Saturday, July 29, 2006

One podcast tops the rest

Over the past year, I've spent a lot of time listening to podcasts. Although podcasting is still very much in its infancy, standards of quality (and lack thereof) are already emerging. What makes for a great podcast?

  • Sound quality. I'm amazed by how many podcasts are impossible to listen to, simply because of a poor audio recording. I don't know how other people listen to podcasts, but I do it while I'm walking down loud, busy streets. In that type of environment, quiet and/or muffled voices in podcasts are totally indecipherable. I noticed earlier this year that many of the Wired podcasts suffer from this problem, so I stopped listening to them.

  • Steady volume. I usually have the volume turned up high so I can hear every word in podcasts. Nothing is more frustrating than sudden bursts of loud sound. A musical intro can be a nice touch, but it shouldn't be significantly louder than the spoken-word portion of the podcast -- the listener shouldn't be forced to constantly adjust the volume.

  • Quality content. I listen to podcasts primarily because I want to learn stuff as I walk (I do a lot of walking). Good podcasts cover information in a succinct, compelling way. Future Tense is an example of a podcast that does this very well. Less impressive is the Scientific American podcast, which includes an incredibly annoying and uninteresting quiz called "Totally Bogus."

  • A friendly voice. It's a pretty intimate experience, listening to a voice in my ear that tells me the news. Preferably, the voice should be likable, suggesting a friendly, intelligent person: somebody I'd like to hang out with. I realize this is incredibly subjective, and to each their own, but I think This Week in Tech, a group of guys interrupting each other with lame tech-machismo salvos, is an abysmal failure in this category.
Andy BowersSo, which is the best podcast out there today, according to these standards?

In my view, Slate is the clear winner. The audio is perfect, and the topics are consistently interesting. They're often quite hilarious, too. Perhaps the most shining asset of the Slate podcast is its host, Andy Bowers (pictured at right). I love this man's voice! It's the perfect podcast voice: friendly, intelligent, funny, never too loud or too soft.

What do you think? What's your favorite (or least favorite podcast), and why? Leave a comment; I'm curious to hear your thoughts.



radiodogg said...

I am a podcaster and podcast listener, and I agree that the items you mentioned are all very important. I try to make sure all these areas are addressed properly with my podcast. It takes time, and effort, but the end result is worth it, and my listeners appreciate it. Bottom line, if I'm not happy with it (I'm picky too), then I know other people won't be happy with it either. Let's hear it for standards!

Sunday Go To Meetin'-the podcast that's never on Sunday!

Tim MMF said...

I like your analysis. I'm going to listen to those podcasts now to see if I agree. Great post.