Obsessive podcast dork post warning – if you are uninterested in the deep miscellany of how one listener handles his podcasts, this post may not be for you.
Some time ago Garrick van Buren asked me about what a long podcast queue means to me. I had posted about the fact that my listening queue was over a month long. Out of curiousity around that time I wrote a ruby script to figure out how long my queue is in listening hours. When it was a month deep, I had around 9 days worth of audio files in my repository. Since the birth of the baby, my listening time dropped way down and the queue got longer and longer. At this point, it is right at a cool 10 weeks long. That means that in early March 2011, I’m listening to the shows from the week before Xmas 2010. Added together, this queue has a runtime that just blipped over 15 days long.
On top of the continuing subscriptions, I have been adding shows this whole time. I don’t get too upset about the long queue and have never found that to be a reason to not subscribe to new shows. Recently I added eBook Ninjas (heard about on The Kindle Chronicles) and Jackie Kashian’s The Dork Forest (heard about on Marc Maron’s WTF). In both cases, the shows had between 15 and 20 episodes that came down the feed on first subscription. For these shows I want to actually listen to the back shows, so I’m now in a situation where the first 25 shows in my list are those two podcasts. Each time I sync, I listen to one episode of each and then skip past the rest. It will probably take me at least a month to clear the queue of just those episodes at the front.
I’ve done this many times with shows I begin and want to listen to a number of older shows. When I first subscribed to WTF a year ago, it was on episode #33 and I did listen from the very beginning. For that show, because he puts it out twice a week like a machine, in the time it took to listen to the first 33 episodes, another 18 had been published. It can be a Sysiphean task to catch up on frequently updated feeds.
But to the real question that Garrick asked, what does it mean to me when the queue gets long? For me particularly, it doesn’t mean that much. I’ve been very far behind like now, and I’ve been so completely caught up that each night I was downloading fewer shows than a typical day’s listening. When the queue is long, the main thing that happens is that my patience and tolerance drops to near zero. When I’ve got 300 files waiting to be listened to, my willingness to listen to shows not cutting for me is drastically reduced. If I try out a new show based on a recommendation and the first five minutes are in-jokes and really boring banter, I hit skip and never come back to that show.
This leads to another more general point – I have come to believe that the first 3 minutes of podcasts are the most crucial bit of the whole thing. If your theme song is five minutes long, you’ve already lost me. If the beginning of your show is a long description of why it’s been so long since the last episode (which I and practically every other podcaster is guilty of doing at least once), I don’t want to listen to that. I especially don’t want to listen if the lateness being discussed in the episode is months or years old at the time I’m listening, which now is highly common. This has come back around to myself. When I record Evil Genius Chronicles episodes, I’m trying very hard to get things rolling fast and coming back to things like sponsorships or long explanations. The other end of this is things like SModcast, where the episodes I’m listening to begin with 12 minutes of promos for SModcastle plus the Adam and Eve and Fleshlight sponsor messages. I’m this close to dropping SModcast because of this. For sure, I begin the show with my finger on the fast forward button. I only wish the Sansa Clip had an audible fast forward so I could hear when the theme song begins.
The main thing that drives whether my queue builds up or gets cleared is how many meetings I have in my day job. Most of my team is in other physical locations so at times much of my day is spent with headphones on. When we changed to a new mode of working that had more phone meetings, my queue size and length began creeping up. I’m not that agitated by it. I’m not disturbed when it climbs. It is a slight bummer as I’m listening to ever older shows with things like offers and contests that are long over before I ever heard them, but overall I don’t care. The one show I make exceptions to my strict chronological listening is Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac. I artificially goose the timestamps to make them the oldest shows in my list, so they are always at the head because these are the most timely shows I listen to.
Beyond that, Mr. van Buren, a long queue doesn’t mean that much to me. It lowers my tolerance, increases my impatience and makes my skip finger itchy. It doesn’t make me loathe so subscribe to new shows. In fact, the last few months I’ve added more new shows than in years. If it takes me years to catch up or it never happens, I can live with that. The queue works for me, I don’t work for it. As long as my ears stay full of interesting listening, I don’t care how much unlistened there exists. I don’t have to be a completist on this, just amused at all the times I want to be.