Why I Love Podcasts

Saturday, 14 February 2015

I discovered podcasts late last year. Now it’s become my favorite past-time.

I think there’s a reason podcasts have become so sensational these days. We’ve had phenomenons like Serial and Hello Internet which introduced podcasts to the masses. Other factors, such as Apple shipping iOS 8 with the Podcasts app preinstalled also helped acquaint this revolutionary medium to a wider audience.

First, let’s delve into some history. The term ‘podcast’ was coined in 2004 by Ben Hemmersely, for the Guardian. It’s a clever amalgamation of ‘iPod‘ – at that time still a sensation – and the term ‘broadcast‘. A year later, Apple brought podcasts to iTunes, popularizing the medium by making podcasts as accessible to iPod and Mac owners as music was. This revolutionized the industry1, and effectively killed of subscription-based radio. Although podcasts are audio-only, the effect of services like iTunes to the radio is very similar to what Kindles did to physical books, and (arguably) what Newsstand did to periodicals.

Podcasting for Creators

Podcasts started to catch on because it was the most natural and personal way to express opinions publicly. Podcasts are flexible, because all you have to do to prepare is make sure your equipment is set up and your voice is normal. Since listeners can’t see you, they can’t make judgments or assumptions as quickly as they do from videos, which is great for those who are skittish. Talking into a microphone is almost like talking in real life. Creating videos requires much more preparation and too much thought2, which can reduce the quality and effect of the point you’re trying to get across.

The barrier of entry for creating podcasts is lower than ever. All you need to create a good podcast is your voice, a good3 topic, a microphone, and a publishing platform. There are ways to make this completely cost-free. Since I’m not a podcast host nor a creator yet, you can find more information on picking both a good topic and a good host by reading part 1 of Jeff Benjamin’s podcasting basics series4.

Podcasting is a great platform for expressing opinions for a lot of people. It’s fun too. Some of the bests podcasts are those in which the conversation seems natural and unscripted, almost as if you’re talking straight to a friend. By using one of the most intimate things about us, our voice, it’s one of the easiest and fun methods through which we can get our opinions across.

Unfortunately, I can’t write more about what podcasting is like for creators because I’m not a podcaster yet. But I do know a lot about listening to them.

Podcasting for Listeners

Podcasts are great for anyone. Being a student, I’m a fairly busy person, and living in Hong Kong has meant that I have lots of time to kill on long commutes. I have half-hour long bus rides in the morning and the evenings, and frequent subway rides every week and there’s no other way to fill that time than with podcasts – I’m one of those people who can’t read on a moving vehicle for prolonged times, so instead of catching up on my RSS and Twitter feeds, I listen to podcasts, and I find they have equal if not more value.

Videos are awesome. They’re a great medium and allow us to express a lot of things. But they demand too much attention. We need to both see and hear them to fully consume them. Reading is also great, you still use your eyes. My bus rides are direct, and go straight to school. So even if I zone out in my world of podcasts, there’s no way I’ll forget to get off as the whole bus empties out. But with subways and interchanging bus routes, I feel an urge to keep track of what stop I’m on and what stop I have to get off at. So of course, I need my eyes free just to have some piece of mind. Naturally podcasts are the best suited for this. And if you can’t find a certain talk as an audio stream, you can use services like Huffduffer to turn things like YouTube videos into audio-only content.

But enough on why podcasts are better suited than other mediums for commutes. As Marco Arment says in his XOXO talk in 2013, with podcasts, you interact with people and their direct opinions. I feel more connected to the hosts because I can hear them and know what they’re saying is sincere. There is raw emotion captured in what they’re trying to say. With things like text (no matter how entertaining and informative), I don’t feel as if I know the author unless it’s a really good book or article. Podcasts, for me, supplement the news and other media I experience over the week, they don’t replace it, even though many can. It’s like meeting old friends every week – they talk about the same things you have on your mind. The week in tech news is thoroughly debated upon, with important links being added to the show notes to help you catch up. And if you listen every week, you build up a bond with your hosts. You remember their little anecdotes, and it all becomes an inside joke over the next few episodes. It’s a very personal and natural medium, but also easy to digest and consume5.

Podcasting is still relatively new, but the restrictions around it means there’s very little room for BS. With podcasts, you also can’t ‘skim’ like you can with text, so you either get the full experience or nothing at all, which means you do have to commit to them – it’s very much an all-or-nothing deal.

Podcasts are also very educational. It’s hard for even me to remember that podcasts are a whole medium, and not just a genre of tech shows. Podcasts have helped me become more open-minded. By listening to others’ opinions, I’ve been exposed to a variety of mindsets, beliefs and cultures6. Whether it’s CGP Grey and Brady Haran discussing whether it’s appropriate to text people at night, or Casey Liss and Myke Hurley on the clash between British and American cultures, it’s always an eye-opening experience to listen to great podcasts.

There are a multitude of reasons to listen to podcasts, and there’s one reason for everyone to listen to them. Now that I listen to podcasts, I can’t (narrow-mindedly) understand why anyone would listen to music when time could be (arguably) better spent encountering new opinions and listening to something more interesting. But that’s my opinion.

The Podcast Industry is relatively young, practically in its infancy. By finding podcasts you like about the topics you love, you can support the industry while finding your favorite new past-time. Below are some of the podcasts I love listening to.

