UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Top of the Pods, Podpickers

Posted by Brian Kelly on 7 Mar 2008

Which UK University has the most popular podcast? This question occurred to me recently after visiting a page on the JISC Web site in order to subscribe to JISC podcasts. Following the link launched iTunes and allowed me to subscribe to the podcast, so that new podcasts are downloaded automatically.

I noticed the search option in iTunes and thought I’d search for University podcasts. The most popular podcasts came from Vanderbilt University but in third place was Oxford University. And listening to the start of the current podcast I discovered the title was “Podcasts from Medieval English lectures”. So much for the dumbing down of the iTunes generation! Who’d have thought that all of those young students with their white ear pieces were catching up on Chaucer – perhaps “The Wife of Bath’s Tale”!”

UK University Podcasts

In second and third places for UK universities were the universities of Edinburgh and, I’m pleased to say, Bath. The University of Bath not only has the kudos of a top three place in iTunes popularity, the public lecture podcasts at my host institution recently won a European award for its podcast series. As the press release announced “its podcasts had from November 2006 to September 2007 been seen (sic) 188,000 times“. The press release went on to say that “Our podcasts are popular enough to get us featured in the top 50 podcast originator on i-Tunes in the “Science and Medicine” section, ahead of any other university in the world.

I think this is a great example of an institution successfully engaging with a popular Web 2.0 services (ITunes) in order to maximise its impact. My congratulations to the Audio Visual and Web Services teams at the University of Bath.

But apart from Oxford, Edinburgh and Bath, where are the other UK universities? There don’t appear to be any in the top 50 places in iTunes, although I did spot Aberdeen in about the 68th position followed by a cluster of the universities of Swansea, Westminster and Cambridge. Are UK Universities missing out, I wonder?

9 Responses to “Top of the Pods, Podpickers”

  1. John Dale said

    I was surprised to see that Warwick didn’t make your list, because we’ve published quite a lot of podcasts to iTunes. But on inspection, that’s because, perhaps foolishly, the word “university” isn’t in any of the fields for our podcasts, so your search doesn’t find us. But on the Podcasts > Education > Higher Education page of the iTunes store, we’re there in the centre “featured” column, and at number 25 in the right-hand “Top podcasts” column.

    It does seem like a bit of an oversight that we’ve managed to make ourselves undiscoverable via a search for the word “university”, but it makes me wonder (a) if there are other universities which are popular in iTunes but which your search didn’t catch, and, more interestingly, (b) what’s the most likely route for someone looking for “educational” podcasts to try and find them on iTunes? Search for “university”? Or search for “institution name”? Or search by topic name? Or browse by hierarchy? I have no idea about the answer; clearly if everyone does what you did, we’re a bit knackered. :-)

  2. Tom Abbott said


    I’m going to have to take this up with you as all the Warwick Podcasts are labelled as Artist = University of Warwick and searching on University does return them – my own quick search on the word University returned Ian Stewart’s rather excellent series on symmetry within the first 10 results.

    That’s not to say a little SEO might not go amiss!

    What’s interesting is the relationship between Brian’s search and the Top 100 list for the HE section of iTunes store. There seems to be a difference between the Top 25 list on the HE section and the Top 25 list that Brian gets when he ranks his results by popularity.

    I would also caveat this post in that the question should be phrased as ‘Which is the most popular podcast in iTunes’ – other podcast services exist and provide significant traffic.

  3. Tom Abbott said

    BTW – i have now searched on both ‘university’ and ‘university podcasts’ and seem to get a different set of results to Brian with both – perhaps some investigation of the iTunes search engine may prove interesting.

  4. ajcann said

    I would love to know who actually listens to these podcasts. I invite all your readers to listed to the Bath podcasts. I did, but it’s not a mistake I’ll make again. T-U-R-G-I-D.

  5. Tom Abbott said

    Oops – actually John is kind of right – at the series level the tags are ‘University of Warwick’ at the individual item they are not – better get that fixed then!

  6. Hi John, Tom – thanks for the feedback. Note that you might want to look at the metadata for YouTube as well – when I looked at that it was difficult to spot contributions from UK Universities. The issues of SEO in Web 2.0 space will be very interesting, I think.

  7. Tom Abbott said

    It will probably get a lot easier if/when iTunes U becomes a reality outside of North America.

  8. Kelvin Gan said

    Hi Brian – It might interest you to know that the LMF now powers the Public Lecture Podcast.

    A little extra Web 2.0-ness :)

  9. […] that they’re the first to make use their institutional podcasts available on iTunes – indeed, as I posted about recently, the University of Bath won a European award for the quality of its podcasts, which are available […]

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