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Why We Don’t Do Transcripts

September 20th, 2011 by Troy Goodfellow · 10 Comments · Me, Podcast, Three Moves Ahead

Whenever we do a very popular podcast, it’s inevitable that there will be email or forum comments asking for transcripts of the podcast. This is especially true if the game we are talking about is one with a global audience.

And it’s understandable to an extent. If English is not your first language, then reading usually comes easier than listening – especially to three or four very different voices. And before the glory days of excellent podcast sound quality, I could feel the pain.

But we don’t do transcripts.

I know why people want them. They can read faster than they can listen, and our shows are an hour long in most cases and sometimes longer. The Alpha Centauri show – which has signs of becoming one of our top shows ever – was eighty minutes. If you are not a regular listener, you think your time is valuable and don’t want to waste it listening to people you don’t really care about except for now.

Thing is, our time is valuable, too, and transcribing is very difficult, time consuming, boring and expensive. For every hour of audio it takes close to three to get it into a good text form. Not to mention we need to have a standard format and a public FTP to host the files permanently. (One listener did transcribe my E3 conversation with Jon Shafer back in 2010, but it was a fifteen minute interview and just the two of us.) And we aren’t paid to do the podcasts, each of which takes longer to prepare for than the hour or so you listen to each week. Planning, playing, pre-game, scheduling multiplayer if necessary, wrangling developer guests…not small tasks and each can an hour or three in a week (playing much more) if things go wrong. Adding transcription time is cruel.

I have nothing against transcripts. But a podcast is a conversation, ideally. If you are a regular listener, then you know how much we like and appreciate each other and our audience, and that the words themselves are only a part of what is going on. It’s not ask and answer – it is true exchange and there will be talking over and the tone of voice is so, so important.

Mere text really can’t capture Bruce Geryk.

Paying someone to transcribe would be prohibitive. And I would never ask or accept a community volunteer to do it because it is really onerous and once we start doing it, we really can’t stop. I started doing show notes last summer, and though it was fun to listen to old episodes again, it was difficult to stay consistent.

Transcripts wouldn’t have that problem, at least, but they would take longer and, I think, diminish the connection between us and our audience. The temptation to just read what was said and move on is there and we would never be able to build.

In the best of all possible worlds, we would have a super server, theme music, costumes and could bookmark our podcasts so that people could jump to parts that we thought were worth highlighting. (30:00 – Reynolds rejects proposal, 15:32 – Murdoch mentions ASL, 22:47 – Geryk rant begins, 1:45 – Chick offers coffee), but we’re not there. Rob’s done great to find an excellent producer in Michael Hermes, and I hope he gets a little something from next month’s pledge drive.

So no transcripts, and I’m sorry but they aren’t coming soon.

Do other podcasts get requests for transcripts by the way?


10 Comments so far ↓

  • Jason Lefkowitz

    “I know why people want [transcripts]. They can read faster than they can listen, and our shows are an hour long in most cases and sometimes longer.”

    Or they’re deaf.

  • Chris Remo

    We occasionally got requests for Idle Thumbs transcripts, but the nature of our show (lots of quick back-and-forth conversation and crosstalk) means I think in most cases people understood it would make no sense for the show. I can understand why for a more sober Skype-based roundtable (and TMA is a fairly long show), people would think a transcript is more doable. All that said, as a former producer of a podcast constructed in its participants’ free time, I would never make that request myself–it’s already enough of an (unpaid) workload to create these things, let alone spend more time and money transcribing them.

  • Strangeblades (Shannon Quesnel)

    How about a book collecting quotes from the show’s cast and guests? Oh, and make sure the context for each quote is never given nor is the quote explained. ;)

  • Troy Goodfellow


    You make a great point about deaf and hearing impaired listeners. It should have occurred to me that this is a big deal for them for obvious reasons.

  • Kalle

    Troy, I hope podcast costumes are in the works atleast?

  • DawnOfMinstrel

    What about transcripts for the purpose of translation? While most strategy gamers probably have at least a passing knowledge of English, I still think many people would like to have some subtitles to go along with the fast paced English.

  • Troy Goodfellow

    Again, someone would have to take the time to do it. We have a huge foreign audience (largely German and Scandinavian) across a number of countries. To have the shows transcribed and then translated into…how many languages? Well beyond our time or ability to pay.

    And then there are, of course, the copyright issues.

  • zipdrive

    As a podcaster and non-English native myself, I’d like to make a few notes.

    1) I seriously doubt anyone reads faster than they can listen, in any language. verbal communication is an earlier developing skill (both in history and in a person’s life). For those who find the going too slow: Do what I do and listen at 2x speed! The Iphone is great for this, but there are probably other ways to do it without squeaky-voiced participants.
    2) I disagree that transcribed conversation loses its meaning/spirit. While the personal contact podcasting creates with the listeners might not be there, the talk itself remains, in my experience.
    3) I think Troy even erred on the side of caution with his time estimates. I’d say every hour of podcast can take even more than 3 hours of transcription, I’ve seen assessments of 8x time. It gets a lot worse, of course, if you add translation work.
    4) Servers and other infrastructure isn’t really a problem these days. Text files take a tiny amount of room and there’s tons of free storage available.
    5) Work takes time and time is money. While rich podcasts like Security Now can have full transcription services, non-professional podcasts (as in those not done as a business) simply can’t afford all this work and I completely support the notion that it’s better not done than done poorly and/or intermittently.
    6) Copyright issues are no different for written material from verbal and there are clear ways to cover translations, including through Creative Commons
    7) In my eyes, the biggest advantage for text formats is search-ability. Both finding specific parts in an hour-long discussion and getting exposure on search engines are useful and important, but again, the issue is cost.

    Having recently checked transcription services myself, it seems that while machine speech-to-text is getting better, it is still years from being useful without serious editing overhead. An interesting service I’ve learned of is Amazon Mechanical Turk, which saves cost by dividing up the work among many transcribers but requires approval of each piece.

  • Troy Goodfellow

    All good points, zipdrive, especially on search. Search is important, which is why I want better show notes in general. But I have to get off my ass and do that.

    But for most native English speakers, reading is much faster than speaking. Your brain fills in a lot words as you go, and, if you’ve read a lot – as much of our audience has – then it’s really no trouble to make your way through an hour long transcript in 20 minutes or less.

  • laler

    “I seriously doubt anyone reads faster than they can listen”

    I could do it when i was 6. Apparently your pre-school teachers failed horribly at their jobs.