Monday, 13 April 2015

Some thoughts on podcasts

So, since I tend to listen to a lot of Actual Play podcasts, I'm going to scrawl down some thoughts about doing this. Well... rants.

Since I occasionally post podcasts, let me begin by emphasising that I don't in any sense hold up my podcasts as an example of Doing It Right. In a perfect world, there are many things I'd do differently, and maybe I'll go into that later.


If you're going to run an Actual Play podcast, please for the love of dice name your files well.

Right now there are 205 podcasts in my unlistened-to folder. If I'm trying to follow any particular game, or group, it's really important that I be able to find their podcasts.

Some problems with naming that I frequently encounter include:

  • Completely meaningless names, like Ajmsa723-a2ka.mp3. These often come from people who should know better, like major broadcasting bodies or corporations. However, some come from podcasting groups. How do they even use their own files? When I browse through 205 MP3s, how am I supposed to know which one is "Five Nerds Play D&D Episode 2"?
  • Generic names. Episode4.mp3 is a really stupid filename. It tacitly assumes I don't have any other podcasts. I have no idea whose damn podcast that is; worse, if two people use that naming convention - and they do - both I and my devices will mix them up. My MP3 player isn't clever; it will play files in order. Plus, it's difficult for me to keep track of where I was up to. I listen to a lot of podcasts. Do you think I can remember that I was on episode 11 of "Five Nerds Play D&D" after listening to thirty other podcasts? Don't flatter yourself. Make my life easy. Stick a tagline on there.
  • Poor numbering. Episode4.mp3 isn't future-proof. If you ever break 10 episodes, Episode 30 will sort before Episode 4.
  • Inconsistency. I just downloaded episode zero of a podcast, and it wants to be called DungeonWorldActualPlay00.mp3. Guess what the next episode wants to be called? DW2p1final.mp3, obviously. Those won't sort together, and it's not immediately obvious that they're related. I may well have five different Dungeon World podcasts in my folder at once. I've seen podcasts where one episode began with the series title, another with the website name, another was something like EPISODE03FINAL.mp3 and so on. I'm just going to lose track. Did I already download this one? I can't find episode 3, so did I forget it or does it just have a stupid name?
  • Anonymity. Whose podcast is this again? Knowing who recorded something helps me guess what it'll be like, and whether it's what I want to hear right now. On my computer, I can find out fairly quickly. But I'm copying these things to my MP3 player, to listen to later this week, when I'll only see a tiny bit of info on a tiny screen. Put something representing your podcast at the start of the filename, and they'll all stick together. This is even more important when you play multiple games, because (see next). Oh, you want a reason you care about? How about this: I download tons of things on spec and I don't remember where they came from. If I don't remember what something is, I'll probably never get round to listening to it. If I listened to it and I liked it, but it's really anonymous, I might never remember long enough to bother downloading any more.
  • Forking. Some groups use a different naming convention (if it's remotely consistent) for each game they play, and don't tag themselves in the filename. Don't do that, they'll scatter off all over the place. If you put FNP_ at the start of the filename, all your podcasts will group together, rather than be separated by other people. Plus, I can tell whose work it is (see above).

A good name is something like: FNP DnD Dark Sun 004 Eating Giant Spiders.mp3 It'll group with all the Five Nerds podcasts, and subgroup with their other DnD episodes, and subsubgroup with their Dark Sun episodes. I can tell at a glance whose work it is, and whether I think I'll like it (or, if I decided I hate them, I can easily delete every single one). It has a nice big scope for multiple episodes to avoid number sorting getting messy. It's obvious what the episode is, too: a D&D game in Dark Sun. The "Eating Giant Spiders" tag gives me a good chance of knowing immediately whether I heard this already.

Technically, it's possible to rename files as I download. Sometimes I even do. Although this also means I need to devise a naming convention myself which I think I can remember six months down the line when I'm still renaming each of your monthly episodes. Can I be bothered? Maybe. It strongly increases the likelihood I'll just give up on your podcast.

In an ideal world, any naming deficiencies would be made up for by simply using metadata. Except that most people don't use metadata, or use it inconsistently, or actually use it wrong. You can't sort files by Author if the same group of people alternate between "The Worshipful Company of Players", "Bill Q", "File 29-FINAL-NEW2", "Just Some Guys" and "-". Album titles only work for sorting if they're unique, which means "Season 2" or "Dungeon World" are only of limited help. Sadly, Windows isn't clever enough to offer multi-stage sorting.


Because I'm a bit of a luddite I don't own any Apple devices and have an understandable aversion to horrendous bloatware, I don't use iTunes. I use RSS feeds instead: a new episode comes out, I go to your website, I download it. Easy-peasy.

Please make this simple.


Please don't have a splash banner on every single page that occupies the entirety of my (large) screen, so I have to scroll down to find your podcast. I already know what page I'm on, and we don't have a close enough relationship that seeing your name warms the cockles of my heart* so it doesn't benefit me at all. If you really care about branding for some reason, a small banner will do fine. But you know what's great branding? A podcast that I can really enjoy listening to.

* If in fact seeing your name on a banner would warm the cockles of my heart, this rule does not apply to you. But you never told me you had a podcast. I thought we were close. That's pretty cold.


Please make your download links obvious. I probably don't care about anything else on the page, unless it is genuinely really interesting (that means it's probably about the podcast). I probably don't want to Like, Share, Embed or play your podcast live using link buttons, so maybe shuffle them off somewhere else, yeah? I mean, there's a massive freaking arrow if I want to play it, I don't need a link text version as well. Look, you need exactly three buttons. Play (becomes Pause), Stop and Download. Ensure Download is prominent, and is called something like "Download". Don't hide it in your text playfully. Don't forget it entirely because nobody downloads stuff.

Directness helps too. Ideally, I want to find a link, right-click it and download. Some sites want you to click through that link to a helper site (Podbean, usually) that links you on to the real file. Some are even more involved. That's a hassle. I'm not actually there to look at your site anyway, let alone Podbean's. Every click I have to make to get your podcast reduces the chance that I will bother, both now and over time. Even if I like a podcast, if it's a hassle to listen, I'll just stop.


Please make your archives accessible. I'm probably going to discover your website well into your broadcasting career, like most people, because that's how stuff works. When I get linked to Episode 74, I'm going to want to go right back to Episode 1, or at least to Episode 65 where you started this particular campaign. Make it easy to find them.

Use tagging intelligently, if your site offers it. Make sure there's an archives link on the right. If you have epic campaigns, maybe set up special pages to group them (RPPR do this). If you play multiple games, consider having every episode of Gorgon Kingdoms include a link to Episode 1 of Gorgon Kingdoms, so it's easy to find the start.

If you must have an archive that isn't part of the blog, explain that somewhere prominent.

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