Your Show Notes Are Your Podcast's Map
"In the time it takes me to listen to one podcast, I could have scanned through 30 or 40 blogs." This is the biggest complaint about podcasting from those who read a lot of blogs. This is why having show notes is so important. It gives potential listeners the chance to quickly scan what is going to be on your show before they decide to download it.
Remember, not all your listeners will be subscribed to your feed (Rob averages about 25% of his listeners coming through direct downloads rather than RSS subscription). Many podcasters use blogging software to post their show notes, and this allows for another way to get listener feedback through the Comments feature. If you are going to put up show notes, we highly recommend that you allow your listeners a way to leave feedback.
Earlier we discussed using a forum as a way to build a community. Some podcasters also use their forums as a place to post their show notes. This offers an easy way for your audience to leave feedback, and it also allows you to see how many times the show notes for that episode were accessed. What's more, it is another way to let people know about your forum and to get them more involved in the show's community.
Some show notes are extremely detailed, with breakdowns on what was being talked about at exact times within the show. An example of some very detailed show notes would look like this.
When notes are done to this level of detail, they almost always have links to external references. In this example, there could be links to the two songs mentioned, the Zedcast and the SG Show, plus one to the computer purchased and maybe one more to a picture of the angry wife.
If you are looking to put together the most detailed show notes possible, you should investigate doing what Adam Curry does with the Daily Source Code (along with at least 50 other podcasters), and that is to use WikiNotes (http://www.shownotes.info). WikiNotes allows you to engage your audience by helping you fill in the show notes (see Figure 12.4). This program uses a wikia program or website that allows users other than the owner to edit and add information. This allows the users to add comments, links, and other information to your show notes. This collaborative effort makes your listeners a part of the podcast beyond passive listening. Looking at the different podcasts listed at this site, you can see varying degrees of success. You can see that Adam Curry gets a very detailed breakdown of his shows from listeners, whereas others get basically no interaction from their audience.
Figure 12.4. Shownotes.info gives wiki technology to people who want more interactive show notes.
We suggest that if you go this route, you put in your show notes to start and allow your listeners to make additions and changes. Do not expect them to do all the heavy lifting for you.
Sometimes all you really need for show notes is just a quick outline of the show and couple of links to some items mentioned during the show. This is typically what you would choose for an interview show. You really do not want to give away too much about the interview, but you would want to point out who you interviewed and give a link to that person's website if he or she has one. This allows your listeners to find out more about the person before or after listening to the show.
Mur's podcast, Geek Fu Action Grip, uses bare-bones notes. She tries to keep track of the main topics covered in the podcast and links she referenced, but that's about it. The show notes for show #47 illustrate this:
Geek Fu #47Things That Should Be Funny November 13th, 2005
We would also recommend with bare-bones show notes to have a place for listeners' comments. Again, using blogging software or a forum will work fine in this situation. In the example shown here, listeners can give feedback at Mur's blog, run by WordPress. However, in this case, a Wiki approach would be overkill.
When Notes Aren't Necessary
One option is not to have any show notes at all. Because many podcasters come out of the blogging world, they feel they need to have some show notes. But certain podcasts just don't need them, such as comedy podcasts. After all, do your listeners really need to know at the 2:14 mark there is a joke about a rhesus monkey and a flamethrower? Some podcasters want their entire show to be spontaneous and do not want to give away anything about what is going to happen. If you do not need show notes, then do not post them. If your listeners disagree, they will let you know.
Dr. Van Nuys' quote is so important to remember. Make sure you give your listeners the attention they are looking for. It does not have to be just from you. It can come from other listeners of the show. Again, this is why it is so important to try and build a community around your show.