RJI Futures Lab #175: Shortcut from ‘This American Life’ Helps Listeners Share Clips

    by Rachel Wise
    December 9, 2016
    This American Life's new "Shortcut" tool allows listeners to share clips from episodes.

    Reporting by Hailey Godburn.

    A new tool called Shortcut from This American Life allows listeners to share clips from episodes of This American Life. Users can select text from episode transcripts, which the app turns into short videos that can be downloaded or posted to social media.

    For more information:

    • Shortcut is a web app that works on desktop and mobile.
    • The team refers to the short videos created by the app as “audio gifs.”
    • The idea for Shortcut came from a hackathon hosted by This American Life in September 2015. About 80 audio journalists and hackers — comprising 30 percent people of color and 50 percent women — came together to brainstorm solutions of how to make podcasts more shareable and digestible.
    • While the primary goal was making audio more shareable, This American Life producer and Shortcut project lead Stephanie Foo says she also hopes it helps attract a bigger and more diverse audience. “We hope that if social media users are inundated with moving, funny or tragic audio snippets from our episodes shared by their friends, they will feel far more compelled to listen to our podcast,” she writes.
    • According to the Tow Center for Digital Journalism — who, along with the Knight Foundation, provided funding for Shortcut — there was a set of questions the team had in mind during the design process. Those questions were:
      • How can we reduce the friction of hearing a great podcast moment and sharing it?
      • How can we support multiple kinds of listening and sharing experiences?
      • How can we guide this tool away from being seen as a generator for promotional materials, and towards a tool for users to express their fandom?
      • How can we do this for a variety of podcasts and listening environments?
    • Shortcut is currently only available for This American Life episodes, but the team plans to release an open-source version in early 2017.


    Rachel Wise is an editor at the Futures Lab at the Reynolds Journalism Institute and co-producer of the weekly Futures Lab video update.

    RJI Futures Lab web bannerThe Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Futures Lab video update features a roundup of fresh ideas, techniques and developments to help spark innovation and change in newsrooms across all media platforms. Visit the RJI website for the full archive of Futures Lab videos, or download the iPad app to watch the show wherever you go. You can also sign up to receive email notification of each new episode.

    Tagged: apps futures lab podcasts radio reynolds journalism institute shortcut this american life

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