iTunes Podcasting

At least from my perspective, the iTunes rollout of podcasting support was completely bungled. Like I reported earlier, they seemed to have my Bittorrent feed in their catalog without having Bittorrent support in the client. That is exactly how they rolled it out, in non-working fashion. People can subscribe to my feed via the directory, but they will just get the disclaimer file and everything else will error out. I just tested out the addition of my direct feed under “Advanced -> Subscribe to Podcast” and it seems to work fine. It’s highly ironic that they’ve been using my logo in their stuff (as of yesterday, it was one of the ones on the front page of the Apple website) and yet they’ve never done anything so far but completely fucked up the addition of my feed. Like I said, I’ve been seeing iTunes 4.9 hitting my bittorrent feed for a while now. Did no one doing this stuff inside Apple notice the feed they had wasn’t working or did they not care? Did they not notice there was an alternate feed? Insert sound of a sigh.

Now I’m on the horns of a dilemma. I could change my default feed back to MP3, which will make it available to the iTunes users but also dramatically increase my bandwidth usage. I submitted a problem ticket to Apple telling them that they have my Bittorrent feed in their catalog which will just confuse users. I stand by my prerelease feelings that this is not necessarily the wonderful thing for podcasting that many people are making it out to be.

It also looks like their timed download is set to a fixed time, which will screw up a lot of people. In my preferences, I can’t pick the time so if I set it to daily it will download podcasts at 8 PM. Is everyone’s iTunes set to do this at 8 PM as well? If so, hello unintentional denial of service attacks. Hell, even having everyone doing it at the top of the hour is enough to cause problems. That was something about which I was insistent to the iPodderX guys – that they should have a randomized download time so that the web servers don’t get hammered simultaneously. Even in the early days of them doing downloads at a fixed 15 minutes after the hour with not that large a deployed user base, I saw problems of swarms bringing down the web server performance. Looks like Apple didn’t think of that. In fact, it looks like Apple talked to no one in the podcast community because of course they know better than us and implemented a lot of things fucked up in ways they could have easily fixed with a tiny bit of input.

I had mixed feelings of a tiny bit excitement and mostly dread about the iTunes podcast support. It’s looking like the dread part was the correct response.

22 Replies to “iTunes Podcasting”

  1. I agree that they could have done a little more homework and got the feeds right the first time, but the scheduled denial of service attack may be averted. While my “next scheduled time” was set for 8:00pm as your was, I see now that it is set for 10:19 this evening. I would imagine that would be a random rescheduling time picked by itunes. It still really sucks, to be blunt. Once is certainly not enough, and I want to set my own times. Their way I am sure to only have yesterdays news to listen to on the way to work in the morning. That and the fact that I now have to add a bunch of code to my RSS feed to comply with their reader is a pain in the butt.

  2. Dave,

    Agree with you on the bungles. DoS won’t be too bad when there is nothing to download, but when a new ‘cast comes out – hello DoS hell. I feel for anyone with a few hundred + listeners all hammering the feed at 8pm – the only saving grace is time-zones, at least that will cause a certain amount of staggering..

    But.. try this on for size – a prospective podcaster must have an ITMS account to submit their podcast – we don’t have ITMS in Australia, so right now, I can’t add my podcast.

    Having said all this – it *is* their (Apples) first foray into podcasting, few podcast clients got it 100% right from their first release either..

    The biggest plus is the massive potential – not to mention the massive exposure this will bring.

  3. Dave, in my case it’s set to download at 10:30pm – it does change if one flips the options to say once an hour, then later in the day changes it back to once a day. In other words it checks each day based on whatever hour / half hour closest matches the time said setting is changed.

    It’s gone from 8:00am this morning, to (again) 10:30pm each day. This would suggest each persons settings will be different, as it will depend on what the times is when the ‘check time/method’ is changed.

