcasts that they like, and that is the platform aspect.
So everyone now is kind of familiar - when you are on a platform, you’re subject to their rules, and their capriciousness. And that used to be an extremely esoteric, interesting to only one or two – a very handful of people. But now everyone knows of a YouTuber, or someone that either they are, or they know, or they listen to, that has strong opinions on this. And all of them would love to jump to something that was a little less centralized, like Instagram, or whatever. And people are using Substack for this now… So I think there’s still a ways to go there. I think we’ll always have that as kind of something that’s better.
Yeah. Potentially. But then you have sponsors… You’ll have sponsors eventually, though… At some point though, the control can be wrangled back. If Cloudflare, for example, was – you know, you use workers, or I think there’s some details around your platform that’s [unintelligible 01:11:49.00] you’re on Cloudflare. But if they didn’t like what you’re doing, Cloudflare would pull their support from you, and you’d be infrastructureless. So there’s still that aspect of indie…
Well, welcome to development in 2022… [laughter] But yeah, I agree.
[01:12:06.10] Yeah. You go lower down the infrastructure and you can still have different plugs pulled. But at that level, it’s been generally less onerous, or what do you call it; draconian. Whereas the powers that be at the social media networks have really put their thumb down on their creators.
Yeah. Those have been exercised more so.
And I think there’s certain features that are more susceptible to that sort of thing. So OP3 is – whether or not it succeeds or fails, it really doesn’t affect making podcasting better. I mean, I would love it to succeed, but you know what I mean… That doesn’t affect comments being added to the spec, or… Everyone else marching along just fine. Those types of things are less susceptible to something like that. A podcaster still controls their destiny, because they have a URL to their feed. And if they have a domain, they can move that feed wherever they want, and put whatever features they want in there. So to that extent, you never really lose as much control to a platform like that. And yes, you can rely on these services, but you can easily take them out and move to another service.
So in that way, it does kind of survive who’s up and who’s down in the cloud wars going forward. But I could be naive on that… But, at some point, you have to – as you say, you need to distribute via CDN, and there’s no distributed CDN platform quite yet, right? There’s IPFS, Tor, but there’s no kind of like – you have to use the tools that you have, and just kind of… As long as you own the URL, you’re able to kind of move who’s implementing those services, I think that’s the best we can do.
As close as you can get, yeah.
All road leads to blockchain there… You’re like “Well, the last stretch is like, it has to go on an immutable ledger, so they can’t take it off the ledger. Gosh…”
Is that where you’re going? See, I don’t know about that. See, to me that’s still in the future…
I think he’s joking, right? I think he’s joking.
No, I’m mostly saying – well, as you get more and more extreme, eventually in your mind you’re like “Well, I guess we’ve finally found out the reason for the blockchain. There it is right there.”
Can’t we just check everything into Git? We’ll just check all the podcast episodes into Git and be done with it. Oh, Microsoft, though. Yeah, this is…
It’s a tough problem.
Yeah. Well, I think you have identified though the lowest barrier to independence, which is owning your own domain, which is why early on –
Own your feeds, man.
Yeah. Even with our platform, we – this isn’t really about us, but a short stint about it… We considered launching this platform that we built using SoundCloud, and SoundCloud API; we mentioned earlier that we handcrafted an XML file based upon SoundCloud while we built and launched… But when we thought about it, we thought “We want to own our own destiny. And if SoundCloud changes the game behind the scenes, or they get underfunded, or they don’t get the next funding round, or something happens to their platform that doesn’t suit us long-term, then we’ve at least, you know, state our flag, and we’re going our direction.” And it became even more clear when we got partners like Linode, and Fastly, and others to support us on the infrastructure side, to enable us to build freely, essentially, what we wanted to build.
But yeah, I think that owning your own domain is kind of step one, really, in the process. And when you are on an Anchor or something else, I think you obviously forego that… Because who’s gonna go out and build their own thing, like we have? It doesn’t make sense for everyone. It just doesn’t. But the independence does. And that’s where I think an open source platform self-hosted could make sense. WordPress has made sense for many people; you own your own domain, you run your own WordPress, you control your own XML feeds… And if the future of the podcast prefix and spec etc. enables that, then that’s the closest you can get to non-platform.
[01:16:02.07] Right. And I hope there’s other services that pop as well that do special – I like the idea of at least encoding a way for people not to have to do it themselves in order to implement all the specs. So yeah, you’d like to have open stats, you have a few options there; or you want to do live streaming, maybe you have a few options there. It’s just when there’s one option, I think, that things break down.
Agreed. Well, I’ve gotta hop off, guys. John, this has been awesome. We appreciate you sitting down with us for so long. I think OP3 is really cool. We’re gonna throw a feed at it, we’re gonna get some data in there for you. We’ll pick a show, put it in there, start crunching some numbers, kick the tires… I definitely want to see it succeed. I think that having an open version of this is one piece of the puzzle. There’s a lot of different pieces to this puzzle, and I wish you the best of luck on it, man, because there’s lots of work left to do, and lots of decisions left to make. And I hope you get some serious sponsorship so that it can thrive, and not die on the vine, as so many things do… Like the comments, man. I want the comments. But you know, gotta get that chicken and egg figured out.
It’ll get there.
What kind of sponsors are you looking for?
Mm-hm. What are ideal sponsors for you?
I think obviously people that use or have an interest in it succeeding. It’s great to have benefactors, just like “I like the idea.” But for something like this, I’d love the fact that they have some sort of skin in the game. So they either have shows that are on the platform, or they’ve done this before, or they – I’ve already had some interest inbound from just random companies that need to verify downloads for one reason or another, because they provide some sort of service, for a whole variety of reasons. So they’re actually really interested in having this succeed, and they would just have their clients implement it. So they’re happy to sponsor stuff.
So actually, I don’t worry about the sponsorship so much, because if people use it enough, I think it’s a fairly easy sell. And it’s not going to cost thousands of dollars a month to run. And again, I’m not planning on making this my full-time job, so I don’t need to go out and get rent money from this as far as sponsorship goes. It just needs to be substaining, which hopefully if we’re clever about how we store things and do data retention, it’s not going to break the bank.
So the ideal sponsor would be either a big podcaster, or one of the existing players in the space. So one of the hosting companies, or a large network… Anyone that’s interested in looking into this.
Could be. Yeah, I know Cloudflare – I actually am really tied into Cloudflare’s developer network, so I could go that route… But I think for something like this, you actually want to maintain some level of independence. I don’t want free money from them for this. So if they are fine with this use case, to me that’s fine. It is written against their alien technology, so it’s not very portable. So if we were going to port this to Fastly or whatever, there’s no standard yet as far as how to write code on the CDN across all of these. Everyone does storage, and the services that they offer differently; so that would be harder.
I like your idea of a CDN. Maybe if there was like a CDN aggregate that actually was Fastly, Cloudflare, AWS… You don’t even know where your stuff is at, but you’re using them.
It’s somewhere… Somewhere out there.
Stick it in all three, and then you have redundancy.
John, thanks so much for the guided tour, I suppose, through this stuff.
Yeah, it was fun. I love talking about this stuff.
Absolutely. We’d love to have you back.
Our transcripts are open source on GitHub. Improvements are welcome. 💚