Finding new podcasts to listen to can be a challenge. Log into any major podcast app or directory and you’re immediately confronted with thousands of possibilities. Standard conventions like categories, subcategories, publisher-specific pages, ratings, and reviews are usually offered to help users find “the good stuff.” But these systems are far from perfect, often leaving much to be desired.
Since podcasting’s earliest days, many different services have tried to solve this problem. Yet, none of them have really found one true solution. With the launch of its new earbud.fm, NPR has become the latest entrant into the podcast discovery game.
Instead of relying on mechanical meta data, earbud.fm describes itself in word-of-mouth terms:
It isn’t easy to discover new podcasts. There are just SO many out there. Sometimes the best approach is to simply turn to a friend and say, ‘Hey, what are you listening to these days?’ That’s why we created earbud.fm, NPR’s friendly guide to great podcasts. Each of the episodes in this app was hand-picked for you by a listener or a radio/podcast pro. It’s like getting recommendations from a couple hundred of your savviest friends.
At first blush, earbud.fm looks like it’ll be just another outlet to tell us how popular/great This American Life and Serial are. But it turns out earbud.fm may actually recommend podcasts not produced by NPR. The recommendation system works like this:
…we asked listeners to tell us about their favorite podcast episodes. More than 6,000 people responded, recommending episodes from more than 800 different podcasts. There were podcasts devoted to astronomy, beer, breakfast, nuclear arms control and Saved By the Bell. There were poignant stories and informative conversations.
NPR produces a lot of podcasts, and a number of them were submitted for consideration. So to keep things fair, we convened a panel of people from all over the biz who really know their podcasts.
Over the course of the summer, the panelists joined us for multiple rounds of listening and voting. They also had the opportunity to fill in gaps and add podcasts that they felt should be included.
earbud.fm goes on to explain that its system is not ruled by ballot-stuffing listener polls. The creators of earbud.fm admit that the service is far from scientifically accurate. They want earbud.fm to feel more organic than other discovery engines. They even told members of earbud.fm’s advisory panel that they can’t recommend their own shows to be included.
It’s also worth noting that earbud.fm is focused on individual episodes as opposed to overall podcast shows. This approach could make it easier to sample new programs, giving listeners the option to then go and subscribe when they’ve heard something they like.