    I know, that sounds confusing but it’s closing on 11pm here, so I’m not quite as succinct as I’d like to be. 🙂

  4. This kind of thing is exactly why I don’t use any podcatching software. I prefer to download mp3 files myself even If I have to search an rss feed in firefox for the mp3 file(s).

    As for your server and Apple; I wouldn’t let Apple use your feed as they are turning a profit on you wihout paying for it (more eyeballs sales and ads etc.) and you have to pay for the bandwidth? That is crazy. Screw Apple I say. True fans can find your site through
    the webpage.

  5. One of the odd things I noticed was that you can’t set iTunes 4.9 to “check every hour” or “check every day” on a per-feed basis.

    Another thing is that it does a GET request instead of a HEAD request to check for updates. (This is true at least for a dummy RSS 2.0 feed I set up for testing).

  6. Don’t give in, Dave. Your disclaimer mp3 says something like “if you aren’t getting episodes, get a better client” which should be enough to get the real listeners on board. If you stoop to that level and distribute MP3s on the main feed it’ll be crazy – all of the podshow sites were unavailable for most of today due to the slashdot-like effect.

    They really screwed the pooch with this release, luckily they are Apple, can force people to upgrade and hopefully fix the stupid mistakes. I think it was just rushed to get out ahead of the promise Steve Jobs made.

  7. It’s far from “done”, but so is iPodderX. I’m bummed that bookmarks are only available for click wheel iPods, not 1st-3rd generation iPods. And the feeds are obviously messed up.

    And iPodderX, which is overkill for my needs AND I paid for it, downloads multiple version of most shows, even after the .01a release…

  8. There’s no doubt that iTunes podcasting needs lots and lots of work. Bittorrent support would be wonderful, as well as a more organized interface. The one they’re using works great for songs, but I think the way podcastalley has it organized is much more efficent, and makes it easier to find what you’re looking for.

    One positive thing that I liked is the integration aspect. There’s no need to have 2 programs. It’ll be interesting (if not frightening) to see where Apple takes this.

  9. I tried iTunes Podcasting and have gone back to iPodderX. I refuse to add to bandwidth woes by not catching the BitTorrent version. I think for absolute beginners using iTunes is much easier than any of the other podcatching software out there but most sites got Podblasted after Apple’s release of 4.9 so I’m sure there are frustrated users out there.

    Still, not a bad effort by Apple for a v1.0 product.

  10. Hi, Dave:

    I understand and appreciate your views of iTunes 4.9 from a podcaster’s viewpoint, and agree.

    However, as a consumer, I am absoultely giddy in having a single application to retrieve and play podcasts. The other clients I’ve used, iPX, and NNW, are anything but seamless in their integration with iTunes; I get really tired of having applications spontaneously launch, open their windows, and commandeer my workspace, while I am trying to accomplish some other task.

    Most of my consumer complaints are in fact minor nits, AFAIC, in fact there are only three:
    1) I’d like to run podcast retrievals from cron, ala iPX, and
    2) I’d like to be able to customize preferences within feeds,
    3) the ID3 tags are handled differently when iTunes fetches the podcast, as opposed to some other client.

    The other stuff that people bitch about, the podcast directory interface, OPML export/import, etc, don’t mean squat to me. No client that I’ve used has a decent built-in directory, and I’m perfectly capable of recreating my podcast lineup in whatever client I choose to use. I’m also competent to visit ipodder.org, or PodcastAlley, etc, to find new programming.

    Having rambled on as I have, I’m in full agreement with the problems the lack of BitTorrent in 4.9 causes you. I’d suggest that if you are bothered enough by that, just block iTunes clients from your EGCasts. Post something on the weblog to let us know, and if iPX has their 3.0 problems fixed, I’ll use them to retrieve your shows. I’d do the same for any other podcaster who prefers to use Torrent. The only other Torrent one that I currently subscribe to is The Roadhouse, and if he’s dropped his blocks on iPX, I’d use iPX for his shows as well.

