Phantom Blogging

I was surprised to realize that I haven’t posted here since Friday. I’ve spent so much time thinking about the issues that have been raised that it feels like I have been. Having a bunch of thought provoking things happen and then going on a day trip with 6+ hours in the car will do that for you. I’ll see, in and around handing out candy tonight and talking to someone for an upcoming clambake (and for the PME talk), if I can post a little about where my thoughts have rambled to.

EGC Clambake for October 28, 2005

Here is the Bittorrent link and direct MP3 download for the EGC clambake for October 28, 2005.

I play audio feedback from David Jacobs and Ted Rieken (and John Powell by way of Alvin Dick); I play a song by Alana Davis; how about instead of “lift” for the lifestyle we use “uplift”; I play a song by the Butthole Surfers; I discuss the Stephen Hill notion of NPR production standards being a requirement for podcasts to be listened to; I play a song by Bullet Called Life; I’m out.

This episode is sponsored in part by the fine folks at iPod Observer and Reel Reviews! Don’t forget, you can fly your EGC flag by buying the stuff package.

This show as a whole is Creative Commons licensed Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 1.0.

Links mentioned in this episode:


Let’s Be Clear

Just so’s we’re all on the same page in regards to this quality podcast vs. public radio thing, I’m not arguing that quality is unimportant or shouldn’t be strived for. It should always be. If you got a game, stepping it up should be a priority to you. However, the notion that one must be at the peak in order to play is erroneous.

Some people, like this guy, seem to be thinking I’m advocating for low quality or that I think as he puts it that I’m for “I turned the mic on to see what would happen”. Wrongo, pop filter breath. Thousands of new people are coming to this, and they got to start somewhere. That is usually – although not always – on the low end of the curve. I’m amazed at how fast I hear people improving by the boatload. I too have unsubscribed from shows because of bad audio quality. I’ve also stuck with a lot that were pretty rough because I wanted to hear what they had to say.

Like I said over a year ago when I first started my podcast, your content banks up your karma and your audio quality sucks it out. If you don’t have much banked with what you are saying or playing, you’d best not push your luck with the sound. However, my basic opposition to Stephen Hill’s stance is the notion that the floor is “public radio” level of production or no one will listen. That’s demonstrably bullshit. Do your best work, have something to say, make it sound as good as you can this time and better next time, but do the work. If you don’t do it today, then you won’t get to the better one tomorrow, right?

And let me state for the record in stark opposition to a lot of the talking heads and wagging tongues out there, I don’t care how many bad podcasts there are. I don’t have to listen to them and neither do you. Everything appeals to someone, if not you. How can people throw around the “long tail” terminology all the time without grokking what that really means? Do the work, get better and maybe I’ll come back later. My first year on radio was bad, and I don’t blame you if you turned it off (although living in a small town in rural Kansas with one station helps with audience retention.) I did it and did it and eventually got better. Most of the radio I hear is bad, too. The big difference is that podcasts I hear tend to improve over time and the wacky morning DJs suck forever.

Slam Idol Podcast

I’ve recently started listening to the Slam Idol podcast on a whim. I’m not the most rabid fan of the form, but found it interesting enough. The big score was the most recent show, this interview with Stephen Fry. I did not previously know, and was highly delighted to find out, that the honorable Mr. Fry is a complete dork! He knew how to work his voice iChat, was talking about Java code at one point and generally impressed me that he knows his way around a Macintosh. Friends, Stephen Fry in fact is a fan of podcasting and listens to them. I was completely amazed. Jeeves might be listening to you on his iPod. The world consistently remains stranger than fiction.

Production Quality: Coda

This afternoon, I left the house for the first time in a while and drove to the coffee shop. On the way, I tried to listen to All Things Considered on the radio. Within one minute, I got sick of it and instead listened to the Ruby Conf Wrapup episode of the Ruby on Rails podcast. The sound quality of it was dicey, but listenable. That’s right, I turned off a well-produced show in favor of one with shitty production values. Why would I do this? Because I was more interested in hearing these two guys talk about their views of Ruby Conf and the politics of programming language extension and “fanboy” impulses at meeting famous figures in the open source community. I’m newly interested in Ruby and Rails, and I was captivated. There are not 1 in 10,000 Americans who would find this interesting, but I am one.