How I Like to Listen to Podcasts

I always listen to podcasts while commuting on my iPhone – that’s how it’s always been, but if I’m listening to an especially good episode, I continue it on my Mac when I get home through Overcast’s web app – otherwise, it can wait. I’ve used Overcast for a long time now, and the the best things about it are the little details. I get a push notification every time and episode is available, and it downloads it in the background as soon as it’s available. It’s designed minimally, but still has a strong feature set. A feature called Smart Speed is a fresh take on speeding up the time required to listen to podcasts. Listeners may know that there can be a few annoying little silences scattered throughout shows. Instead of speeding up the audio itself, it instead saves you time by cutting silences, which also makes the podcast sound more natural than the typical fast-forwarding features. Of course, I listen to a lot of shows and Overcast helps me manage them the way I like in a simple manner. If you’re only dipping your toes into this incredible medium, Apple ships their own Podcasts app with a purple icon with iOS 8.

As for the podcasts I listen to regularly:

talkshow

The Talk Show with John Gruber

Since John Gruber took the Talk Show independent, I’ve had to get used to the new guest-based structure. It may not be as good as the previous one, but there are some really enjoyable episodes, such as ‘Like a Butt Crack’ with Christa Mrgan. The show itself is based on Gruber and his life with Daring Fireball. His description for it sums it up:

The director’s commentary track for Daring Fireball.

To fully get into this podcast, you should be familiar with John Gruber, his work, and Apple and the tech industry in general. It’s also a geeky show in broader terms, so expect the irregular Star Wars-themed episode. It’s fun to listen to, but I personally find the quality has deteriorated since his days at 5by5 with Dan Benjamin.

atp

Accidental Tech Podcast

You may have guessed from the title that ATP is not very focused. Everything the hosts, John Siracusa, Marco Arment and Casey Liss discuss is related to tech, but the description of the show can tell you that they do go off on a lot of tangents, but ATP is always fun and the hosts are likable.

A tech podcast we accidentally created while trying to do a car show.

Since all three are fairly geeky, their conversations are technical yet enjoyable. Some of my favorite topics include email management, developing apps, and writing – especially when told through Marco’s lens.

connected

Connected

Relay FM is a new podcast network, founded by Stephen Hackett of 512 Pixels fame and Myke Hurley, the self-proclaimed “British guy you hear on podcasts”.

Since their start in July 2014, they’ve increased their shows from zero to nine great podcasts7, and Connected is one of them. Connected is great because it proves one of my earlier points: the variety of viewpoints and cultures it brings. Because of this, you understand more of Stephen’s American way of living, Myke’s busy British life and Federico’s mobile, espresso- and pasta-filled Italian life. I’ve not only listened to new and interesting opinions on Apple and technology, but also on how life is in these very different countries.

Connected is great in a way I can’t describe. Go listen to it now.

analogue

Analog(ue)

Similar to Connected, Analog(ue) is hosted on the Relay FM network. As you can tell by the title, it’s hosted again by the British Myke Hurley and the American Casey Liss.

The topics on the show are pretty much random, but it’s fun to listen to. You get two different perspectives on similar issues in your own life – stress, project management, piracy and more. Analog(ue) is a fresh break from all the tech-related podcasts, and still very interesting.

letstalkios

Let’s Talk iOS

This podcast isn’t very popular, but it’s still amazing. It’s hosted by Sébastien Page, the founder of iDownloadBlog, Jeff Benjamin and Cody Lee. The structure for this show stays the same every episode: they start off discussing their personal lives for a while (which often contains follow-up) before going into the meat of the topics, often Apple-related news. It’s unscripted, and feels very natural, like a conversation between three good friends. I feel like I know the hosts like I’ve known them for years. These guys do podcasting in a unique way that their feelings are embedded in their voice. Towards the end of the usually 90-minute show, they talk about apps they’ve downloaded over the past week. I’ve had many great finds because of Let’s Talk iOS. Also welcome is the ‘stupid jokes’ section at the very end in which Sébastien and Cody go nuts over bad jokes while Jeff listens on in horror.

hellointernet

Hello Internet

I found Hello Internet because of CGP Grey. I’m a fan of his educational videos and when I found out he was doing a podcast with Brady Haran, I was elated. Fast-forward to 2015, and now I listen to every episode the day it comes out. Although it’s listed on iTunes as “Education” and on Overcast as “Culture” and “Education”, it’s really much more. They talk about their lives as indie video-makers, interesting films they watched, how many desktop icons they have, being wrong on the internet, work/life balance, and much more, but it’s always fun because CGP Grey and co-host Brady Haran disagree over everything. This often means that you’ll hear exasperated sighs from Brady as Grey goes off into a tangent of some complex psychological web. This show also illustrates my earlier point about being able to become more open-minded from podcasts. You should go listen to a few episodes of Hello Internet. They’re quite long (usually over 2 hours), but they’re fun all the same.

Podcasts are amazing, and this list doesn’t come close to covering the best podcasts out there. There are a lot I want to listen to, and many that I’ve not even heard of. This industry is catching the attention of the mass every day with popular podcasts, and I can’t wait until this amazing medium grows, and podcasters reach the light of the public.


  1. Albeit at a much smaller scale. 
  2. For this reason, I’ve always respected YouTubers who could do this, like John and Hank Green
  3. And preferably controversial topic among the hosts (they definitely shouldn’t be yelling at each other though). 
  4. No, not Dan Benjamin, though he’s also a great pioneer of modern podcasting. You can listen to his podcast, The Podcast Method for great tips on various aspects on making a good podcast. 
  5. Sorry, I couldn’t think of a better word. 
  6. Connected is a great show featuring three hosts from three different countries (and accents). Stephen Hackett from the USA, Myke Hurley from the UK, and Federico Viticci from Italy. What’s interesting is how much culture there are in a tech show like this, and they’ve allowed me to experience other viewpoints and opinions, as well as traditions and cultures. 
  7. Often bringing over their old podcasts on other networks to Relay FM, such as The Prompt, now known as Connected and CMD+Space, now Inquisitive