Serial Numbers

At every cocktail party, book club, or dinner I go to, the conversation inevitably turns to the same topic: Serial — the breakout podcast from This American Life. Everyone wants to talk about the possibly guilty protagonist Adnan, his possibly shady cohort Jay, and a possibly nonexistent Best Buy payphone.  According to Apple, it’s the fastest podcast to reach 5 million downloads ever.  Let’s take a look at its popularity:

Google searches for “adnan serial” show consistent growth since the podcast launched on Oct 3:

One big surprise is that Google traffic peaks on Fridays. New episodes are released on Thursdays and everyone I know listens ravenously as soon as they drop.  Could there be people with herculean self-control that wait a whole day to listen?? Impossible. A more likely explanation is that they listen on Thursday, think about it (and nothing else) for 24 hours and then on Friday, do their Google research.

After the last three episodes, there’s also been a secondary peak on Monday.  Maybe some fans cool off over the weekend, but then get reinvigorated by watercooler talk.  Or maybe it’s just that somebody’s got a case of the Mondays.

We know that lots of people are interested in Serial, but who are they? The Google Trends map doesn’t offer much insight:


So I looked to Twitter. I put together a heat map based on all of the recent tweets about Serial (i.e., they contained “#serialpodcast”, “adnan serial”, or “@serial”).


Some interesting things going on here. Big cities are well represented. Especially in NY and CA as Google told us. A surprisingly high level of activity in Dallas. And surprisingly lukewarm in Baltimore (where Serial is set). Drag the map over to see that our friends in London are surely discussing Serial over tea. No doubt they’re trying to figure out what the hell Mail Kimp is.

Zoom out to see hot spots in Qatar, South Africa, and Australia. Zoom in on your city to see which of your neighbors shares your Serial obsession. I would have put my money on Brooklyn, but it looks like Manhattan is the most Serial-obsessed borough on Twitter.

I’m excited about Serial’s popularity, but it reminds me of 2005 when everyone I knew was watching Arrested Development. We all loved it. The critics all loved it. And then it got cancelled because the ratings were terrible. So here’s one final graph just to keep things in perspective:


This last graph begs an important question. Since I live in LA, I studied SoCal closely on the Twitter heat map and I noticed a hot spot in Calabasas. I have to wonder, does Justin Bieber listen to Serial??