Putting The Simple Back In Podcast RSS Feeds [Episode 307]
It’s not an overstatement to say podcasting would not exist without RSS feeds. But their magic and power is mostly seen by listeners for current and future episodes. As I discussed on Monday’s episode, trying to listen to extensive back catalog episodes inside of a podcast listening app is a horrid experience.
But we can make it better if we think about RSS feeds from a slightly different perspective.
Imagine if your local library organized books on shelves not by subject matter or author, but by the date they were acquired by the library branch. Now consider that the menu of your local restaurant isn’t a complete listing of everything in the chef’s repertoire. And think of how insane it would be to shop for clothes if you had to go through the full warehouse instead of the limited selections you see in a showroom.
Generally speaking, presenting people with overwhelming choices is a bad idea. To help, creators (sellers, providers, etc) segregate content into two buckets:
What We Want People To See Right Now
Other Options We’ve Moved Out Of The Way As To Not Overload People With Too Many Choices
So why don’t we do the same?
The List Of Episodes We Want To Display To New And Current Listeners
Well-organized Archived Or Back-catalog Content For Listeners Who Want To Dig
We can do this with current RSS feeds. And we can do it in a way that’s not confusing to listeners.
This requires some strategic thinking on the part of podcasters. How “full” should your main RSS feed be? How do you decide where to break content? Do you need more than one archive feed?
Here’s one way I could do it for this show:
Podcast Pontifications: Season 3
Podcast Pontifications: Season 2 (July 2019 - May 2020)
Podcast Pontifications: Season 1 (July 2017 - June 2019)
If you don’t do seasons, then what about years? Here’s mine again as an example, breaking out feeds by years would look like this in directories or apps:
Podcast Pontifications Archive: 2019
Podcast Pontifications Archive: 2018
Podcast Pontifications Archive: 2017
That looks nice! But it also might lead you to make a bad decision. Never make a new RSS feed for your next season or the next year. If you make a new feed for new content, people will have to subscribe to that new feed. You do not want to ask people to subscribe to a new feed. Because most -- the vast majority -- will not. That’s the opposite of “frictionless”.
Instead, you’re just renaming your main feed and removing content from it to fill up the “new” archived feeds which you’ll submit to the appropriate directories. You may also try adding a season-ending trailer to your archived feeds if you think that would help. Or you can try a totally different and more descriptive naming convention for each of your feeds. Just keep it simple and frictionless for your listeners.
Best of all? We can do all this with the current architectural infrastructure podcasting relies on. We don't need to change the way RSS feeds work or how podcast clients ingest those feeds to make this happen.