    I’m really trying to find the end of this post; I think Apple has done a good thing, and will improve. In the interim, your loyal minions/TWACs will do what we need to.

    –Ken–

  11. suggest that you don’t switch back to direct mp3 as your default dave, you’ve always pointed the right way w/ bt – be a shame to revert back because of the rushed launch of v4.9, wait it out – it’ll get better…

  12. Just an update on my previous post to confirm Dave’s comments, iTunes 4.9 is checking feeds on the hour instead of at random intervals. Also notice the GET request…

    gw – – [30/Jun/2005:10:00:00 +1000] “GET /temp/dummy.xml HTTP/1.1” 200 792 “-” “iTunes/4.9 (Windows; N)”
    gw – – [30/Jun/2005:11:00:00 +1000] “GET /temp/dummy.xml HTTP/1.1” 200 792 “-” “iTunes/4.9 (Windows; N)”
    gw – – [30/Jun/2005:12:00:00 +1000] “GET /temp/dummy.xml HTTP/1.1” 200 792 “-” “iTunes/4.9 (Windows; N)”
    gw – – [30/Jun/2005:13:00:00 +1000] “GET /temp/dummy.xml HTTP/1.1” 200 792 “-” “iTunes/4.9 (Windows; N)”
    gw – – [30/Jun/2005:14:00:00 +1000] “GET /temp/dummy.xml HTTP/1.1” 200 792 “-” “iTunes/4.9 (Windows; N)”
    gw – – [30/Jun/2005:15:00:00 +1000] “GET /temp/dummy.xml HTTP/1.1” 200 792 “-” “iTunes/4.9 (Windows; N)”

    etc.

  13. “wait it out – it’ll get better…”

    This is something I’ve been thinking about. We’re all comparing iTunes first foray into podcasting against the latest crop of podcasting clients, like iPodderX, Doppler, et all. They’ve gone through quite a development cycle (iPodderX is a classic example of some amazing engineering, and I’m not a mac user yet still know this!) and have come out the other side as solid, reliable softwares.

    iTunes’ podcast client of course is pretty basic, doesn’t support HEAD requests, doesn’t support torrents or any other tricks that are pretty much taken for granted – yet it is only the first release – for a first release they have actually got a lot right.

    The next version will no doubt address the immediate ‘show stopper’ type concerns, with future versions possibly supporting torrent, HEAD requests and so on. The other thing is that while ‘the torrent’ is a great example of distributed downloading.. it does have a bit of a negative cloud over it with so many torrent search sites being shut down – that may well have influenced Apple’s choice not to support it at this stage, who knows.

    I’m with Mike.. Stick to your guns about the torrent feed. If any podcaster than provides a torrent feed keeps that as their primary feed, it will cause Apple to take that kind of support more seriously. Caving in only reduces the ‘value’ of supporting it.

  14. Wow, thanks for all the input y’all. I’m not changing the default feed. Having simmered on this for a day, I’m actually kind of mad about the whole thing. Matthew, I appreciate your submitting the MP3 feed but I’m actually kind of thinking about having them take all the feeds out of there.

    For all of you suggesting that this will get better, that’s true. However, the difference between any other podcatcher having issues in a 1.0 release and iTunes is that they’ve already got a deployed base of millions. When they make mistakes that waste resources of the people who host the files, it is massively multiplied. I suggest that Apple rushing this to market and fucking it up is much worse than anyone else who has come along yet. Because of the large install base, it has much more impact. It was their responsibility to get this right and they didn’t do it.

    Of course, if one were to be paranoid one could notice that they have a definite lean towards the existing media outfits. When the effective result of this feature is to hammer most of the grassroots podcasters and getting many of their servers to shut down, it does leave the field clear for the big media with the big servers. I’m not suggesting this was their intent, but it has the strong possibility of hurting grassroots podcasters and I am suggesting that they probably don’t care.

