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Kayak founder’s next play: A way to sample new podcasts

Paul English, cofounder of Kayak, Lola.com, and the podcast-discovery app Moonbeam.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

There are many high-quality podcasts out there — maybe too many. But Boston entrepreneur Paul English, cofounder of the popular travel site Kayak, thinks he’s got the solution to finding the ones you’ll want to listen to: an app called Moonbeam that works like speed-dating for podcasts.

Moonbeam, which launched this summer, lets smartphone users rapidly sample audio snippets from hundreds of popular podcasts, simply by swiping a finger.

“I have to admit it was based in part on the app TikTok,” said English, who’s also chief technology officer of Lola.com, a Boston company that makes travel and budget management software for businesses.

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After installing Moonbeam, the user can choose from a host of topics, including science, politics, history, comedy, religion, and crime. The app will display each podcast’s logo, and begin playing a clip from a recent episode.

“We give you the best two minutes of every show,” said English. “If you don’t like it, swipe up.” Instantly a new podcast will appear, and a sample begins to play.

Touching the logo brings up a listing of episodes as well as detailed information about the podcast. A user can subscribe and share information about the podcast with online friends. There’s also an option to send a donation to the podcast creators. A pending Moonbeam upgrade will add support for discussion groups and mailing lists dedicated to a listener’s favorite shows.

English said that Moonbeam plans to make money by displaying video ads and by collecting fees from the podcasters.

A startup called Podz developed a similar app last year. Podz used artificial intelligence to determine the most interesting moments in a podcast and automatically turn them into one-minute video clips. English favors the human touch. Moonbeam hires people to listen to the podcasts and carve out the most appealing clips.

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Podz caught the attention of music-streaming giant Spotify, which acquired the company in June. The Podz technology could come in handy for Spotify, which offers hundreds of podcasts and is spending millions to develop exclusive audio content.

Once Moonbeam acquires a large user base, English plans to use machine learning to track each listener’s tastes and interests. Just as TikTok monitors which videos you watch and which ones you skip, Moonbeam will remember which podcasts you listen to, and serve up more of the same.

Podcasts have soared in popularity. The research firm eMarketer estimates that they will generate $1 billion in advertising revenue in the US this year and $2 billion by 2023.

Larry Rosin, president of Edison Research in Somerville, N.J., said that it will be difficult for Moonbeam to find a niche in a market that’s attracted the attention of companies like Spotify, Apple, and Google.

But given the huge amounts of money flowing into the industry, he said, “I could see why someone would take a swing like this.”


Hiawatha Bray can be reached at hiawatha.bray@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeTechLab.