Product Hunt Radio: Episode 39 w/ Nick Quah (Oct. 8, 2015)

Ryan Hoover and Eric Torenberg host a video call with Alex Carter, a brand new hire at Product Hunt, and Nick Quah, a "podcast connoisseur" and the writer of a popular e-mail newsletter called Hot Pod that reports on the podcast industry. Nick is also Head of Audience Development at Panopoly, a new podcast network run by Slate that helps publishers produce shows based on their existing content.

Alex will be heading up a new vertical on the Product Hunt website dedicated to podcast discovery, where you can post/upvote/discuss and listen to podcast episodes. Alex sees podcast discovery as a major problem in the space and he hopes the Product Hunt channel will provide more "social proof" around podcasts.

How Nick started his podcast newsletter:

Nick was "super bored" working at a job as a business reporter at a digital media company. In 2014, when Serial was becoming a massive thing, reporting on podcasting was close to nonexistent. Nick wanted to change that. And also because people were e-mailing him frequently for podcast recommendations. Ryan mentions that Product Hunt actually started as an e-mail newsletter.

Nick gives us four podcast recommendations:

"This is kind of like picking favorite children."

  • Longform - Interviews with magazine journalists, reporters, and content creators. Tightly edited.
  • Criminal -  No other narrative podcast is doing work that's as "socially, anthropologically intelligent."
  • Limetown - Audio fiction. Many have described it as "Serial meets the X-Files." There are lots of ideas here that "lay down the foundation" of how audio fiction is going to work over the next 10 to 20 years.
  • Vulture TV - The finest podcast discussing television.

Alex's recommendations:

  • Millennial - Serialized show about a millennial, authentically documenting the post-college struggles of growing up and finding a job.
  • Waking Up - If you like getting into deep philosophical conversations, but probably not for everybody.
  • Nerdist - As an "unapologetic" Star Trek: The Next Generation fan, Alex recommends the recent interview with Sir Patrick Stewart.

Eric's recommendations:

Ryan's recommendations:

  • This Week in Startups - I love Jason Calacanis' interview style; great guests.
  • Startup - They make it super intimate. "They include real life conversations... mixed in with produced narrative."
  • Mystery Show - Super unique. It's about mundane mysteries, like a guy trying to find out how tall Jake Gyllenhaal is.
  • Quick hits: Freakonomics Radio, Serial

How Nick and Alex discover podcasts:

Nick scours through the iTunes charts and goes really deep, picking out four or five shows he's never heard of before. iTunes is the dominant gate keeper for discovery in podcasting. Nick listens to 25 hours of podcasts per week or more.

Alex checks out the "new and noteworthy" section on iTunes and finds out about shows on Twitter. "It's easier to find out about new shows, but harder to know where to dive in, unless the show is serialized." The future of podcast discovery is going to be less about shows and more about episodes, "in the same way we discover articles, not by checking Buzzfeed, but by seeing which individual articles propagate and get upvoted on social networks." On Product Hunt, they'll have episode-focused discovery, allowing people to have conversations about individual episodes on the site.

How social sharing can work for podcast discovery:

Nick says excerpting clips from an episode and posting them on social networks can work for some shows and not for others. He laments that the context is stripped away. Ryan says that audio doesn't go viral in general and podcasts are still a relatively niche, enthusiast medium.

Nick views media on a spectrum. On one end you have haiku poetry or short tweets, which are the most "snack-able" and require the least cognitive load for the human brain to process. On the other end you have things that require a specific, full context, like film, or maybe virtual reality. Nick sees audio as living closer to the film side of the spectrum. Alex talks about how TV shows like "Game of Thrones" have viral elements but it's tweets, conversations, and articles about the shows that go viral. This was also the case for "Serial", which has seen over 97 million downloads over the full 12 episodes.

How can technology improve in podcasting:

Ryan looks for ways to enable communities of podcast listeners to interact with each other. He points to the popular "Serial" forum on Reddit as an example. Nick thinks some of the tech plays are trying to make podcasts "lean back" experiences, which is a "complete misunderstanding" of the medium, which should be "opt-in" and "lean in". His personal dream is to create audio content that becomes the center of your attention, though he acknowledges that the medium has proven very adept at filling up empty spaces in people's lives (during exercise, travel, cooking, etc.).

What's next for podcasts?

Alex points to Reddit's new Upvoted podcast as an interesting direction. In the podcast, Alexis Ohanian finds fascinating stories on Reddit and tracks down those users to let them elaborate on their posts. "Lots of companies could do something like this." Twitch could do human interest stories about video game players, for example. TV could release more existing content in podcast format. Stephen Colbert or Charlie Rose could release their interviews, for example.

Ryan asks whether Meerkat and Periscope will impact or change podcasting, given the live nature of those apps. Eric says there is tension between good live content and content that lasts and can be consumed later. "There's a difference between what's great in the moment." Ryan agrees saying it's two different mindsets.

Nick points out that there is always "cultural warfare" being waged on what is or is not a podcast. Many people in the community are currently angry that traditional public radio shows sometimes dominate the conversation (This American Life, for instance).