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Proof, podcast listeners enjoy “heightened concentration”



If you’re reading this it means you listen to 10 podcast episodes a week. Good. Chances are then you’re mentally capable of reading the next 2,137 words. Without skipping back to your newsfeed. Or Youtube. Or Netflix.

There’s a reason you can focus through what are now only 2,114 words. You have the humming mind of a heavy podcast listener. Which means your brain is used to a diet of nutritional media, not junk food media. And is likely to cope with 2,000 words of mental concentration.

In 2016, a computational and cognitive neuroscientist from UC Berkley, Jack Gallant, put volunteers through an MRI scan. He wanted to monitor people’s brains as they listened to podcasts. What he found supports what you probably already felt in your mind. When you listen to podcasts you activate an “enormous swath” of your brain.

Unlike mindless newsfeed scrolling, Youtube black holes, or a Netflix binge, podcasts make your brain “hum”, keeping your mind in a “state of heightened concentration” (Gallant’s words).

As a heavy podcast listener then you activate more of your brain, more often, than others. Making you not just capable of, but suited to, completing complex intellectual tasks and accomplishments in other aspects of your life (like work).

So, if you really do listen to 10 podcast episodes a week, you are likely still reading. Your brain is used to being in that state of heightened concentration, so it can handle the work. And it’s capable of reading the remaining 1,913 words, which are the most important.



Where are you right now?

You’ve arrived at WhatPods. A community site for heavy podcast listeners.

And we launched just this week.

WhatPods was founded by two lawyers. We were drawn to podcasts 10 years ago because we found them to be a more intellectual form of entertainment. Mindful media. Not junk media.

Podcasts have always felt like a positive use of our time. Starting with Serial, we were soon both subscribed to more shows than we could count. We filled our listening diet with serious politics, riveting true crime, and world sport. And we tuned in at every spare moment. Commutes. Workouts. Cooking. Working. Sometimes even showering. Filling our minds with knowledge we weren’t getting on Netflix, Facebook or Youtube, we revelled in our brain’s hum.

In his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport makes the case for concentration. Part of his opening goes like this:

“Deep work is necessary to wring every last drop of value out of your current intellectual capacity. We now know from decades of research in both psychology and neuroscience that the state of mental strain that accompanies deep work is also necessary to improve your abilities.”

We’re the types who want to “wring every last drop” from our intellectual capacity. We can only guess you are too, hence why you’re here and not where everyone else is. Facebook. Snap. Netflix. Youtube. Instagram.

Deep work is like a high-intensity workout. Exercise physiologists and elite athletes know that the only way the human body can expand to achieve monumental accomplishments is to continually push it to and beyond its outer limits.

In the same way, stints of “heightened concentration” allow for monumental intellectual accomplishments. They literally expand the powers of your mind, and your brain’s capacity to achieve more than others, more often.

But the obstacle to Newport’s hope to have us all engaged in deep work is technology. Mainly, technology that serves us a dumbing diet of junk food media. Facebook. Snap. Netflix. Youtube. Instagram. All are irresistible to our brains. Like the bacon pans and donut stands are to our stomachs at fancy buffet breakfasts. They seduce us, even though they leave us defective and unsatisfied.

WhatPods is a place for us to turn our love of podcasts into work. Deep work.

The popular restaurant review site, Yelp, shot to popularity more than a decade ago for an interesting reason. On the surface, the reason seems to be that the site gives ordinary foodies a platform to become critics. Turning everyday restaurant goers into commentators respected within a community. Shunning professional critics in favor of the opinions of ordinary people.

But the real reason goes a layer deeper. It’s not asking for someone’s opinion that makes Yelp so enticing to them. It’s what giving their opinion requires that person to do. Engage in deep work. What Yelp really does is make people think reflectively and analytically about their experiences. Yelp says to its users, think.  Don’t scroll. Don’t swipe. Don’t flick. Think. And for someone whose mind yearns for deep work, the opportunity to do it is profoundly rewarding.



So, we’re building the Yelp for podcasts.

A place to showcase the opinions of everyday podcast devotees and elevate them to become respected commentators and critics of a new, young medium.

But more, we’re building a platform to challenge podcast listeners to think critically about the content they hear. To formulate thoughts and opinions. To stop the cycle of content going in one ear and out the other without leaving it a moment to stew into knowledge and expand your intellectual capacity. To pause after each episode and think, Did I enjoy that? If so, why? If not, why not? If I had to persuade five other people to listen to it, what would I tell them?

Because believe it or not, you are the world authority on podcast consumption. There are only 8 million people in the US, UK, Canada and Australia who listen to more than 10 podcast episodes every week. You’re one of them. Which means you rank inside the top 1.77% with the knowledge and experience you’ve gained from your hobby. You can fob that title off — “the world authority” — and laugh off the statistic that places you in the top 1.77% for your intellectual hobby, but why would you? It’s a title and a fact in your favor, both of which make you an influential stakeholder in a media that’s still only a decade old.

What we can tell from Yelp’s success is that most people crave the magical reward that comes from engaging in deep work, they just lack the opportunity. Or they don’t have a platform that aligns with their intellectual hobbies.

