Like Hunter Walk — and millions of other people — I love podcasts…and have for the last decade or so. I even hosted a few episodes of my own podcast back in the 2010/11 time frame.
Also like Hunter, I believe that podcast discovery is pretty broken for both people new to the medium and power users like me. Discovery within podcasts I’ve subscribed to is even an issue for me at this point as many now have a back catalog of nearly a decade.
As an example, I spent my ride to the airport this morning looking through old episodes of the Entrepreneurial Thought Leader Series from Stanford to download for my flight. Although I’ve listened to a number of these episodes over the years, I’ve never gone back through to the beginning to fully catch up on what I missed, nor should I have to.
A halfway decent discovery engine would know that since I subscribe to the ETL series, follow @Ev on Twitter, and have a professional interest in the business of podcasting (via social engagement, email subscriptions, etc.) I would be interested in hearing Ev Williams get interviewed about Odeo in 2005 (!) when podcasting was in its “pre-Geocities” phase.
Instead, I had to scroll back through hundreds of past episodes to find the interview, which I highly recommend.
Podcasts aren’t alone in this. Creative forms of content discovery are in short supply across the web. So while “podcast discovery isn’t a company”, I’ve often wondered if narrative discovery could or should be.
Here’s what I mean.
Today, most of what we consume about a historical period or event is wrapped together in relatively precise formats and generally consumed via a single type of media — think a Michael Lewis book or Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History (to bring it back to podcasts).
And while some larger events have seemingly been analyzed from every angle (financial crises, wars, political campaigns), there remain thousands of alternative storylines within each of those sweeping periods that are under-documented. Sometimes it is due to lack of broad based commercial viability of a story, other times it is a matter of “winners writing history”, and in many cases (especially as we go further back in time) there no longer exists enough information to fully document and convey the happenings within one of these micro-narratives.
That has changed with events unfolding during the internet era, as the amount of long tail of content — blog posts, audio recordings, videos, newspaper articles, social posts, etc. — has truly exploded and the “definitive” account of something can be more personalized than ever.
What I’ve wondered is if there a market for a service that combines web-scale content collection and indexing with human curation to build out personalized event, period, or even concept focused narratives that exist on the spectrum somewhere in between the well polished book or documentary on one side and a random set of Google and Wikipedia searches on the other and are delivered in a multimedia format.
My trip back through the archives of the ETL podcast series prompted a few storylines about the technology industry that I’d love to receive a loosely structured digital dossier — full of videos, interviews, blog posts, and audio recordings — about. A few examples are the history of payments on the Internet, Silicon Valley during the financial crisis, the rise of the Chinese internet in the aughts, and the clean-tech bubble.
There are also themes related to sports, music, health, and travel where I’m not necessarily looking for a singular definitive account, but instead just want to be pointed in the right direction on my “random walk” so I can start connecting my own dots.
As you may be able to tell, I don’t have a fully developed point of view about how this would be productized, what curation would look like, how it would be personalized, or even if there is a viable business model in it.
But given the amount of high quality “dark matter” sitting quietly and under appreciated in blog, podcast, and video archives around the web, it seems like it could be the type of “shadow market” capable of supporting a successful company in the hands of the right team.