The idea for transcripts originally came from the community. We would occasionally field inquiries from listeners who had d/Deaf and hard of hearing friends with whom they wanted to share MaxFun shows. These listeners loved our shows and thought their friends would too, and they wondered why we didn’t have transcripts available to help reach a broader audience. There were some logistical, technological, and budgetary roadblocks in the way, to be sure, but we were also slow in recognizing how transcripts are used by d/Deaf and hard of hearing communities, as well as those who have trouble absorbing audio content.
We were working under the incorrect belief that podcasts, as an audio-based art form, would lose the aspects that make them enjoyable if we translated them to text. Thanks to a lot of education from our audience, we’ve realized that podcasts can be made fully enjoyable for all potential audiences—as long as we take the necessary steps to make them accessible. These conversations and the McElroy family’s leadership in committing to transcribing their catalog paved the road for the transcription initiative.
Our goal when we started implementing this initiative was to create accurate, high quality transcripts that are posted on a reliable schedule and convey as much of the experience of listening to each episode as possible. We also wanted transcripts to be easy to find and easy to use, either on their own, or in conjunction with the audio files.
Accuracy and quality were key to us, and that’s one reason we shied away from machine transcription. Machine accuracy has improved dramatically in the past ten years, but it’s not quite there yet (particularly given the frequency of multiple speakers and crosstalk in podcasts). The other main drawback to speech-to-text solutions is they’re currently unable to convey the subtleties and intricacies of human conversation and humor, and these qualities are central to MaxFun shows.
To make it easy to find transcripts, we created a separate category for them in our content management system and display them in multiple places on the site. You can see a full list of all available transcripts, for all shows here. If you’re viewing an episode that has a transcript associated with it, there’s also a link to the transcript on the episode page itself.
We also believe it’s important for folks to know when they can expect transcripts to be posted. As a general rule, transcripts will go up no later than 1 week after the audio file posts to the website. (They may be a day or so late if we’re working on an unusually long or complicated episode, but those cases should be rare – for updates on any transcript delays, keep an eye on the MaxFun Twitter).
One thing we’ve experimented with is offering read-along players that sync the audio of a transcript to the text with time codes. Click around and try it out, it’s pretty rad! All of our transcripts are also available as downloadable PDFs.
Building the Team
MaxFun’s current transcription approach is led by Cassie Josephs, our Transcription Coordinator, who is in charge of collecting, QAing, and posting finished transcripts. Cassie also brings the experience of both using transcripts themselves and providing transcripts for their own podcast to this role, which was especially valuable insight as they created the transcript style guide.
We are working with a fantastic team of experienced transcribers, who have fully embraced the unique challenges that transcribing podcasts entail. Each transcriber has a specific line-up of podcasts to work on. This arrangement allows the transcribers to become familiar with their show, providing a richer final product and reducing the time Cassie spends editing for tone.
This is our first swing at this, and our goal of providing transcripts that deliver an experience that’s on par with listening is, admittedly, a lofty one. We hope our audience will provide feedback about what’s working and what’s not working with the current arrangements, and help guide our path moving forward. Please tell us what you think – the easiest way is to email firstname.lastname@example.org.