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A full test: how do show notes display in podcast apps?

· Updated December 10, 2019 · By · 3.4 minutes to read

This article is at least a year old

Episode notes are an important part of a podcast. In some cases, episode notes link to more information about things mentioned within the podcasts. They often contain credits for material used: mandatory credits, sometimes, if using Creative Commons licences. They can contain advertiser links. They regularly contain links for supporting a podcast financially, like Patreon links. They’re a vital part of podcasting.

But: how do episode notes display in different apps? And if you want to use show notes properly, what should you avoid?

Here’s the specification

In December 2019, we established how to do episode notes. The RSS specification says that you use two tags in RSS:

Podcast apps that handle HTML episode notes - most of them - will use the information in <content-encoded>, and will ignore the <description> altogether.

Podcast apps that don’t handle HTML episode notes will correctly ignore <content:encoded> and, instead, will use the text-only <description> field.

Unfortunately, many podcast hosts don’t correctly set these fields in RSS.

Here’s how podcast apps cope

We used this episode of Podnews to produce a special version of our podcast for this test. Thanks to the generosity of our readers, we were able to test 19 elements (below), in over 40 different apps.

While no app got a perfect score, the best apps for displaying shownotes were PocketCasts, Overcast and Castro, who each passed the highest number of our individual tests.

71% of all apps displayed our test show notes in full, without truncating them. Only 60% of podcast apps supported web address links in show notes, which was disappointing, especially for podcasts who rely on donations for revenue.

Only 14% displayed the iTunes Summary field somewhere; and only 12% showed an episode number, echoing our research earlier this year. We didn’t take this opportunity to measure support for chapter points, but last we checked, we concluded that it wasn’t worth the time.

There are many different podcast apps, of course: but according to Libsyn, only eight podcast apps are popular enough to be responsible for more than 1% of all podcast downloads. We plugged in Libsyn’s most recent numbers into our list, so we could work out what most people see.

From this list, Stitcher is the only app that does not follow the specifications (erroneously stripping the HTML out of content:encoded). Stitcher and Spotify do not support HTML episode notes, but Spotify correctly uses the description field.

You can also see our test results in full.

Our recommendations

We’d also recommend not to let this list hold you back. Do whatever you like in show notes: some of the best podcast apps will display them just fine. Just make sure they degrade gracefully in the apps where they don’t.

Our tests

We’re not suggesting, by the way, that the above is a full list of things we’d like to see in podcast apps. Accented characters are mandatory, we’d think, but being able to display an image probably isn’t. This list represents what is possible to display, rather than a suggestion of any standard.

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