The Download on Podcasts: The micropodcasting experience of Anchor Radio

DOWNLOAD ON PODCASTS logo 03 with podcastone BIG LOGO canvasSoon after Twitter launched, in March, 2006, it was dubbed a microblogging network. Not a bad description, as Twitter embodied the personality, ease, and social aspects of blogging, but in tiny fragments constrained by the 140-character rule. Traditional blogging is sometimes on the TL;DR side , and Twitter’s severe curtailments brought pith to online self-expression, elevating it to a new opinion craft.

Podcasting has often been compared to blogging, not least because it has its roots in blogging technology. Podcasts were developed as extensions of blogging, embedded into RSS blog distribution systems. As blogging matured and professionalized, so does podcasting appear to be on the same curve.

If personal blogging can run long, so can podcasting. On-demand audio, especially in the amatuer and semi-pro realms, has a length problem and a self-indulgence issue. Does podcasting need a short form to teach audio pundits how to be brief?

If so, Anchor might be the leading candidate. Easy to use, hemmed by time limits, with a natively conversational format, the mobile-only Anchor app has got early adopters waist deep in recording “waves” and joining audio conversations with connected friends. Anchor is iOS-only, which has limited its growth. (Why on earth do startups launch their breakthrough inventions on the minority mobile platform only? Periscope followed the same oddball strategy, wasting a massive burst of launch publicity.)

As with Twitter and Vine (another micro self-expression format), Anchor power users are packing value into short audio with inventiveness. An original Anchor wave (every piece of audio is called a wave) is allowed two minutes, which is surprisingly long, as we wish more podcasters would realize. Responses are allowed 60 seconds. Occasionally a member will stretch a reply over two waves, but discipline rules for the most part. The smartly designed app lets you swipe through an auudio conversation, or let it play like a radio station. (In a clever play on words, the launch tagline bragged, “The first public radio.”)

Categories of waves have developed since the platform’s launch in February. Ambient waves feature world sounds of all sorts, from rainstorms to mall shoppers. Some “wavers” start conversations by asking questions. Musical waves might be original two-minute performances, or, in more ambitious creations, DJ’d tracks with scratches and raps.

The most endearing, and often the most popular waves are the most personal ones, attracting responses to audio notes about small life moments, moods, and feelings. There is a hyper-personal quality to audio sharing, which works much better in a time-limited format than in an open-ended podcast. There is at least one example of two people forming a couple after meeting on Anchor.

Time will tell how important Anchor will become. We think of Twitter taking over microblogging suddently, but actually Twitter tracked a growth curve with several small, then larger, tipping points. As of now it is clear that “bite-sized audio” (as Anchor is often described in reviews) is strangely compelling to users who are swimming deep in the platform’s waves, reveling in a social network of surprising ease (you touch a button a speak), naturalness, personality, and even intimacy.


Brad Hill