Minding the Borderlands

Mark Koester (@markwkoester) on the art of travel and technology

My Year in Podcast Listening: 2016

Here is the story of building a tool for tracking my podcast listening and an infographic of all the episodes and time I spent listening to podcasts in 2016.

2016 was my first true year of podcast listening. I’ll admit to being a bit late to the party when it comes to podcast listening. Fortunately we are in what some are calling the “golden age” of podcasts, and this was a great year to have started this new habit. While traveling, running or cleaning, I was grateful to have consumed so much awesome and thought-provoking episodes this past year.

But after a year of podcast listening, what did I listen to? And how much time went into podcast listening?

The short answer: I listened to 4 days, 23 hours and 2 minutes worth of podcasts. I consumed a total of 191 episodes from 23 different podcast channels and publishers.

The long answer was that it wasn’t easy to find answers to these questions, so I had to build something. No podcast listening app does a great job of tracking.

As a self-tracker and someone who likes to have a record of what I consume, not knowing my listening history bothered me. The desire to know to track my podcast listening habits eventually lead me to start creating my own way to track my podcast listening.

Here is what I’m building and some of the statistics I garnered.

My Year in Podcast Listening: 2016

Click here for Full Version of my Infographic on Podcast Listening Statistics.

Building a DIY Tracker for Podcast Listeners

In 2016, I consumed roughly 191 episodes from 23 different podcast channels, and in total, I listened to 4 days, 23 hours and 2 minutes of podcasts . That’s equivalent to 15 eight-hour workdays or 15 full nights of sleep. Or in most earthly terms, 1.36% of my time in 2016 (it’s a leap year!) was listening to podcasts.

But to get to these answers required a bit of tech.

First, I looked at using spreadsheets and copy and past, but found it cumbersome. Later, inspired by the tech used to track music listened like Last.fm, I looked at leveraging Last.fm to scrobble the podcasts I listen to. Unfortunately neither of these options fit with the calibre of tracking and logging you get from the likes of Goodreads for book reading, Last.fm for music listening or Trakt.tv for movie and TV show watching. So, I finally elected to build my own tech solution.

Here’s version 1.0: Since podcasts are distributed via RSS feeds, I was able to pull in all of the past content from my favorite podcast channels, and once I had them in a database structure, I added a simple feature to manually log my listens. With the podcasts episodes added automatically and a simple way to log when I listened to them, I had a working version 1.0.

Overall, I’ve found that the structured nature of podcasts feeds and open source distribution made it easy to get an initial version working. I then went back and manually logged every single podcast episode I listened to for 2016 to give me my history and total time. A few podcasts like “This American Life” truncate their RSS feed so you only get the latest month. You can get the rest via their website.

Podcast Stats and Tracking: What’s Next? What am I building?

Personally, for now, I plan to continue to use my DIY solution for podcast tracking tool in 2017 and continue to expand its feature set. At present, it’s a simple service that pulls recent episodes and allows you to manually log your listening. For me this was the minimal feature set required. Through my own usage I have been able to prove its capacity as a minimal viable product and create my “year in podcast listening,”

But from the tech and development side, what’s next?

First off, I’m also happy to say that the site is ready for some limited “alpha” users, so I’m inviting a few friends and looking for some early testers to try it out. The web service currently imports episodes from your favorite podcast channels, allows you to log your recent listens and then see your history and statistics. If you love podcasts and are interested in tool to help you track and discover new podcasts, contact me here or by email. I’d love to have you on this journey.

Second, obviously there are a lot of directions I can take with tracking podcast listening. There are so many great podcast listening tools that I don’t foresee building anything for listening to podcasts for now, excluding perhaps a simple web audio player. For now, I’m focused on improving the website. The means expanding the catalogue of podcast channels and working on the logging and user statistics parts. This first version of the platform is and will remain web-only. My first objective is to create a great tool that makes it easy to log podcasts you listen to.

Third, once the structure, usability and catalogue are expanded, I plan to work even more on the design, usability and branding. While the early version may not be pretty, it will be clean and simple to use. For the next version I want the service to start taking on a personality. That means a rebrand and redesign. I’m not a great designer, but I’m sure between me, my friends and the community, we can come up with something that shines.

Fourth, for the future of the platform, I see the value in adding an API that allows apps and tools to “scrobble” podcast listens, i.e. third party tools that log the podcasts you listen to our website. Like Trakt.tv and Last.fm, the API will be open and let app creators to store your listens. This will then make it possible to passively log your podcast listening and get back a history and statistics of your podcast listening habits. I’m really excited about this phase, but I’m aware that the first priority is a building a functional tool and growing a community of users.

I believe these four stages (1. launch an alpha for testers and get feedback, 2. improve the web platform, 3. redesign and rebrand, and 4. build an API for scrobbling podcasts) should get us to an amazing stage and create the first social platform for podcast listens to track their podcast listening and to share discover new podcasts from the community. Hopefully by the end of it, we will have built a podcast tool like we have have for books, for music and for TV watching. Beyond that, I can only imagine, but I’m sure it’ll be great.

If you love podcasts, are interested in joining as an early tester or just want to share some thoughts, come join us on this journey to track and share our favorite podcasts!

Conclusion: A Reflection on My Year of Podcast Listening

Tech-aside, looking back, I’m not surprised with how much time I spent on podcast listening, and I’m really happy with the time I spent with so many great new ideas and stories. In particular, in such a trying presidential election cycle, the “Presidential” podcast from the Washington Post was a healthy dose of history and perspective. Similarly the likes of Freakonomics, Serial and Revisionist History gave me a lot of new ideas.

I mostly listen to podcasts while in transport during my travels or occasional urban commutes. I also sometimes put on a podcast during a long run or while doing some domestic chores. So, much of this podcast listening time overlapped with other activities.

On average, I listened to about 20 minutes of podcasts per day. Since I don’t have a perfect history of my listening habits, I can’t entirely be sure when I started listening to podcasts and just how many months I didn’t listen to podcasts at all. Now that I have a more uniform method for tracking, 2017’s numbers will be a lot more robust for data analysis.

In terms of podcast listening technology, there are some great apps and technologies for finding and listening to podcasts. Apple’s Podcast app on iPhone work great and has improved over the year. Similarly Overcast is another good tool. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a great way to track and keep statistics on my podcast listening through any of these podcast listening applications. The only exception is Pocket Casts app, which as I wrote about in “###.” Pocket Cast does track your total listening listen, but compared to services like Goodreads, Audible or Last.fm, there is no history or even a break down of listening by weeks, months, and year like in Amazon’s Audible app for audio books.

In terms of my content choice, I want to make an effort to try out a wider variety of podcasts in 2017. I want to check out podcasts outside of the most popular and check out more niche categories. Similarly in December I started doing some podcasts in French on history and culture, which I plan to continue. Podcasts are a nice passive language learning resources.

My only regret with podcast listening is that it took a way from my audiobook listening. Audiobooks are great and certain audio versions are wonderful way to fall into the narrative or history. I’ve had a subscription from Amazon for a monthly audio book for several years, and 2016 was definitely my lowest usage per year.

Overall, 2016 was a great first year of podcast, and I can’t wait for the year to come.

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