Podcast Fans Can Connect and Share Episode Highlights on Fireside

When the podcast genre was first taking shape about a decade ago, we fans were considered hopeless dorks. Or maybe it was just me.

I remember sending out a link once, via my family’s group e-mail, to a Snap Judgment segment about an amazing cat—the piece made me ugly-cry in the middle of a bike ride as I was listening to it—and getting only crickets in response. But then Serial happened, and now podcasts are beginning to be considered appointment listening just as a show like Game of Thrones is considered appointment television.

There’s a DIY spirit that still clings to podcasts—essentially anyone with rudimentary recording equipment and an Internet connection can make one—so fans of the medium often evangelize with more passion than, say, movie fans. Suddenly, the dorks are cool and they want to tell everyone what’s worth listening to. (I’m no exception; in addition to Snap Judgment, whose host is a Detroit native, I rarely miss This American Life; Radiolab; Death, Sex & Money; Everything is Stories; and my newest favorite, WDET’s The Beginning of the End.)

Christian Bator, co-founder of Ann Arbor, MI-based startup Fireside, is also a big fan of podcasts. Frustration over the inability to highlight great shows to his friends was the reason he started the company.

“I had no good way to share what I was listening to,” he says. “In the past, podcasts have not been very socially discoverable. Why shouldn’t there be a place where sharing audio is as easy as sharing pictures?”

Bator started Fireside, now available as an iPhone app, to get the word out about his favorite podcast moments and find other fans to connect with over social media. Fireside’s main feature is the ability, as Bator describes it, to post an “audio headline,” or up to a 20-second soundbite from a podcast, on social media.

Bator says he arrived at the 20-second maximum after a lot of testing. Any shorter, and listeners felt cut off early. Any longer, and people wouldn’t finish the clip. And it’s important that people finish the clip, he says, because Fireside is also a full-blown social media endeavor. Friends can follow one another through the website, or they can follow the hosts of podcasts.

“We want to make it a better place for creators to connect with the audience, where they can share preview clips,” Bator says. Ira Glass might not need Fireside—Bator thinks the old guard of podcasters are complacent because, to them, the current system works—but those with lesser audiences want better ways to find new ears. “The so-called ‘tier two’ content creators are really interested because they can engage with their listeners on Fireside in between shows. A lot of people are e-mailing us about it.”

What differentiates Fireside from podcast-indexing sites like Overcast.fm, Bator says, is that it’s a “full stack podcasting platform.” The goal with Fireside, he says, is to make it just as appealing and functional to hardcore fans as it is to newbies. In his wildest dreams, Fireside will one day be the go-to discovery app for podcasts, usurping Apple’s podcast app.

So far, Fireside has been bootstrapped, but that doesn’t mean the app isn’t getting attention from potential funders. Bator said that a recent trip to San Francisco yielded a funding commitment from the 1517 Fund, but Bator wants to see if Fireside can keep gaining momentum without accepting venture backing. Right now, there are only two people on the Fireside team: Bator and his co-founder, Erik Lundberg.

Now that the Fireside app is out of beta and available to the public, Bator says the company’s future plans include adding “a ton of cool features” and beefing up the catalog of podcasts on the site. (User suggestions are encouraged.) An Android version of the app will be launching soon, hopefully before the end of the year, he adds.

“We’ve also got talks lined up with WBEZ,” Bator says, referring to the Chicago-based producer of Serial and This American Life. “We’d love to have them on board.”

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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