We all love podcasts, but recommendation algorithms and "most popular" lists don't always find us the perfect one. Google is jumping into the fight.


By Dan Nosowitz
August 14, 2019

How many times have you found yourself, before a long drive or a (theoretically) long workout, scouring the lists of most popular podcasts, trying to find something new? With a massive podcast boom in the last few years, there are thousands of options, and you just know the perfect podcast is out there. But how to find it? 

Until now, the most common way we use to find, well, anything—Google—has not had a podcast-specific function. But the company recently launched a couple of podcast initiatives, including an app (Android-only, for now), and a massive index of millions of podcasts right in its search engine.

Smiling woman with curly hair using mobile phone at the train station.
Image courtesy of Getty.
| Credit: Image courtesy of Getty.

The podcast revolution has been assisted in part by how decentralized it is. Anyone with a cellphone can record one (though buying a nice microphone is a smart move), without the need for big corporate gatekeepers—at least theoretically. In reality, Apple Podcasts, the built-in podcast listening app on iPhones, holds about half of the total market of listeners. That means that Apple’s algorithms and sales charts hold a huge influence over our ability to discover new podcasts. And according to reviews, the recommendation systems—from Apple, as well as apps like Spotify Premium ($9.99 per month), Pocket Casts ($5.99), and Stitcher Premium ($4.99 per month)—have not proven especially good at recommending new podcasts to listeners.

Google’s new efforts may help, at least in some ways. The company has indexed millions of podcasts, including all of their episodes. That means that you can now Google “podcasts about Martha Stewart,” and right in your search results, you’ll see a new bar of podcast results. That particular search will turn up any official Martha Stewart podcasts, as well as any podcasts she’s been a guest on, or even podcasts about her life and career. And you can play those right from the search results—just click, and you’ll be able to listen. All you have to do is use the word “podcast” in your search to see those results.

That same search functionality will soon work with the Google Assistant, the Siri-like helper found in both Android phones and the Google Home line of smart speakers; currently, it’ll just show you the same search results (including the podcast results) as it does on the web, though it won’t list off episodes and podcasts you might like, not quite yet. If you switch devices, as long as you’re using this Google functionality on both, the podcast will pick up right where you left off. 

There’s still a fundamental difficulty in recommending podcasts, the same way there is for recommending books. It’s tricky to figure out all the elements of a particular podcast—for example, you might like one cooking podcast because you like the host or the length or a particular focus, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re interested in all cooking podcasts. But being able to search by guests and topic could absolutely help introduce listeners to new podcasts, by finding those common threads. Plus, you can listen at work, and nobody will know.


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