Goodpods adds, then removes, AI-written descriptions
Last week, podcast app Goodpods added lengthy supplemental descriptions of many podcasts to the Goodpods website. A typical entry for a podcast, seen here in Google’s cache, contained “What is xxxx about?”, and “Who should listen to xxxx?” - followed by a précis of three episodes.
The writing was florid, terribly enthusiastic, full of metaphors, and almost instantly recognisable as the output of an AI large language model.
In most cases, the write-ups were benign:
“Imagine the podcast world like a bustling city - each story its own skyscraper, every episode a window peering into another reality. This show is perfect for all - the creators curating compelling content for inquisitive ears, the ardent podcast fans eager not to miss a beat, and every newcomer dipping their toes into the vast ocean of podcasts.”
However, in some cases the AI write-ups had not fully understood what shows were about. Our typical entry suggests that PJ Vogt’s Search Engine is a show about online trends and SEO. It isn’t. In some cases, however, the AI-generated descriptions were misleading and harmful.
One writeup described how a show focusing about violence against women and sexual assault was a “love and dating advice show”. Another audio fiction podcast focusing on psychedelic horror was described as a podcast for “a novice agriculturalist or a seasoned farmer to learn from others’ experiences”.
The AI-generated descriptions appeared to have been added without the knowledge or consent of creators. Shows can be claimed by creators; but no communication was sent to the creators of each individual show that this additional information had been added.
“Posting these AI snippets to a trafficked website with absolutely no concern for their accuracy can sabotage discovery and efforts to attract new listeners,” one podcast creator told us.
The company told us that this text was added as “a test to approximately 0.2% of the total show pages on Goodpods”. That sounds like a small number; but it’s equivalent to 85,485 shows based on the total number of shows in Podcast Index. Our tests would indicate that these were the top 0.2% of shows; and many popular shows had these descriptions added.
Individual episode details were poor. Podnews looked at FOX News Hourly Update, and its episode descriptions told us breathlessly that “You also get to learn more about your ad choices, to help you navigate through your online world!”, based on the boilerplate legal description inserted by Megaphone.
One podcaster told us: “For some reason it had selected some of the short bonus 'teaser’ episodes on our feed - despite these being correctly marked in the RSS as 'bonus’ and not 'full’ episodes - and tried to push them as twisting bonechilling horror stories. Anyone who listened to one teaser expecting a 'chilling cocktail of scares and suspense’ would have been disappointed by a one-minute, one-joke microepisode about racism.”
Contacted by concerned podcasters, Goodpods pointed creators towards an “Edit” button, though that option wasn’t always available. In a statement to Podnews, Goodpods said “We included an 'edit’ button so that the show creators had full control over these sections to edit as they pleased,” but didn’t tell us that this wasn’t always the case.
In the end, though, an edit button wasn’t going to fix things.
One creator told us: “Giving us the option to edit the fields puts the burden of correction on the user when it wasn’t something we did in the first place. And they’re not even thinking about the hundreds or thousands of podcast creators who would never think to look at their Goodpods page and realize Goodpods were posting misleading information about their show in the hopes search engines would find it.”
Podnews asked Goodpods why they did not communicate with creators when they added these descriptions; and whether they had any plans to do so. Podnews also asked whether there was a human approval process. Goodpods didn’t answer these questions. In response to our enquiries, however, the company told us that the test was to end.
“We tested human-generated, AI-generated and a combination of human/AI generated content,” JJ Ramberg, the co-founder of Goodpods told Podnews. “We usually hit the mark when we’re testing new features. Occasionally though, new features don’t land. While some of the AI generated descriptions were quite good and we received messages from podcasters who were very pleased, too many of them missed the mark. For that reason, we decided to end the test and are in the process of pulling them down.”
Click to read the response from GoodPods in fullThanks so much for reaching out.
A few days ago we rolled out a test to approximately 0.2% of the total show pages on Goodpods that added pre-filled show descriptions. We tested human-generated, AI-generated and a combination of human/AI generated content. Importantly, we included an “edit” button so that the show creators had full control over these sections to edit as they pleased.
