Did you hear that clip of Tig Notaro’s mother-in-law telling a so-bad-it’s-good mom joke and wish you could send it to your mom? Or did you perhaps check out that segment about a woman calling her dead husband through a defunct payphone and just know your coworker would love it, if only you could get her to listen to it?
Now, with This American Life’s Shortcut, you can. Using Shortcut, anyone can select a 30-second (or less) clip from an episode and immediately share it to social media, where the clip plays alongside text from the transcript. The tool, which can be used on desktop or mobile, was funded by the Knight Foundation and the Tow Foundation.
“Even if I say, ‘this is going to be really interesting,’ nobody is going to skip to 15:42 to hear one audio clip from an hourlong episode posted on Facebook,” says Stephanie Foo, a producer at This American Life and the project lead for Shortcut.
Currently, some 98 million people in the US have listened to a podcast—but if the medium has any chance of reaching the other 230 million Americans out there, it’s going to have to find new ways to reach them. And it’s going to have to do it in a way that’s digestible and easy to access. That’s why This American Life developed Shortcut.
“The way that we learn about movies and TV shows is GIFs and trailers,” Foo said after TAL’s Hackathon in 2015. “The advantage that video has over audio is the capacity for virality, because the sharing is so easy. If independent creators had that kind of tool, more diverse podcasts could really get their work out.”
Shortcut only works for TAL episodes so far, but in the next couple months, Foo plans to release it as a piece of open source software, like WNYC’s Audiogram tool, which converts MP3s into shareable movie files. “Every other medium depends on fans performing their fandom, but most people aren’t familiar with audio-editing software,” Foo says. “We just need to streamline that process.” It’s harder to share a GIF when it’s only audio—but if Ira Glass can make a meme, so can you.