Hard Refresh is a new WordPress-related tech podcast with a unique format that focuses on web developers and the challenges they face in building software that people depend on. Most WordPress podcasts follow a news or talk-show-style format, but Hard Refresh was designed to appeal to both developers and non-technical listeners with its polished story-driven narrative format.
The show is produced by Rocket Lift, a Portland based web development agency. Hosts Douglas Detrick and Catherine Bridge build a story around a real world software issue with the help of their guest and translate technical terms, such as “edge case” and “variable,” to help non-programmers engage more fully with the story. They also inject sound effects into the show to make the concepts come alive.
The first episode is titled The Phantom Subscriptions and features Pippin Williamson and Chris Koslowski, co-lead developers of Easy Digital Downloads. It tells the story of a critical bug in EDD that caused the software to charge for subscriptions that customers didn’t buy and how the EDD team worked to resolve the issue transparently.
“Earlier this year, Douglas and I started kicking around ideas for how we might sneak more artistic projects into our work, so that our work itself might feel like making art,” said Rocket Lift co-founder Matthew Eppelsheimer. “The idea of a podcast came up repeatedly, but neither of us had any good ideas for how to make something that anyone would actually want to listen to.”
Eppelsheimer said the idea for the show was inspired by an episode of the Apply Filters podcast wherein Pippin Williamson told a story about a bug in Recurring Payments for EDD.
“I found it totally gripping,” he said. “I couldn’t wait to hear the resolution, and when he had finished the story, I rewound and listened to it again. So this story was the seed of the idea for Hard Refresh: a show with compelling stories of web development like this, about people who work to make things on the internet, and things going wrong.”
Almost every week the WordPress community launches a new podcast, but the creators of Hard Refresh are aiming to differentiate their show by infusing their creativity into a highly-produced, storytelling format.
“I myself don’t listen to most of the WordPress podcasts out there, because I find their information density too low,” Eppelsheimer said. “The typical format is a talk show: The host or hosts do an interview, edit it very minimally, add the intro and outro, and publish.
“Most of the shows I listen to though are of a different format: They are built out of interviews, but meticulously edited and produced, to make a compelling narrative with the host breaking in to emphasize, explain, and translate technical language for the audience, and rich sound design to feast your ears on.”
Many technical podcasts don’t follow this format because it’s very time-consuming. Eppelsheimer said his team spent more than 120 hours producing the first 30-minute episode, which amounts to more than four hours per minute. They conducted four interviews with the guests, held weekly editorial meetings for four months and produced four iterative drafts before publishing the final version.
“I had to think hard about how to justify this from a business perspective,” Eppelsheimer said. “We are depending on it raising Rocket Lift’s profile, but we don’t think that the market of listeners interested in WordPress development-focused podcasts is large enough to support a project of this kind.”
The Rocket Lift team identifies with the WordPress community, so many of the stories they plan to tell will relate to WordPress in some way. However, the team decided from the outset not to limit it to WordPress stories.
“We are currently working on one story focused on server operations – nothing to do with the CMS’s running on those servers,” Eppelsheimer said. “We’re working on another that’s focused on how a technically ignorant manager created a toxic culture for her large organization — that one has nothing to do with a public website, and everything to do with the technology of internal communications. If we gain a listener base like we’re hoping to, then we plan to reach out to high profile tech companies to get their stories, too.”
The Hard Refresh production team plans to release new episodes monthly, on the third Friday of every month. Eppelsheimer said they may increase the frequency if or when it becomes financially sustainable to do so.
The team chose the name “Hard Refresh” because it was an internet-related phrase that didn’t have any brand conflicts. It also highlights the intersection between programmers and non-technical people using websites.
“Hard refreshing is something web developers frequently need to explain to their clients, to help them review and test our work,” Eppelsheimer said. “Explaining technical concepts to all of our listeners, regardless of their technical skill level, is a goal of our show.”