During runs and lighter coding sessions, I love listening to podcasts. Deep, geeky chats on tech, film and gaming are fun and instructive. The best podcasts are addictive; with memorable hosts and segments, it’s like checking in with old friends. Yet as my days get busier, I’ve had to pare down to just a few strong choices.
Balance separates great from merely good podcasts. They cover a diverse set of opinions, either from a revolving set of guests or hosts from different backgrounds. Yet it can’t be too diverse or the chemistry breaks down.
Great podcasts remain focused and consistent in their coverage. They bring an insight or slant I don’t get from just scanning tech news. Yet there’s wiggle room to allow for some fluff and fun digressions into off topic subjects. My rule of thumb is that if my mind drifts off for a few moments and I find myself lost and forced to rewind, it’s not for me.
For now, only four podcasts make the cut:
At first listen, This is Only a Test is like many other tech news podcasts. Yet differences emerge, starting with the show’s wide coverage. Almost any newsworthy topic from the previous week in tech gets discussion and debate. There’s extra emphasis on VR, computer hardware, and the largest consumer tech players (Apple, Google, Amazon).
Hosts Norman Chan, Will Smith and Jeremy Williams complement each other almost perfectly. Norm serves as the younger, hyper knowledgable fact checker. Will (who unfortunately just left the show) has decades of experience in the PC and gaming space. And Jeremy brings an outsider’s perspective, lobbing more digestible questions at the other hosts.
The Verge editor-in-chief Nilay Patel hosts alongside a revolving set of guest Verge staffers. Each episode only covers a handful of the biggest tech stories. Consumer technology, hyper-growth startups and phones are predominant topics.
Tone is the main appeal, knowledgeable reporting that’s still laid back and approachable. Humor, sarcasm, pop culture commentary, and journalistic in-jokes fill most episodes. Occasionally digressions pull the show completely off the rails, especially on a slow news week. Yet when commentary gets moving, I’m impressed by the back and forth, especially among regulars Dieter Bohn and Chris Ziegler.
The Vergecast’s loose nature and divergent topic list serve as a nice complement to the more concrete This Is Only a Test.
Designers Brian Lovin, Bryn Jackson and guests talk about product design and startup culture. Design Details is less about news and trends, and more about exploring a guest’s background and learnings.
Both hosts are full time designers, not journalists. It’s an “in the trenches” perspective that’s both raw and opinionated. I also appreciate it’s a San Francisco/Valley centric show; a high concentration of guests are from well known tech startups in the area. As someone rooted in the NYC tech scene, the discussions are both familiar and, with the mix of VC money and endless consumer startups, foreign.
Tomorrow is stripped down compared to my other listens. There’s no set agenda on hyped products or tech news, just an hour or so open ended interview with host Josh Topolsky and a guest or two. Conversations often shift beyond technology into culture and politics. The loose nature reminds me of Marc Maron’s WTF but with more of a tech-friendly bent. Most guests are deep in the tech or journalism scene and knowledgable, but Topolsky remains the consistent draw.
Topolsky has an impressive tech pedigree. He’s a former Engadget reporter, confounder of The Verge, and lead the Bloomberg News site redesign. He’s opinionated and knowledgable, though his deadpan sarcasm isn’t for everyone. He’s also a great interviewer, having had hosting stints on prior podcasts and video.