Juha-Matti Santala
Community Builder. Dreamer. Adventurer.

Sharing podcast episodes is weird

Sharing is caring, like they say. I’ve always been an advocate for sharing: whether it’s information through open platforms like blogging or speaking in events; code by releasing it with open source licenses; learning and building in public; through blogrolls; or just sending links to pieces that were interesting to me to other people who think similarly.

There’s one thing I struggle to share: podcast episodes.

When Anil Dash wrote about how saying “Wherever you get your podcasts” is a radical statement, I nodded a bit but didn’t think too much about it. I’m already so fed up with how the big tech companies build walled gardens and try to keep you there instead of building platforms on top of openness.

I started rethinking Anil’s words when I got once again frustrated by how difficult it is to share a podcast episode to someone else. While podcasting itself is built on top of open RSS feeds, unlike blogs, those feeds don’t always have a canonical homebase.

Surprisingly few podcasts have a website of their own. They pick one of the providers and use it as a base to direct people into. But what if I’m not using that platform?

And even when there is a canonical home, it’s rarely directly linked in the podcast shown that the podcasting apps show.

Sharing a single episode

Let’s say I just listened to a great episode of a podcast I like. I want to share it with my friends: in social media, through slacks and discords or send it to my mom as a text message.

Almost none of the podcasts that I listen to link to a specific episode page in their home page if they have one. So if there is an app-agnostic home page, I first need to go to that, browse or search for the right episode, copy the link and send it. I often do this to make it a better experience for whomever it is I’m sending the link to but it’s quite a lot of extra work.

I can also choose a “Share episode” option from the podcasting apps and this where the weirdness of distribution kicks in.

More ways to listen: Rss, Apple Podcasts, Castro, Overcast

If I use Pocket Casts, which I do on Android, and I copy a link, I’ll get a link to the episode in Pocket Casts. They kindly offer alternative options on their page to the RSS feed, to Apple Podcasts, to Castro and to Overcast.

Listen in the app Overcast or wherever you get podcasts: Apple Podcasts, Castro, Pocket Casts, RSS Feed

If I use Overcast, which I do on my iOS devices, I get the same experience. Overcast’s episode page links to Apple Podcasts, Castro, Pocket Casts and the RSS feed. At this point of my exploration I started to get my hopes up. Maybe my worries were unsubstantiated and there was nothing to worry.

Download on the App Store or listen elsewhere: Apple Podcasats, Pocket Casts, Overcast, RSS Feed

With Castro, the story is the same. Yay for open protocols!

And then the dark clouds start to form.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

If I’m an Apple Podcasts user and I share a link, it shows up in Apple Podcasts website with the only option being - surprising no one - to listen it in Apple Podcasts.

A Spotify’s green play button and + button with text “Episode description”

If I’m a Spotify subscriber and want to share an episode, the story is the same. You’re only offered a way to listen to it in Spotify. There’s also no links to Spotify from any of the other platforms. It was hard to take a screenshot of something that doesn’t exist at all so here’s Spotify’s “how to listen to this episode” UI.

Two challenging bits

I love that podcasting is built on top of open platforms but I don’t like when commercial platforms do their best to hide that option from a regular user. They artificially boost their user base by not playing along in the open system and then they can add their own closed stuff on top and eventually make the entire open system worse for everyone.

Second thing is that it’s very hard in general for me using App A to share an episode to a group of my friends who use apps B, C, D and E. Sometimes it works and they get a page where they can find a link to their own app and continue listening there, maybe subscribe to the new discovery. But sometimes, and depending on which one A, B, C, D and E are, they might get a link that is unusable to them and they’d have to search for the podcast and the episode by hand in their app of choice.

I don’t have a solution but I have an idea

It’s not an easy problem to solve. I kinda wish there was a way in which the operating system providers would offer a way for users to select their Default Podcasting App and have generic deeplinks that open the episodes based on the RSS feed into that app. This way, websites and apps could offer a single click interface to listening to it in your app - regardless of where it came from.

This wouldn’t do anything to solve the Apple/Spotify issue of not wanting to play in the same sandbox. It could at least solve an issue where the apps and their sharing websites wouldn’t be required to manually (I don’t know if they do this by hand to be fair) keep a list of other platforms where one can listen to the episode.

Maybe this could also help new podcasting apps to find user base when they don’t have to fight their way into those “Listen also in…” lists.

But like Dash wrote, it’s quite a radical idea. It’s not a technological challenge as I believe all the bits already exist. It’s an economical one where companies don’t want users to have the best experience - they want them to have their experience.

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