The Problems with Podcast Directories

I had a great lunch with Paul Cantrell today at Sushi Tango. Oh, and if you need an idea for lunch, ask Paul. He listed off a half-dozen other places that sounded just as fantastic.

One of the many things we discussed was the problem of podcast ratings and categorization – i.e. the problem of finding interesting podcasts.

At the bottom of each post here on the Work Better Weblog (and many of the other sites I contribute to) you’ll see a star rating. Click it if something I say resonates with you – don’t if it doesn’t. I offer it as a low-investment feedback mechanism. It’s cheaper than writing a comment and only slightly-more expensive than reading the post itself.

Like all feedback mechanisms – those most likely to bother are those at the poles (polls) – why speak up if you’re not the choir or in the wrong church altogether?

The number to pay attention is the number of votes – not the rating itself. So yes, an overall rating of 2.5 with 10 votes would be a good thing. In the end, our individual rating criteria are very different. Is this rating in comparison to the previous post? Another post on the same topic on a different weblog? How well my writing went with your morning coffee? Is 5 good or is 1 better?

The star is only a single indicator. Top rated posts on this blog will be different than top rated posts that I’ve written, than, well, you get the picture. How does a 4 at compare to a 5 at Podcast Pickle to a 0 at Podcast Alley? Given how niche anything in a weblog or podcast is – the qualifiers of what these ratings mean are a mile long.

AmigoFish has promise – its collaborative filter + RSS feed sends new stuff directly to my feedreader – based on what I and others have rated – then provides an easy way to go back and finish the loop. Problem is (like all the directories) ratings are applied channel-wide and there are a lot of open loops.

I’ve got a channel over at GigaDial – Garrick’s Podcast Picks. It’s an on-going list of podcasts that I’ve found exceptional (35 as of this writing). Here’s the 9-step process for a item to get added to the list:

  1. A podcast finds its way into my feedreader
  2. It gets transferred into my iTunes’ Unlisted Podcast smart playlist
  3. It comes up on shuffle
  4. I listen and don’t hit ‘next’
  5. It resonates with me
  6. I remember I liked it the next time I’m at my computer
  7. I click the ‘add to podcast picks’ bookmarklet in my browser
  8. I search for the specific podcast in their directory (not everything is in there)
  9. I find the podcast and add it to the list

I gotta wanna – I’m just saying. So, this means something and I’m only going to do it once. Now, unless I take the extra step of telling the publisher I’ve added them – they’ll never know they connected. Same is true at all the other directories. That sucks. More than Earthlink advertisements in podcasts.

Within the RSS 2.0 spec, there’s an optional category tag, at the channel and item levels. It’s a free-form field – can be anything you’d like. Anything. If it’s a series of characters – it’s a category. And it can be different item to item, podcast to podcast.

Reminds me of a scene in a quiz show sketch from MTV’s 90s comedy show ‘The State’:

“Name a type of car.”
“Yes, blue can be a type of car.”

So, why are all the directories shoehorning podcasters into 15 main, meaningless sections when each podcaster could declare their own unique categories – plural – and standout?

A single-dimension directory is like trying to make money hosting podcasts or sanitizing telephones – it’s only fulfilling at the most cursory level. This is why Google is still the best podcast directory – it takes very specific queries, ones with multiple qualifiers. Then returns fulfilling results.

Bringing me to the podcast directories splogging up the search results. Yes, podcast directories are guilty of the same crime as the the other PageRank-loving sploggers – taking an RSS feed and republishing it for higher placement. 6 of the 10 items on the first page of Google results for “first crack podcast” are directories echoing one another. This redundancy makes each result less valuable.

Update: 9 Feb 06, If you’d like a more colorful read of the same issues, The Bman at delivers

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