We’ve all been there, you hop on YouTube for something useful, like checking a product review. One minute you’re watching an unboxing video, the next thing you know, it’s 2am and you’re listening to ASMR vloggers prod crunchy slime.
How did it come to this?
Rabbit Hole host Kevin Roose has the answer. As the New York Times technology columnist, he’s reported on the YouTube algorithm extensively.
I downloaded what looks like the trailer for Rabbit Hole, a five-minute episode titled ‘START HERE’.
The show notes for Rabbit Hole are brief: “What is the internet doing to us? The Times tech columnist Kevin Roose discovers what happens when our lives move online”.
I think the premise of this podcast is A) cool and B) important. I was excited to listen. I loved the artwork and I thought eight, half-hour episodes would be the perfect length for me to binge listen.
I have to admit, I did not binge this podcast. I could be wrong, but this is my hot take for Rabbit Hole – I think this podcast was made by people who don’t really listen to podcasts.
It’s one of the most overproduced shows I’ve ever listened to. The producers use protracted audio montages and sound effects that totally ruin the show for me.
I have no idea who made this podcast. There are two hosts and I assume one of them is Kevin Roose. There are no introductions, credits or information about the making of this podcast in the show notes. If there hadn’t been two voices, I’d have assumed Kevin Roose recorded, produced and presented Rabbit Hole solo.
In the trailer, we hear a recording from a meeting where a bunch of first names are mentioned. It’s not explained if this is the production team. You would never do this in print or in a documentary so… why in a podcast? It feels like a rookie mistake from accomplished journalists.
The audio montages frequently featured clips of YouTubers where it’s unclear who is talking. And these sections contain some shocking racist and sexist stuff (consider this your content warning because there isn’t one in the podcast). I found it uncomfortable listening and this was never properly addressed by the hosts.
I think these clips were included purely to shock. Another frustrating aspect of Rabbit Hole was the lack of surprises. The hosts tried to create cliffhangers between episodes that didn’t really pay off. I got the impression that there wasn’t much, if any, original reporting here (I suspect if I Google the characters, they’ll have previously featured in Kevin’s other work).
The characters at the beginning and the end of Rabbit Hole save this podcast. The first three episodes are about Caleb Cain, who was ‘radicalised’ by alt-right YouTube. This section gives good insight into the YouTube algorithm. I enjoyed the explanation about the format of the videos Caleb was watching.
Episodes seven and eight are about QAnon and they even interview (unidentified) children of conspiracy theorists. I wish we could hear more from them! These QAnon episodes really hooked me back in – I wasn’t sure if I was going to finish the podcast.
The middle of the podcast is dedicated to PewDiePie, the world’s most famous YouTuber. I honestly think the only reason this section is included is because they managed to bag an interview with him (which is rare).
This section was less ‘what is the internet doing to us?’ and more ‘what has fame done to PewDiePie’s content?’. It felt out of place and off-topic. Plus I don’t feel like I learned anything from the interview. Something makes me think this was originally meant to be for TV. The levels in the interview aren’t great. It sounds amateur compared to the rest of the series.
It sounds like the host either forgot to turn on his mic or he’s sitting really far away. It made me think the original plan wasn’t to play that part of the audio (like maybe it was for a TV documentary).
If it hadn’t lost its way in the middle, I would have said Rabbit Hole is worth a listen. I just feel like this topic deserves much better. Maybe I didn’t like it because I had high expectations from the NYT. But I’m left feeling a bit disappointed and I’m reluctant to recommend this podcast.
I think I could have gotten over the annoying audio montages if the narrative was clearer. I get that the podcast jumps topics as if you’re going down a rabbit hole with each episode, but I think the podcast creators have used this as an excuse to shoehorn in the PewDiePie episodes. It just doesn’t feel like a cohesive story.
If you’ve listened to Rabbit Hole, let me know what you think in the comments and feel free to tell me if you think I’m turning into a podcast snob. This is my first review so any feedback is appreciated.
My next podcast post won’t be this critical. I’m listening to some great stuff just now that I can’t wait to share with you!