Podcasting is an audio-first medium consumed on devices that have built-in microphones. Yet the listening experience is reliant on eyes and hands. What would a voice-only listener experience look like?
Recently, I talked with the CEO of Vocalize, a company that’s trying to replace vanity URLs and coupon codes from podcast advertising with memorable spoken phrases. If you missed that episode, check it out. It’s a fascinating concept. And one that just makes sense for those of us in podcasting’s audio-centric world.
Today I want to drill down and explore a “what if” scenario where services like that are put into wider practice. A world in which podcast listeners are able to use voice commands to control their podcast listening experience
But I also want to be clear that what I’m about talking next is pure speculation. I am not a human factors engineering major. Nor am I an expert in machine learning algorithms or artificial intelligence. I’m just a podcaster with an overactive imagination who wants to make podcasting better. So
Let’s first focus on the idea of reserving, buying, or leasing a memorable phrase for your podcast. A memorable phrase that when spoken aloud with intent or accompanied by an activation phrase takes people to your podcast.
But picture something even smarter than that. If the person who gave the voice command is already a listener of your show, they might experience your most recent episode. Or perhaps the episode where they left off. If they’ve already heard all of the episodes, then this voice system would be smart enough to let them know that there isn’t yet a new episode, instead maybe suggesting a re-listen to a trending episode. Or it suggests a totally different show from within your podcast’s network. Or an episode of a show where you, the host of the show they wanted to listen to, recently appeared as a guest. Hey, if we’re gonna pretend this thing is smart, let’s make it smart, shall we?
I know such a service seems fantastical. And I’ll grant you that today it is. But I don’t think it always will be.
Voice As A Branding Play
As CJ explained, domain names are already an early version of this. We already register clever and memorable domain names, like wannagetaway.com and tires.com. Some go a little weirder, with whoownswhoinpodcasting.com or ihearthin.gs.
All four of those URLs are active, and anyone who knows the “secret code” will be taken to the appropriate destination. A destination they can get to without having to know the actual brand name or the people behind that particular destination.
Today, we type in URLs-secret phrases-to get to a destination. It’s not really a stretch to consider tomorrow we’ll be able to speak a secret phrase-likely a different secret phrase than the URL-to get to a destination.
What memorable phrase would you use for your podcast? Beyond the name of your podcast, obviously, Like this show, for example. The name of the podcast matches the website and it’s already rather descriptive. Should I also register make podcasting better? Have I branded that phrase enough? And do I also need to buy make podcasts better, much in the same way we often buy misspellings or other similar domains? Should I also register Evo Terra’s podcast and point it to this show? And will the system be smart enough to offer suggestions or request clarification if the spoken phrase isn’t an exact match?
But beyond a quick branding play, I think more robust, well-working voice commands could make a positive impact on the podcast listening experience.
Finding The Right Episode Via Voice
One of the first tricks a solid voice-enabled podcast listing experience has to figure out is how to navigate through the episodes of the show. That’s not going to be easy. Podcast feeds are often messy. Many of us write incredibly long episode titles, littering them with junk information, like episode number (even the phrase episode number), repeating the show name in the episode title, and other bad (or just lazy) practices.
But those are probably solvable. How? I’m not sure. My imagination on this is somewhat limited as I’ve spent way too many years optimizing podcast RSS feeds and tinkering with settings to get episodes to display nicely on webpages and inside podcast players in ways that require hands and eyes. Figuring out how to do that in an audio-only way requires someone with a more nimble, fresh mind than my own.
But I can picture what navigating within a podcast episode would look like just using common voice commands.
Voice-Commands For In-Episode Navigation
Most of the finger-based interactions we have with podcast episodes are of the start, stop, and skip variety. All low-handing fruit, right? Or volume up, rewind 15 seconds, or even get details. Implementing these base-level, common interactions to a voice-only mode would solve the sudsy hands or back pocket problems of podcasting. And could help ensure I don’t accidentally crash my bike into the canal while I’m trying to skip the post-roll and get to the next episode of the fiction podcast I’m listening to as I ride.
Again, I’m spitballing here. I know it’s a lot of work to make this viable happen. We’ve seen some early entrances in this space. Remember OttoRadio from 2014? Services that either couldn’t make it or wound up pivoting their tech into new areas as often happens in the world of startups.
But that doesn’t mean voice-only interactions with podcasting will never happen. In fact, I think the bet is it will happen. And when it does, I think it will certainly make podcasting better. (Trademark Evo Terra! Just kidding.)
I shall be back directly with yet another Podcast Pontifications.
Podcast Pontifications is written and narrated by Evo Terra. He’s on a mission to make podcasting better. Allie Press proofed the copy, corrected the transcript, and edited the video. Podcast Pontifications is a production of Simpler Media.