A Post-Mortem for Social Podcast Discovery

Three reasons why RSS still dominates in audio, but not text.

I think a lot about how people discover content. It’s an important thing for media companies to understand, for obvious reasons. But it’s also a fascinating instance of the more general question of how distribution channels evolve over time. There’s always a tension between the network effects that keep people coming back to historically entrenched channels, and the innovative new features that pull people towards new ones.

So when I heard that Breaker (a podcast app focused on social discovery of content) was acquired by Twitter, I was intrigued. It was an acqui-hire, so it’s logical to wonder whether something about the “social podcast discovery” thesis was wrong. Do people not want social recommendations for podcasts in the same way we seem to obsess over social recommendations for articles on Twitter and Facebook? Or is there something else keeping us attached to our current apps?

I’ve spent the last month wrestling with these questions in my spare time, and ended up forming three specific hypotheses that should be interesting to anyone who studies media.

Here’s what I got, and how I got there:

What I believed about podcasting in 2016

Before I ever heard of Breaker, I wanted someone to build a “socially-sorted” podcast app that would help me listen to a wider variety of shows based on episode-level recommendations from friends. I even wrote a blog post about it in early 2016, fully convinced this future was inevitable! 

Here’s the key line:

“A decade ago, when blogging was in its infancy, geeks used RSS readers to find out about new content. Then, Facebook and Twitter came along with socially-sorted news feeds, and the RSS readers quickly died. I believe the same thing is about to happen to podcasts.”

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