Test Drive: Podchaser makes a shaky entry into the podcast database world

Today’s Test Drive explores a tech niche that has been getting lots of buzz lately: podcast discovery. With the audio format on the rise in cultural cache and audience numbers, it makes sense that new properties would emerge to offer additional services to listeners. One of these is Podchaser, a podcast discovery tool currently in open beta and has more than 18 million podcast episodes. The theory of a massive podcast database that’s searchable and filterable is an admirable one, but Podchaser still has some big wrinkles to iron out.

In concept, Podchaser falls in line with most other podcast database projects. It’s an aggregator for shows, with ways to seek out new programming and listen to episodes on the site. It has options for ratings, reviews, and following shows for listeners who make accounts. The team is promising the development of common social features such as following podcasters, claiming podcast pages, and interacting with other members. In terms of the presentation, all of that looks great. But I wasn’t so impressed with Podchaser’s usability, which didn’t give me the clarity or controls I was hoping for.

I started browsing within the games category, adding filters for a 3+ star rating and length between 10 and 30 minutes. The initial result showed no hits, even though it seemed from the filter screen that I would indeed get results. After some confused staring at my screen, I realized it was because the site’s default is to show trending podcasts. Clicking the image icons next to the filters menu offered up the results by top podcasts or recent podcasts. It’s a good example of how trying for a minimal design can backfire when the result isn’t intuitive or obvious enough.

Podchaser is still in beta, so there’s still plenty of time for the site to collect feedback and tweak its offerings. Assuming the team does tighten up its UI, it would also be nice to have more options for the filters tool. When I looked at the top podcast episodes under the Category section, my only choices were to filter by date aired and episode length. Those are certainly useful, but not necessarily the primary filters I’d want in sorting through thousands and thousands of episodes to find something new.

My sticking point with Podchaser’s filter tools is that, even in this new-ish market segment, I’ve already seen other platforms that were able to offer a more thorough discovery experience sorting through just as many shows. The place where Podchaser stands out right now is in style. The website is several steps up in the looks department compared with something like Listen Notes, but that one-person operation was still easier for me to use and didn’t come with the beta tag. I’ll be keeping an eye out for how Podchaser progresses, and where it goes from the current beta stage. There’s certainly room for a site like this to build a devoted following and emerge as a winner. If Podchaser puts in the elbow grease, they could be that winner.

Anna Washenko