Production quality isn’t unimportant, but it’s not a make or break. Once you cross the threshold of barely listenable, captivating content of interest to you is all that matters. I just disagree with Stephen Hill so deeply that it makes my bones ache. This isn’t some kind of academic argument or thought experiment, this is how I live my life. I vote with my ears every single day and I’ve been turning off public radio, for all its slickness and production values, because it is physically incapable of being as relevant to me as the playlist on my iPod Shuffle.

Sox Win!

Wow, the Sox just won the World Series. It’s kind of amazing how low key the celebration is, considering that it’s been 88 years since the last title. I like this win. I’d have rather seen it be the Braves, but they did their annual laydown in the divisionals just like clockwork. This is almost as good. It’s great for the Sox fans, and it’s great to tweak the Cubs fans. That’s what you call a win-win win.

Public Radio and Podcasting

I couldn’t make this post before going to bed last night, and now a lot of the fire I felt has gone out. While fundamentally I disagree with most of what Stephen Hill says, how many times do I feel that we need to defend this hill? This has been a common refrain since the advent of citizen media – in blogs, in podcasts, in vlogs. A group of enthused amateurs enters and is excited to create, in text, audio or video. The people who currently make their living creating such look around, sniff and say “the great unwashed cannot match my mad skillz, who really needs this?” The pattern repeats, and I guarantee it will repeat with whatever the next thing is.

This is why I really give a huge amount of credit to people that would be justified in having that mindset and don’t, like Tony Kahn. Tony is a pro with many years under his belt and could dismiss the efforts of ordinary citizens to get their stories out easily. Instead, he makes it his work to encourage and enable that. Way to go Tony!

I did two years of producing nationally syndicated public radio, and my experience was radically different from Stephen Hill’s. I was doing a scrappy independent production that ran on no money, I was the only employee of the entire thing doing all booking, producing, interviewing, editing, publicity and driving to Fed Ex with the DAT tapes. I never drew a salary and did it entirely for the love of what I was doing. My pay was in self-satisfaction, having the home phone numbers of writers I admire, and bulging boxes of review copy books. Stephen Hill on the other hand presided over a big machine, the Hearts of Space empire of shows, CDs and all that. My public radio experience really and truly was not that different from my podcast experience whereas if he podcasts it will be a radical difference. Bear that in mind as I pick out a few choice bits of his essay and respond.

It’s an arguable point for users in the heady days of realizing you are finally being programmed to, but in the medium to long run I don’t believe that even niche audiences will sit still for extended doses of amateurish, inconsistent, self-indugent programming, no matter how vertically compelling the subject matter. For niche programs to attract new audiences and hold them over time, they will have to bear at least reasonable comparison to the production standards of mainstream media.

Here is the most visible tell in his poker hand, early on. Stuff that man with straw. Hill seems to be under the impression that there is no self-indulgence in public radio. He must not hear the programs I do. I’m a big fan of This American Life, which I love and is brilliant but is the very model of self-indulgence. People do sit still for it. It’s interesting that the only people I ever hear talking about how the public won’t listen to anything but slick programming are people that produce slick programming.

Hearts of Space was (is?) an impeccably produced program, highly professional and sounded great from a production standard. I also was unable to listen to it because it didn’t do a damn thing for me. It was one of those shows that provoked the “fast twitch” reaction if it came on the radio as we reached for the knob to change stations. I am currently subscribed to over 150 different podcast feeds that cover the entire spectrum of production quality. The one thing they have in common is that they meet my needs, and inform or entertain me or otherwise keep my ears pleasantly engaged. The one with the lowest production quality of all of them still fulfills my needs better than the highly produced Hearts of Space. When I read his statement above, it puts me in mind of the auto industry of a decade ago saying “The public will never go for hybrid cars, that’s why we don’t make them.” Sorry Charlie, but you aren’t the ombudsman of public taste. If you were, you shouldn’t be using the public as a sock puppet for your own preferences.

Public radio and television have over 50 years experience with this model. It was born of necessity at KPFA in Berkeley in the 1950s, and was ahead of its time in recognizing the kind of direct producer/audience interaction and shared sense of purpose that the Internet now delivers in spades. 

But it also has serious disadvantages: even after 40 years of increasingly organized, skillful appeals for voluntary support, only about 10% of the audience actually pays. How podcasters expect a model that has barely worked in the context of full time professional broadcasting by licensed local monopolies to work for even smaller audiences is beyond me. Only a small fraction of programs and services will ever be able to sustain themselves this way. And if they do, most of them will pay a significant price by having to operate on a subsistence economy.