Now we do.

We want WhatPods to convert an intellectual hobby we spend so much time doing into an outlet to engage in deep work, with others who share our interest. We want to “wring every last drop” from our intellectual capacity.

Hopefully, so do you.



What do we want from you?

For a long time we contemplated how we could possibly recruit people to join WhatPods so early, when it’s so raw. There’s so little to do on the site right now that we figured everyone would miss the potential and see no value.

Then, we realized the value. We started WhatPods to build something the world didn’t currently have. It was the building that drew us in, and keeps us motivated. Because building something new requires deep work. It requires concentration. For hours everyday it demands that we be creative, to think of new features people will enjoy. To write compelling arguments to convince new users to join. To literally conceive of and build the foundations of a new society. A podcast lovers society. To write the laws that will govern that society. To set the norms. To theorise the behaviors that should keep the society vibrant and growing.

WhatPods is a passion project of ours. We make no money from it — in fact, it has cost us a small fortune to build it. We haven’t yet thought about if we can or will ever turn a profit from it. It’s likely we can’t, because podcasts have so far resisted any threats of turning commercial.

Instead, we’re building WhatPods as an outlet to be creative. To be critical. To be commentators. Our selfish goal is to build a reputation and eventually a career out of our passion and hard work. To write podcast reviews for the The New York Times. To produce our own world-dominating shows. To be acclaimed for the work we’ve done to build the Yelp for podcasts.

Do you, too?

If so, join WhatPods. Help us build.

The very next thing we plan to build is a way to immortalise the work of our earliest members. Any member who suggests a new feature that we build into the platform will earn a custom badge and a credential on their profile that records, forever, that they were the inventor of the feature.

Facebook, Twitter, Google have all immortalised the feature contributions of their earliest employees. Chris Messina is famous for conceiving Twitter’s hashtag. Paul Buchheit is credited as the inventor of Gmail. A small team of engineers are revered within the walls of Facebook HQ for convincing Mark Zuckerberg to introduce a new feature into the product: the “Like” button.

In the same way, we will make famous the creative minds responsible for building the Yelp for podcasts. Hopefully, that’s you. If it is, not only will we credit your WhatPods account with a bonus bounty of Editorial Points (our currency for rewarding the contributions of our members), but you will forever be acclaimed — like Messina and Buchheit — for the inventions you think up.

So join, and think. That’s all we ask.



What can you do on WhatPods now?

Right now, you can search for your favorite podcasts, leave them a rating, and write a critical review. Shows with the most ratings will appear in our top show charts. You will earn EPs (editorial points) for every review you leave.

But the best feature on WhatPods is our daily rankings of top episodes (not shows). These rankings live on the homepage and reset every day.

When you “endorse” an episode, you signal to the community that you vouch for it. A recommendation for others to listen. What you’re really doing is lighting a clear path for newcomers — those who don’t yet know where they should start on their podcast listening journey — to discover episodes guaranteed to hook them into our world.

To endorse an episode on WhatPods:

(1) Visit the podcast’s show page by searching for the podcast via the magnifying glass in the top navigation bar.

(2) Scroll down to the section of the podcast page that lists all its episodes.

(3) Find the episode you wish to endorse and click on the “Endorse” button.

When you make your endorsement the episode will be sent to the homepage, where it will be placed amongst the day’s rankings. You will be credited EPs for each episode endorsement you make. And the more endorsements the episode gets, the higher its ranking will go.

When episodes appear on the homepage, you can click on them and they will expand into a modal for you to lead or participate in a discussion about the episode with other members on the site. Deep work.

We ask all our new users to get into the habit of endorsing episodes as soon as they listen to them. At the start, this is a difficult habit to form because you need to remember to visit WhatPods every time you hear a new episode. But we make this easy for you by requesting that you favorite all the shows you listen to regularly. When you favorite your regular shows, our system knows to email you a reminder to endorse new episodes three days after they are released.

Finally, Editorial Points are our currency. Almost every positive contribution you make to the community (endorsements, commenting, reviews, feature recommendations) will earn you a bounty of EPs. And when you accrue enough EPs you will unlock milestones that acknowledge your longstanding contribution. Those milestones, and the EPs required to unlock them, are:

(1) Dabbler = 200

(2) Enthusiast = 1,000

(3) Master = 10,000

(4) Freak = 50,000

(5) Super Freak = 100,000

So, if you’re ready to get started, and earn your first bounty of EPs, join WhatPods now and start contributing to the community.




A final note

WhatPods is not for everyone. It’s not for mental junk food addicts. It won’t give them the immediate dopamine hit they get from their Facebook newsfeed. Or the satisfaction when they find a movie to watch on Netflix after 30 minutes of scrolling.

But we suspect your mind craves more than junk. If it didn’t we’d have lost you back to your newsfeed hundreds of words ago. We hope you’ll join WhatPods for the same reasons we chose to build it, shared above. We hope you too want to write reviews for The New York Times. To produce your own world-dominating shows. To be known for helping to build the Yelp for podcasts. To do deep work.

If that sounds like you, we’ll see you on the other side.


Kate & Tom.