I’ve never been a huge podcast fan — the ones I tried always took too long for me to get into. Plus, aside from This American Life and the GigaOM podcast, of course, I wasn’t sure what else was out there that I might like.
The app works very much like Pandora — you open it up, create a simple account, and then it begins playing different podcasts based on your interests. It remembers which ones you skip and which ones you listen to, and takes this feedback into consideration, adjusting what it gives you accordingly.
And so far, the selection of content is interesting and lively. At launch, Swell is announcing partnerships with NPR, American Public Media (creators of “Marketplace”), and ABC News, but it also includes content from podcasts in iTunes like the BBC, CBC, Comedy Central, TED Talks, ESPN and others. All of the content I encountered in the app was free, and it gives you unlimited skips and plays, as well as an offline mode for listening on the subway.
When I opened the app, it started playing a wide variety of shows about everything from the DOMA ruling, to the history of the Oklahoma City bombers, to an interview with Square CEO Jack Dorsey. I was able to flip past the shows I didn’t like, and ended up with a good mix of news and commentary. It made for the perfect radio experience while I was washing dishes or walking to work.
To be fair, if you already have your favorite podcasts and apps that you listen to, you might not find it as useful, but if you’re just looking for a good variety of shows you didn’t know about, Swell fits the bill.
Podcasts have benefitted dramatically from the rise in mobile over the past few years. Forbes recently wrote about the rise of the podcast and how it’s benefitted from smartphones and apps, but also pointed to the growing creativity when it comes to what used to be traditional radio. Ira Glass said recently that even as his radio audience has stayed about the same over the past decade at about 1.7 million people, podcast listening has gone from nothing to 800,000 new listeners. It makes sense that an app like Swell would try to capitalize on the growth and help people sort through the noise.
Swell’s CEO G.D. (Ram) Ramkumar was previously a founder and CTO at Snaptell, which allowed you to take photos of book or movie covers and connect to a store to purchase them. The company was acquired by Amazon in 2009. Swell has venture funding that is not yet disclosed, Ramkumar told me.