Plotting a course and finding direction for a new podcasting project

Since joining Knight Lab as student fellows in April, Michael Martinez and I have been thinking about podcasting technology and online audio in hopes that a project idea would emerge. We're obviously not alone. The last 12 months have seen the rise of highly popular shows like Serial and advanced mobile or in-car "podcatching" platforms. Just last week, podcasts marked another milestone when President Obama appeared on Marc Maron's WTF podcast. Unfortunately, a handful of problems still plague podcasting; many of those challenges were covered by previous student fellow Neil Holt.

Even after reading widely on issues affecting podcasts, we had quite a bit of trouble trying to determine the most fitting angle of attack. It was difficult to choose a relevant, bite-sized project that we could accomplish and would be useful. We looked into building ID3 editors, developing Chrome extensions, designing new podcatchers, and more. Eventually, we settled on building a platform that primarily helps with the discoverability and categorization of podcasts.

Our (currently nameless) project creates topical podcast feeds comprised of episodes from many other sources. The general goal is to let podcast listeners subscribe to a topic instead of a series and be presented with episodes from series and producers that they may have otherwise overlooked. We accumulate existing podcast feeds and pick out each episode in the feed. Then, the episodes are categorized by topic area and saved into our database of episodes. When the user searches for a topic, we can query the database to construct new podcast feeds containing episodes that are all related to the searched topic. Users should also be able to subscribe to the topical podcast feeds on their mobile podcatchers.

After finding our project direction, we set about choosing some technologies. Michael and I had very little experience with databases and had primarily used Node.js and Express to build web applications in the past. We looked into a few technologies, including Parse, Flask, and others. With some encouragement, we decided to learn Django and use it for this project. It took a while to understand, but with some guidance from other engineers and student fellows at Knight Lab, we were able to start building.

There are still a lot of questions to answer on both the engineering and design sides of the project.

On the engineering side, the biggest area for improvement is in the categorization of the episodes. We are working on how we can best use keyword extraction and other natural language processing concepts to best classify the episodes. Additionally, we would like to test the project with podcast listeners to help build our sense of the most crucial functions of this project. We need a better understanding of how to maximize the value and utility of this project for potential users. We’re a long way from a completed project, but we’ll keep going. Check back in for updates.

About the author

Bomani McClendon

Student Fellow

Latest Posts

  • Prototyping Augmented Reality

    Something that really frustrates me is that, while I’m excited about the potential AR has for storytelling, I don’t feel like I have really great AR experiences that I can point people to. We know that AR is great for taking a selfie with a Pikachu and it’s pretty good at measuring spaces (as long as your room is really well lit and your phone is fully charged) but beyond that, we’re really still figuring...

    Continue Reading

  • Capturing the Soundfield: Recording Ambisonics for VR

    When building experiences in virtual reality we’re confronted with the challenge of mimicking how sounds hit us in the real world from all directions. One useful tool for us to attempt this mimicry is called a soundfield microphone. We tested one of these microphones to explore how audio plays into building immersive experiences for virtual reality. Approaching ambisonics with the soundfield microphone has become popular in development for VR particularly for 360 videos. With it,...

    Continue Reading

  • How to translate live-spoken human words into computer “truth”

    Our Knight Lab team spent three months in Winter 2018 exploring how to combine various technologies to capture, interpret, and fact check live broadcasts from television news stations, using Amazon’s Alexa personal assistant device as a low-friction way to initiate the process. The ultimate goal was to build an Alexa skill that could be its own form of live, automated fact-checking: cross-referencing a statement from a politician or otherwise newsworthy figure against previously fact-checked statements......

    Continue Reading

  • Northwestern is hiring a CS + Journalism professor

    Work with us at the intersection of media, technology and design.

    Are you interested in working with journalism and computer science students to build innovative media tools, products and apps? Would you like to teach the next generation of media innovators? Do you have a track record building technologies for journalists, publishers, storytellers or media consumers? Northwestern University is recruiting for an assistant or associate professor for computer science AND journalism, who will share an appointment in the Medill School of Journalism and the McCormick School...

    Continue Reading

  • Introducing StorylineJS

    Today we're excited to release a new tool for storytellers.

    StorylineJS makes it easy to tell the story behind a dataset, without the need for programming or data visualization expertise. Just upload your data to Google Sheets, add two columns, and fill in the story on the rows you want to highlight. Set a few configuration options and you have an annotated chart, ready to embed on your website. (And did we mention, it looks great on phones?) As with all of our tools, simplicity...

    Continue Reading

  • Join us in October: NU hosts the Computation + Journalism 2017 symposium

    An exciting lineup of researchers, technologists and journalists will convene in October for Computation + Journalism Symposium 2017 at Northwestern University. Register now and book your hotel rooms for the event, which will take place on Friday, Oct. 13, and Saturday, Oct. 14 in Evanston, IL. Hotel room blocks near campus are filling up fast! Speakers will include: Ashwin Ram, who heads research and development for Amazon’s Alexa artificial intelligence (AI) agent, which powers the...

    Continue Reading

Storytelling Tools

We build easy-to-use tools that can help you tell better stories.

View More