Podcast Chaptering

13th June 2014

With the Exastential Podcast we added Chapters and Chapter-specific artwork to the show. We received maybe one or two positive comments about it. Again we started doing this in the last few episodes of Pragmatic before I left Fiat Lux. Even with a much bigger fan base, we only recieved maybe three or four positive comments about the chaptering of the shows (that I am aware of).

Proponents of Chaptering would argue thusly:

  • Breaking up the show makes it easier for the user to find what they’re looking for if they want to skip a certain topic or go straight to one that interests them
  • Chapters making searchability better
  • Custom artwork for each chapter looks cool?

Like so many things there are cases where it can work well and others where it can’t. For it to work the podcast in question MUST have the following attributes:

  • More than one section that can be broken down into logical sub-topics
  • Sub-topics within an episode that have near-equal time devoted to them
  • Sub-topics that in no way refer to any topics previously mentioned in that episode (i.e. they stand-alone)

Beyond this, if we are to break up podcasts into Chapters then who decides when a chapter should begin and end? This is usually one of the podcasters or their audio technician or producer (if they have one). In short, a handful of people but most importantly they then have to decide to what level the show should be broken down. If I’m talking about electricity, and I spend five minutes talking about electrons and ohms law, does the next section on conductors require a new chapter? What is the correct granularity for chapterising a podcast?

If a podcast goes for 2 hours, how many chapters are therefore acceptable? 3? 10? 25? The answer is completely subjective and the question is impossible to answer. If you’re thinking "rules of thumb will work" or the number that just "feels right" then you’re not helping.

Chapterising a podcast is a poor substitute for what it really lacking: a common framework for users to link to exact moments in the podcast to share on their timelines. At the moment most sites simply say: "Check out this bit at [18:34] in…" or "It’s in the chapter about ‘gun violence’…".

Chapters Are Gone

Due to the above I’ve decided to remove any chaptering from episodes of Pragmatic from this point forward. In addition the main show feed is now in MP3 format for maximum compatibility across all devices (Pragmatic is most certainly not an Apple-focussed podcast). For those looking for the slightly smaller HE-AAC v2 encoded versions of the shows there will be a new feed going live in a few weeks time.

I’ve been adding some features to the site and now for anyone listening through the website it’s possible to create a link from anywhere in the episode for sharing on Twitter. Based on your feedback I’ll add a few different sharing options in coming weeks. It’s not an industry standard like I was hoping for, but it’s a start. If/when such a standard evolves, I will adopt it.

Upon receiving a Tweet with an episode link and time index in it, following that link will take to right to the page and pressing the new Right-Arrow-Play button on the player will start the episode playing from the linked-to point in the episode. This is similar functionality to SoundCloud but instead works with the flexible jPlayer embedded in Statamic with the audio files hosted wherever you like.

As always, let me know what you think.

UPDATE:

Well people told me what they thought and thank you for your feedback. Just to clarify, HE-AAC isn’t an Apple codec (I didn’t say that specifically but glossed over the detail of what I meant in the now-struck-through comment) however Apple was one of the first to fully support it and remains a strong advocate for its use. The inference I was making relates to the fact that were I hosting an all-Apple podcast, presumably only Apple product users would be listening on Apple devices and Apple fully supports HE-AAC.

The primary issue is that the native decoder implementation on Android in particular is such that it currently doesn’t support playback at anything other than 1x. PocketCasts is very popular on Android and point #16 here under the Android sub-section hints at the issue but this tweet confirms the issue with the native Android implementation.

If people want to listen to the podcast at 2x that’s fine with me it’s their ears listening and that’s up to them. By changing the format to MP3 those people will now be happier when they’re listening. I’ve also received other feedback from users of different software players that don’t support AAC: typically older standalone MP3 players.

Changing to MP3 satisfies as many people as possible which to me is the most important thing. The AAC feed will be live shortly for those that prefer the smaller file size and subltely different audible artifacts each decoder brings to the table.