Melody Kramer

How Serial Built A Huge Commenting Community Despite Having No Online Comments

01 Dec 2014 by melodyjoykramer

Most people reading this are probably obsessed with Serial, but not in the way that I’m obsessed with Serial.

This is because my fascination largely has to do with the way Serial is presented online. It’s brilliant.

Exhibit A:

Serial: Episode 9

Serial: Episode 9

This is the front page of Serial. Here are the things I really, really like about it:

  • It instructs listeners how to listen (Go back and start with Episode 1)
  • The subscribe and download buttons are labeled.
  • If you click on the question mark, you are presented with a video called: How To Listen to a Podcast. It’s cute and doesn’t talk down to listeners.
  • It’s an audio player that looks great on desktop and mobile.
  • Nothing pops out. It’s not cluttered.
  • There are no comments.

Let’s reflect on that last line for a second. There are no comments.

Which means: There is no way for a rabid Serial listener to comment on Serial on the Serial website itself. This is, I’m assuming, by design — because it forces anyone who wants to talk about Serial to do so on social media. Which means more people find out about Serial, which then gets a much bigger audience because anyone new who encounters Serial must Go back and start with Episode 1.

That’s not to say that Serial doesn’t have a robust online community. It does. But the online community that’s formed around Serial takes place on Reddit and on Twitter and on podcasts that dissect every turn Sarah Koenig takes — which means you may have found out about Serial on Reddit or Twitter or from Slate and if you want to discuss Serial, you have to do so on Reddit or Twitter or Slate.

It’s a brilliant strategy for creating communities and discussion around podcasts because podcasts are, by their very nature, asynchronous. Everyone listens at different times. There’s no Superbowl moment for podcasts. We don’t all come and listen at once or in the same place. Which means: having these discussions take place elsewhere means listenership for Serial grows by a factor of the number of episodes it has released, as more and more people find it.

(Update: AnneMarie Dooling points out that mobile plays into this too.)

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