As you know, we’re all about innovating here at Goodpods as we level the playing field for smaller podcasts and solve podcast discovery. We usually hit the mark when we’re testing new features (for example, our “indie-only” charts, user-generated recommendation lists, podcast groups, etc). Occasionally though, new features don’t land. While some of the AI generated descriptions were quite good and we received messages from podcasters who were very pleased, too many of them missed the mark. For that reason, we decided to end the test and are in the process of pulling them down.
Since you only heard from people who were not happy, we wanted to share with you some of the messages we received from people who were pleased with the descriptions so you have the full picture: “You made this podcaster feel seen!” “You really know how to make a podcast blush… Totally stealing these btw! Thank you!”
Could we have done a better job rolling this out? Of course. Hindsight is 20/20, but that’s why we love our community. They are quick to tell us when we have done something right and when we can do things better. We feel like we are all in this together.
The great news is that based on our data, we’re seeing that what we’re building over here at Goodpods is working! People who follow friends on our platform are discovering far more, and largely under-the-radar, shows (and episodes) than the average podcast listener.
One more clarification in case there is any confusion on your side: Goodpods did not touch the podcster’s show description. The descriptions we added for the small test were supplemental.
On another note, we are excited that our thesis is continuing to hold true that adding the social component to podcast listening is increasing discovery.
Adding this data was against the unwritten contract between podcast creators and apps. Goodpods is no stranger to sending email; but didn’t tell creators that they’d added this content alongside their work.
Generating these AI descriptions for approval by creators, and then sending them an email to approve them, would have generated site traffic and delight that Goodpods was keen to promote shows. The company does good things for podcasters within their proprietary app; and we’re keen to see them succeed.
But, as one creator told us: “Goodpods utilized our hard work for an experiment to game SEO for their own ends. This decision did absolutely nothing for the community that they so adamantly claim to serve, and in many cases actively harmed creators.”
Over-enthusiastic AI: the quiz
Goodpods described the Podnews Daily as “a lighthouse in the ever-expanding ocean of podcasts” (yes!) and “Whether it be fashion, politics, science, or entertainment, Podnews Daily covers it all” (no!)
While the feature was up, Podnews grabbed more quotes: see if you can guess which shows it’s talking about…
- “It’s not just a podcast, it’s a narrative bridge, bringing you closer to the world out there. Just like savoring a freshly brewed coffee each morning, this podcast brings to light riveting stories from across the globe in digestible episodes.”
- “Imagine the podcast world like a bustling city - each story its own skyscraper, every episode a window peering into another reality. This show is perfect for all - the creators curating compelling content for inquisitive ears, the ardent podcast fans eager not to miss a beat, and every newcomer dipping their toes into the vast ocean of podcasts.”
- “Are you an inquisitive mind seeking a refined understanding of sociopolitical affairs? Or perhaps a casual observer looking to elevate your daily news consumption? Take a deep and compelling dive into the issues of the day, the show offers a refreshing blend of reasoned debate, grounded facts, and a generous dose of insight, all anchored by the host's lucid analysis and sharp wit.”
- “Like a miner in pursuit of gold, the show sieves through daily news, extracting valuable nuggets of information often overlooked. It’s an intellectual adventure meant to inform, educate, and even entertain … ideal for those with a questioning mind, a penchant for critical thinking, and an appetite for hidden truths.”
- “If you’re an audiophile seeking fresh content, or a newbie trying to navigate the vast ocean of podcasts, you’ve docked at the right station. But, even more than that, it’s for avid learners and dreamers, seeing each podcast as a new doorway to knowledge and understanding.”
- “From interviewing unarguably renowned celebrities to hosting deep, insightful discussions with bulwarks from all walks of life, this podcast ticks all boxes to fire up your intellectual curiosity. It nudges ideas, perturbs norms, and evokes laughter, all within an hour’s chat. It’s a smorgasbord of anecdotes and well-placed humor, a unique blend of storytelling and intelligence that places the evolving human landscape under microscopic scrutiny.”
- “Like a skilled maestro, the host orchestrates a symphony of ideas and information – from intricate legal jargon, whittled down to bite-sized insights that light the way for understanding complex political circumstances. It’s politics demystified, one episode at a time.”
|James Cridland is the Editor of Podnews, a keynote speaker and consultant. He wrote his first podcast RSS feed in January 2005; and also launched the first live radio streaming app for mobile phones in the same year. He's worked in the audio industry since 1989.|