On April 21st, 2014, a tremor shook the podcasting world. Not a large one, but like an avalanche feeding on itself and growing ever-larger, this quake’s onset marked the beginning of a significant change. Or at least, that’s how I think we will look back on the otherwise unremarkable Monday afternoon Ben Alexander, Jamie Ryan, Lorenzo Guddemi, and Sid O’Neill launched Constellation.
As Sid pointed out when giving his brief overview of Fiat Lux’s new podcasting division, this medium is not perfect; in fact, podcasters constantly battle with a number of rather significant flaws. Seeing those, the folks over at Fiat Lux decided to fix two of the most glaring shortcomings inherent to this space in taking strides to improve presentation and accessibility. Whereas previously running a podcast network meant, at best, using SoundCloud’s built-in — and thus, generic — presentation modules as is the case with Andreessen Horowitz’s a16z podcast and the shows over at The Mule Radio Syndicate, for example, more often it entails a common audio player for both mid-size networks such as SSKTN, its sibling Goodstuff.fm, and even the venerable 5by5 as well. Constellation, however, seeks to change that unfortunate status quo with attractive players front and center rather than seemingly added as an afterthought, combined with a novel approach to show notes and chapter markers reminiscent of Gabe Weatherhead and Erik Hess’s work over at Technical Difficulties'.
The tight integration of these attractive, mobile-friendly players and a unique take on structuring show notes not only makes for a much more aesthetically-pleasing user experience though, but goes a long way towards improving the other outstanding shortcoming in podcasts as well; namely, accessibility to the unindoctrinated masses. Thus far, podcasts have remained a black box outputting enjoyment whenever nerds input time. Or perhaps more accurately, a heavily-tinted one: although we could — and often do, although to little avail — encourage our friends and family to get real close, squint, and use a combination of timestamps and pull-quotes to provide brief glimpses into the inner-workings of this fantastic medium, short of actually climbing into this box it has proven difficult to demonstrate the motivations behind our unfailing love for these shows. And with a mean length of forty-five minutes1, and most shows lasting much, much longer than that, convincing most to make the initial investment necessary to become a part of this incredible community is a hard sell indeed. Thanks to a clear delineation between topics though, and the ability to jump between talking points afforded those tuning in by Constellation’s chapter markers, this has suddenly become less of a problem. Perhaps, in time, as others hopefully take a cue from Fiat Lux and seek to increase the accessibility of their chosen medium, podcasts will expand their reach outside this admittedly insular community and in to more populous realms.
Although a great step in the right direction, Fiat Lux has not completely solved the problems of presentation and accessibility with the advent of Constellation — let me be clear on that front; however, that’s okay: it’s okay because Ben and company have set off in the right direction, they have done so with a great deal of determination to buck the status quo, and one day soon I have little doubt that they will solve all of these problems and more. Constellation, although perhaps not the most feature-rich platform on the market, is the first in what will one day prove a long line of disruptive distribution platforms within the podcasting industry, and an inspiring glimpse at what we have to anticipate in the coming years. Some will undoubtedly color it a flash in the pan, or relegate it to the pile of stories unworthy of note. I have every confidence in the great team Ben formed to see this version one to its full potential though, so that in the very near future we will all look back fondly on this moment with words of wistful envy for the incredible site that launched yesterday. For on the twenty-first day of April in the year of our Lord two thousand and fourteen, the stars aligned; and on that day, Fiat Lux bore unto us Constellation, and the world of podcasting was forever changed.