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What Makes a Podcast Successful

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Since writing very critically about independent podcasting, I’ve been trying to prove myself wrong. I’ve since listened to many podcasts, and found a few things that seem to make or break a podcast from the point of view of a listener.

1. Multiple voices. None of the Podcasts I currently subscribe to are produced by one person or feature a sole voice. All are either in an interview format or are the combined efforts of more than one person.

2. Under 1/2 hour. Occasionally I’ll find a podcast that I can stand to listen to for more than 30 minutes, but I’ve found that to be the exception rather than the rule. The biggest tendency of podcasters seems to be to ramble about random, unrelated things. It’s entertaining occasionally, but usually is hardly interesting. I’ve found that Podcasters that limit themselves to under 30 minutes usually hold my attention more and have me looking forward the next issue rather than pushing it off for later.

3. Real Content. If you can write a blog entry that could contain all the information in your podcast, do that rather than making a podcast. I will only listen to a podcast if I think it has information I can’t glean quicker by scanning a blog entry. Real content to me is an interview, a recording of a conference or panel, a story, art–read me some poetry or play some music, meaningful conversation between two or more people–stuff I can’t necessarily get by reading a blog.

4. Great audio. This almost goes without saying, but since so many people still don’t get it right, I’ll add it here. Make sure the volume level is normalized, that you don’t cut off highs or lows and don’t convert a high quality audio file to a low bitrate mp3. If it doesn’t sound good, it doesn’t matter how good the content is, I’m not going to listen.

I still only listen to about 3 or 4 podcasts. My favorite format by far is the interview. I’ve fallen in love with Podtech.net‘s podcasts which are almost always entertaining and informative–and under 15 minutes. The others I listen to are actually mostly not regular podcasts–I enjoy listening to Y Combinators startup library, Evening at Adler from DrunkenBlog, the Ruby on Rails podcast and occasionally one or two others.

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November 26, 2005
  • http://www.solutionwatch.com/ Brian Benzinger

    I completely agree with all of your points. I do listen to some single voice podcasts though. It really depends on the content. I recently have found a love for PodcasterNews. Most of the casts are single voice, but for the most part, they are pretty good. Nice post.

  • http://podcast.rubyonrails.org Ruby on Rails Podcast Host

    Great points, and thanks for the compliments.

    Living on the cutting edge is tough, especially when you don’t have control over the speed of the internet and the quality of the equipment on the other end of the line.

    I’m experimenting with a more complicated setup where I record my voice and the guest on separate tracks, then mix them together later.

    I’m also upgrading my equipment and will add a co-host for the next episode! I might even experiment with sending a higher quality mic to the guests before the interview.

    Stay tuned…

  • http://acidzebra.blogspot.com Michiel

    Hello from a complete stranger :)

    I am still (after what, a year?) completely missing the point and validity of podcasts. Who in their right mind would want to hear a couple of geeks ramble on and on? If that is what I want, all I need to do is go to work and find the IT department and shout 'Picard is better than Kirk' and watch all hell break loose. (NOTE: I ALSO work in the IT department so I am allowed to make fun of me and my peers). In all honesty, I hope and think the entire podcast era (all 16 months of it) will end up as nothing more than a VERY small footnote of internet history.

    …oh, wait. I just followed the link to your earlier post. So, erm… what you said!

    ;)

    Michiel

  • http://www.errata27.blogspot.com Jim

    You pin down what appeals to me in podcasts. I use Itunes to search, download and organize a small group of these. NPR has the biggest variety. People in Wine is one that also meets your criteria for anyone with that interest. Good podcasts loaded into a device that’s used while exercising or commuting can make those repetitive tasks more interesting and productive. Would like to see a similar description for blogs. I use Pluck to organize blogs for quick review. Those with photos by the topic are easier to scan. I guess Pluck and Itunes are ‘aggregators’? They equate to those services which group Tables of Contents from magazines or journals for professionals to more quickly select items for followup. Thanks