Lately I have been listening to a wide collection of different photography related podcasts. This started off initially as part of the Photo Quotes Archive. Eventually, it developed into a way to instill photography more into my daily life by thinking about photography during down times, like during my commute or workout.
One of the side effects of listening to all these podcasts is developing a keen sense of podcast usability. The best products are developed with the end user and how they will use the product in mind. This applies as much to a podcast as it does to a camera. So I thought I would put my product management skills to use and document a list of good and bad things that I have found about the various podcasts that I have been listening to. If you’re thinking about creating a podcast in the future or are creating one now, maybe you can use some of these ideas to make it as user friendly as possible for your listeners.
(Please note, my reference to individual podcasts are primarily for reader reference. I hope that the specific podcaster’s don’t take my opinion as a strike against their work…after all, I’m still subscribed to most of these.)
- Provide an Intro and Exit: Many podcasts just jump right into a conversation. This can be quite jarring for a listener. Provide a short introduction to each podcast (i.e., music, “welcome to XYZ”) to ease the listener into your podcast. Also, when you end, do the same thing to help the listener exit the podcast (i.e., statement about copyright, exit music). The exit is also very important when a user is listening to a backlog of podcasts. Some digital music players (specifically my iPod photo) doesn’t have a way to start playing the next episode when one finishes. Even worse, the player takes the user to the root menu when the episode is done, so they have to navigate back down to the episode location and the end of the list to get to the next one. The exit gives the user time to jump to the next episode quickly. Just keep both of these to a reasonable length, 10 – 15 seconds at most. Brook Jensen’s LensWork Podcast is a good example of both an intro and exit. (This is more specific to listening on a portable player.)
- Make a Video Podcast When Appropriate: Some podcasts display photos and discuss them or the process of making them within the podcast. This is wonderful idea. After all, we are talking about photography. The problem is, many of these podcasts should really be created as video podcasts, with the video being just the static display of a photo or zooming into the photo to focus on parts being discussed. Again the reason for this comes from when “listening” to the podcast on a portable player. For a podcast, the iPod will dim the screen after a few seconds to save battery power, but this makes looking at the photos very difficult at best. Also, the photo is displayed as a small image on the iPod’s screen, using just 33% of the available real estate. What a waste and challenge for the user. Turning the podcast into a video podcast solves both problems: the iPod doesn’t dim when viewing the photos and the entire screen is used. Jeff Curto’s Camera Position is one of the best examples of this. I really enjoy his analysis of photos but find it challenging to actually see the images without it being distributed as a video. This Week in Photography is an example of a podcast the uses Video Podcasts from time to time when it makes sense.
- Normalize Your Audio Levels: Don’t subject your audience to the tactics of Cable TV advertising, having times when the audio jumps up in volume. I have seen some podcasts that have harsh introductions that are much louder than the main podcast…a very painful way to treat your listeners. And when a listener is jumping between different podcasts, the variances in sound levels can get to you. The first example is something that is completely in the control of the podcaster. The second one is a bit trickier. But, there has to be some broadcasting standard that can be used with regards to defining your normalization level that can be used to ensure that most podcasts are relatively the same loudness. (unfortunately, this is an area outside of my expertise…maybe someone with a professional broadcasting background can chime in here, like the guys from This Week in Photography who appear to use a professional production studio when they record their podcasts.)
- Apple iPod Feedback: This one goes out directly to the Apple iPod product management team (related to this post, so I figured I would throw it in…). Why can I set a rating for podcasts in iTunes but not on the iPod? As I’m listening to my podcasts, I need a way to tag those that I want to reference later. The rating system is perfect for this, but I can’t set the ratings on the iPod. Why? This is something that I think used to be there but then got lost in an upgrade…very frustrating usability hole.
I hope these usability feedback points are valuable to some podcasters out there.