Spoke: Review of a A New Podcast Discovery App

Spoke is a new app that’s been released to the Google Play and Apple App Store. I gave it a spin after being introduced to it when one of the curators began following @pssttellus on Twitter.

First, I submitted the Tell Us Something podcast feed to the app, which was a pretty straightforward process. Submitting is free. My decision to submit to the app was based on the premise that Tell Us Something's mission is to help regular everyday people get their stories heard by as many listeners as possible. What better way than to get their stories in front of the ears of a Sirrius XM backed app?

Spoke helps users discover stories that interest them by using “paths”. Some paths focus on stories that bring history to life, music, sports, politics, acting, health and wellness, and have names like  “Mental Health” and “Oh Hey, No Way!” When I have used it, the app feels like Pandora for podcasts, with “paths” being the “seed” for the podcasts you’ll hear.

The Tell Us Something podcast is included in the “I Was There” and “Slice of Life” paths.

After I submitted the podcast, (in June 2017), I was pleasantly surprised to receive a personalized email from one of the curators:

Hi Marc,
 
Just wanted to say thanks for submitting your podcast feed to Spoke! It’s funny – I was about to reach out to you today after finding Tell Us Something on Twitter, but you beat me to it.
 
On our team of curators at Spoke, I’m in charge of finding and sharing great storytelling. I curate a whole section of our app that’s devoted solely to first-person stories, so I’m very excited to have your show onboard. I’m loving the stories I’ve heard so far!
 
Happy to answer any questions you have about Spoke, and to talk about ways we can promote your podcast – in our app, on social media, or otherwise.
 
All best,
Becca

 

PS – another coincidence: I happen to be visiting Montana (and passing through Missoula) in a few weeks. I’m sad to see I’m missing Tell Us Something’s next storytelling event by a few days!
 

Becca (and her boyfriend) did indeed meet up with me when they rolled through Missoula. I was on my way to Helena to present a storytelling workshop there and didn’t have a lot of time. They were understanding and both very cool.  We chatted at Butterfly Herbs about Spoke, what the future of the app looks like, and how it can help content creators get their content discovered.
 
She spoke with transparency about the app, and the vision for its future. The contents of that conversation are not ready for prime time yet, and I’ll let the Spoke folks release those details in their own time. She shared enough with me that I’m ready to stay with the app to see how it progresses. Knowing what the startup world can sometimes look like, having worked as a software tester for three different startups,  I understand the need to keep some feature sets internal until they are ready, as well as to under promise features and over deliver on them.

Before I continue with the review, a caveat is that while using the app I focused my listening habits on storytelling podcasts.
 
From a listener’s perspective, Spoke has promise. There are no ads from sponsors, and all of the podcasts have a seamless feel because one curator is narrating the intro to each unique podcast. There is a social sharing aspect to the app from within the app itself that may be appealing to some, though I have not used this feature. 
 
The ability to search multiple podcasts by keyword is appealing and helps users discover content relevant to them. 
 
Each episode has an audio cue between episodes that became annoying. As soon as I figured out how to disable it, I did (Tap your profile ID → ACCOUNT → PLAY AUDIO CUES → OFF).

Users can, once they understand the UI,  easily tap through a story in a path to discover the podcast itself and begin following the podcast in question.
 
As a content creator, Spoke does offer some challenges. 
 
Because the stories are curated, some of the actual content of the podcasts are removed when listening to podcasts using the “paths” feature. That missing content is replaced with a curator’s voice-over. Content creators are losing out on getting their sponsors and the sponsors’ messages out there to listeners. They are also losing out on branding in that their voices are removed. 
 
Curators also sometimes change the episode names of an individual podcast in a path, which from a content creator perspective is also problematic.

As an example

Alex Sakariassen’s story “Reluctant Journey” became “Stop Signs Will Never Look the Same” when listening to the story from a path. This practice fails to honor both the storyteller and the podcast producer.

When I addressed this concern with Becca, she acknowledged the practice and explained the reason for it. Often the storytelling curators at Spoke are pulling one story from a podcast episode that has multiple stories. The story they are pulling might not have a title and so they improvise. She did say that she and her team will be more cognizant of storytellers' intentions and honor their story names in the future when those story titles are clear.

I know that this is the first iteration of the app. I'm curious how they plan to address the question of analytics for content creators. I'm equally curious to learn if and how they plan to compensate creators for their work.

I had great interactions with Becca via email, in person and on Twitter and I really wanted to love this app.  As it stands right now, unfortunately, the limitations of the app from a content creator’s point of view make it unappealing.

Spoke has recently come out of beta and is available in the App Store and the Play Store. I’m going to keep using it and allow the Tell Us Something podcast to remain on the platform for a couple of rounds of software releases to see how the platform grows.

If you have used Spoke, let me know what you think of it. If you haven't used it, give it a try for yourself and let me know what you think.

Your story matters.

--Marc