    Pretty much everything I’ve seen from the podcasting friendly punditosphere has been wetting their drawers at how wonderful this iTunes support is for the medium. I’m getting impatient at these pundits who have this theoretical joy for things that really suck for the actual people doing the work in the trenches.

  15. Great comment, Dave…glad to hear you’re sticking to your guns. (Not that I didn’t expect it from you).

    I agree with you 100% WRT the “issues w/ 1.0” release. Sure…cut ’em a break…but not much of one. Remember folks, this isn’t some 3 person company we’re talking about…it’s one of the largest software development concerns in the world. Plus, they AREN’T first movers in this particular space, so they had plenty of opportunity to learn from the mistakes of others. For example, non-randomized checks are borked…it doesn’t even take following the podcast client development lists to know that. Just thinking about the impact of the size of the client base would be enough…if you really thought it through. And as Dave says, these mistakes are going to impact HIM, and the other grassroots podcasters. Non-torrent support…borked. Non-HEAD requests…borked. (No Last-Modified/Etag support…I mean, come on! That in and of itself can kick the crap out of someone with onerous bandwidth issues.)

    Don’t get me wrong…it’s great to give “regular folks” a tool to enter the podosphere. But Apple should take care not to damage the people that they’re leveraging off of.

  16. Dave, thanks for sticking to your guns. Screw Apple.

    As it stands, I’m so sick of hearing about iTunes 4.9 supporting podcasting, so I wish that my rss aggregator (Bloglines) had a “killfile” so I could stop seeing all the “drawer-wetting” that’s going on in the blogosphere/podosphere whenever it gets mentioned. (But I’m happy to read this post and the comments above.)

    Keep on screwing the man! Thanks.

  17. And the EGCast is back in the arms of iPodderX, following an e-mail from Tony that iPX’s latest incarnation is in a state of grace with his podcast. A test retrieval of both, and all’s well in Podville.

    I read on some weblog today that there were about 1 *million* podcast subscriptions registered via iTunes today. The goose, as they say, is loose.

    Dave, is it possible to opt out of being listed in the iTunes directory? That may save a bit of system grief.

    –Ken–

  18. Darren, thanks. Glad to know I’m not the only one. I hear a lot of wind about how this is such a good thing, and I really don’t see that. I’ll try to stay as strong as I can.

    Ken, I am strongly strongly considering that. There is an opt-out mechanism and I’m thinking about invoking it. On the other hand, I’m also thinking about having them keep the bittorrent file and putting one more file in ala the disclaimer that says in effect “Thanks for caring about podcasts and this feed. Now, for the LOVE OF GOD go get yourself a proper podcatcher before you hose those you should love.”

  19. David,

    We finally agree on something. It is how out of balance iTunes support for all podcasters. You cannot say that you are really surprised as Steve Jobs leaned heavily towards major broadcasters in his famous podcasting speech. I am disappointed in what Apple has done to the grassroots podcasters like you and ME. He is caching RSS feeds and mp3 files instead of doing live connections as we does not feel he can really rely on grassroots podcaster to be able to deliver on the bandwidth needed to give HIS iTunes subscribers the needed APPLE experience. He is also messing with all of our audience tracking that will affect our ability to sell advertising. The updates to our feeds are only being looked at on a very infrequent basis and then cached. This is a big problem for them and has created a very sloppy roll out for most of the podcasters who are not associated with a big media company or connected with Adam Curry’s Podshow.

    Dave, this is what I cave been trying to talk about for months now. I have felt that big media would come into this space and throw around some of its weight. The first ton of that weight has now been thrown from Apple on top of all of us hard working grassroots podcasters. Don’t be surprised if this is just one of many more tons of major media podcasts.

    I am talking to folks at Microsoft so they don’t so out of balance in the marketplace as this is the only opportunity they have left in this podcasting space. I agree that greater balance needs to be given in presenting all types of content creators and podcasts.

    Rob Greenlee
    WebTalk Radio

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