My solution for not finding the perfect podcast app

My tween-age love for my radio walkman neatly transferred to podcasts a long time ago, and the recent mainstream acknowledgement of podcasts as an interesting medium makes me happy. I’m sure I’m not the only long time Slate and NPR fan that felt smug when Serial exploded and we started seeing articles like The future of media is podcasting.

And it’s not just for entertainment. The role that podcasts play in my professional development has grown in recent years, as new ones pop up and subject matter experts share insights in a way that’s different from blog posts and conferences.

However.

The medium is still primitive — it’s an audio file that gets pushed through a stream — and it’s tricky to consume.

  • My list of subscribed podcast keep growing
  • My list of un-played episodes keep growing
  • I stop launching the app because the “un-played” number is scary/annoying​

The hack I’ve hit upon is to use two apps — one for work-related podcasts that I want to keep up with, and another for everything else. I use Overcast for the former because it’s the best app I’ve tried so far.

As I head out to work in the morning, I launch Overcast and let it play during my commute. Once a week, I’ll manually delete all the episodes that I hadn’t chosen to play — a “maybe later” is not helpful. In the Apple Podcast are a jumble of different podcasts, and I just let the episodes accumulate and dip into on the weekends.

The insight was to “physically” separate content between two modes – learning and pleasure, for lack of better words – because my listening behavior is different, and that distinction was more powerful than theme-based categorization.

I still can’t keep a record of what I listened to, easily do “second screen” browsing, link an episode with notes that I took, or share clips with a friend… but in the meantime, this solution helps to develop a steady, listening habit.

Slack as an excellent RSS reader

As an avid blog reader, I’ve maintained a collection of RSS feeds for more than a decade now, lugging it across too many RSS reader apps to count.

They’re finally flourishing in this new home – a discretionary Slack channel that I created in the company group, to which I’m the only subscriber.

Screen Recording 2015-09-12 at 03.04 pm

No longer faced with the dreaded ritual of processing hundreds of unread items, I find myself truly enjoying blogs once again.

I check the channel a dozen times a day, a few seconds each time. The action is friction-less, since I’m already in and out of Slack throughout the day.

I’ve become much more active in subscribing/unsubscribing to feeds, which has drastically improved the signal to noise ration as I find new authors or as my interests develop.

Articles get read on the spot or tucked into Pocket for later. This takes two clicks on the desktop app (open in Chrome, then Pocket plugin) or two taps on the mobile app (long press to pull up Share, then select Pocket). Because the feeds are so in tune with my interests in that moment, I read more and more deeply than in the past.

My learning and discovery of new ideas and angles have accelerated in the past six months, and I attribute a lot of that to this set-up.

If you’re a lapsed RSS app user who loves using Slack – give it a try!