When I tell people that I work with speech recognition, they sometimes ask, “Like Siri?” Or they tell me a phone call horror story with interactive voice response. (“Reservations.” “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.” “RESERVATIONS!!”) But as one of my professors was fond of saying, “Speech recognition is just the preprocessing.” What does that mean? We must turn sounds into information and meaning.
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Last month, we hosted Come and Play — an audio storytelling hackathon where artists, producers, developers, and designers came together at the Thoughtworks offices in San Francisco to find new and fun ways to tell stories with audio (the event was co-organized by Audiosear.ch and Buzzfeed, and sponsored by Stitcher and Detour).
Today, we want to share the eight amaaaazing projects developed by the teams who participated. Broadly speaking, they fell into three categories — sharing/discovery, context/commentary, and audience participation. These projects will make you think about who gets to be a creator, the ways we use audio in our daily lives, the editorial role of the community, and more. (And if you want to start with a quick primer on what exactly a hackathon is, check out this conversation between two of the participants, Sonia Paul and Claire Mullen).
The podcast industry is growing — something that thrills all of us working on the creation, discovery, and delivery of on-demand audio. But with growth comes change, sometimes lurching, as companies and organizations seek ways to thrive, expand, and capitalize on the interest of their market.
A few weeks ago, a group of people working in the business of podcasts gathered at Spotify in New York City to talk about key challenges and opportunities in our industry — and how we might work together to tackle them. Audiosear.ch began hosting these podcast business and technology summits in cahoots with Nick Quah of Hot Pod in the fall of 2015; the Spotify meeting was our fourth such gathering. We came up with the idea for the podcast summits because in the course of our work at Audiosear.ch and its sister product, Pop Up Archive, we spend a lot of time strategizing with numerous podcast industry constituents who face similar challenges around growing audience, monetizing audio content, and measuring listener behavior — and at the same time, we noticed a stark lack of opportunities for decision makers at those companies to compare notes and unite on strategies that would, as the metaphor goes, lift all boats.
Attendees at Spotify represented a variety of interests, including hosting platforms, ad networks, publishers, listening apps, podcast studios, public radio stations, and more. Here are some of the main themes we discussed.
Probably the most famous story about the cultural impact of radio is the 1938 broadcast adaptation of War of the Worlds, a science fiction novel about alien invasion by H.G. Wells. Narrated by Orson Welles, the 60-minute broadcast was presented as a news bulletin and purportedly generated utter panic in a million listeners (this number is the subject of some dispute).
At that time, listening to the radio was often a shared experience. Along with newspapers and books, radio was a dominant form of media delivery and consumption. From Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s fireside chats in 1933 to Neville Chamberlain’s declaration of war with Germany in 1939, people gathered around radios, together, to hear news and stories.
The role of radio in our daily lives has changed substantially since then. On-demand audio has made many listening experiences solitary: just one person and their earbuds. But new forms of social listening are emerging even in an on-demand world, offering opportunities for human connection and discussion that call back to ways we used to listen to the radio — while also taking the experience in new directions.
Ever since RadioPublic — the podcast discovery and recommendation app from PRX — launched last year, there has been a lot of buzz about one particular feature: “Ask a Librarian.” This part of the app connects you with an actual person who curates new shows for you to try. Ma’ayan Plaut is one of the librarians who interacts with users each week, providing personalized recommendations based on their preferences.
In your own words, what is a podcast librarian?
A Podcast Librarian is your guide to getting you to listen to something great. As RadioPublic’s Podcast Librarian, I research, curate, and recommend shows to new and long-time listeners through individual requests and in the Explore section of the RadioPublic app.
Jenna Weiss-Berman is a podcast producer and was formerly director of audio for Buzzfeed, where she worked on Another Round. In 2016 she co-founded Pineapple Street Media with Max Linsky, where she has cultivated an incredible roster of clients and projects. Here are five questions for Jenna. Read more
Over the last several years, the podcast space has grown to encompass a wide and varied range of content. On iTunes, there are nearly 300,000 shows; it’s easy for the casual listener to get lost in all the options. Here at Audiosear.ch we’ve made it our mission to chart and map out the world of podcasts by looking at different ways of connecting, organizing, and uncovering good shows.
In 2014, our co-founders — Anne Wootton and Bailey Smith — were very, very busy.
Every day they were commuting from Oakland, CA to 500 Startups’ Mountain View accelerator as they developed Pop Up Archive, a business then in its infancy. They spent their days learning about speech-to-text software and ways of modeling data for audio, pitching their vision that audio was a medium whose parity with text was becoming inevitable. They talked about developing a product that was like Google for all types of audio. Then the podcast “Serial” was released.
Jesse Morris is a big podcast fan. He tries to expose himself to a broad range of topics that interest him, and he’s fascinated by podcasts as a form of unregulated media that can address something as inane as socks or as elaborate as French Revolutionary history.
Jesse is also a software developer, and while he typically uses an app on his phone to listen to podcasts, sometimes he wants to listen on the web to avoid running his battery down. He used to use iTunes, but stopped after he switched to using his Android device for music and podcasts. He found that it was difficult to find a good replacement for desktop listening — so he decided to create his own, CastNinja, using the Audiosear.ch API.