I did two years of Reality Break nationally, got enough funding via underwriting and grants from the beautiful people at KRVS to pay for the whole thing. However, I never earned a cent from any of it. In fact, in 10 months of getting revenue in via my podcast (there was no real attempt in the first 4 months) I have generated more money with this show than I did in the two years on public radio. That’s not including the odd bits of things that have been generated on the side (in Doc Searls’ terminology “making money because of the podcast, not with it”). On This Week in Tech instead of asking for large donations has people do a subscription of $2/month on an ongoing basis. They have something like 100,000 or more listeners. If 10% of those people signed up, the show would bring in $20K a month. Again, that’s not enough for 7 guys to live off of, but it is significant. There are models that will work and do work, and I hope that plenty of them work better than public radio.

I don’t know why he expects the standard to be the number of people who can support themselves with it. I can tell you, the thought of making my living off of podcasting was not why I got involved. I do it because it enriches my life, and I hope enriches the life of those who listen to me. That’s it. How many people who play the guitar do it to make their living on it? The statement “Only a small fraction of guitar players will ever be able to sustain themselves with music” is true, as is the observation about podcasters. Both fall in that category of insights labeled “true but useless.” So what?

I’m stopping here. I’ve lost interest in this. I don’t agree with Hill that what podcasters need is to become more like public radio. I don’t think it needs to become more like commercial radio. What it needs is to become something less like anything we know and more like something unique and not yet imagined. That’s what I’m banking on.


Here’s another very similar take from a Greensboro blogger who argues that they way the current media incumbents do things is the only thing acceptable. Sorry Chewie, I think there is room for all of it and you are not in the driver’s seat you think you are. You also attempt to stack the deck by referring to “frat-boy-with-camera downloads”. When you stuff the straw man that full, you admit you have a weak argument. My interview with Marjane Satrapi is exactly the kind of stuff you dismiss. Was it worth doing? Fuck yes. Is your point I shouldn’t bother? If so, I reject that. Is your point that fewer people will see it than a network broadcast? If so, no shit sherlock. I don’t know what your point is. I do know that I am richer for having done the video, and a few people have enjoyed it and been enlightened by it. That’s plenty for me and thus I’m delighted that I did it. The fact that you have prejudged the content of citizen media, think you know the subject matter and quality before it has even been produced suggests that you are overreaching on that. I’ll still buy you drinks at Flatiron anyway, but you might want to consider waiting to see what people do before deciding they’ll never do anything of value.

EGC Clambake for October 26, 2005

Here is the Bittorrent link and direct MP3 download for the EGC clambake for October 26, 2005.

I talk about and read from Clayton Cubitt’s Operation Eden; I play a song from Steadman; I talk about Dicks and Janes podcast and Getting a Leg Up; I play a song from Jonathan Coulton; I discuss Stephen Hill’s manifesto; I play clips from Lawrence Lessig on This Week in Tech and Paul Graham on IT Conversations; I play a song by The Arts and Sciences; later taters.

This episode is sponsored in part by the fine folks at iPod Observer and Reel Reviews! Don’t forget, you can fly your EGC flag by buying the stuff package.

This show as a whole is Creative Commons licensed Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 1.0.

Links mentioned in this episode:


43 Folders Podcast, Standards and Fragmentation

I read 43 Folders in NetNewsWatcher and I subscribed via iPodderX when I saw that Merlin began doing podcasts. This evening, whilst in doing some poking around in iPodderX I realized that I’ve never actually received any of the MP3s that I see posted. I looked at his RSS feed. Hey, none of those things actually has the enclosure element. They do have some links to some Odeo and iTunes bullshit, but nothing that works via the standard pathways. This might be just an oversight or a check box in the wrong position in Feedburner when Merlin set it up. If it isn’t, and there is some sort of thing that makes this work in Odeo and iTunes but nothing else, then that is bad bad bad.

In fact, that was the kind of eventuality that made me feel queasy when Odeo showed up to the party and later iTunes – the feeling that they would come to the party late, decide the music sucks and that everyone should be dancing to their tune. With iTunes, I felt and feel this is exactly what they did. When there was a pre-existing transparent open standard way for all publishers and receivers to communicate, they slapped it in their opaque silo. Kiss my ass. Remember back when the whole “embrace and extend” thing was mainly coming from Microsoft? In podcasting, it seems to be the standard play for any company of any heft.

To this point, 14 months after entering the world of podcasting, I haven’t really done any vendor specific things. I have no iTunes tags (although if there was some sort of “fuck you” tag, I might think about it). I haven’t Odeo enabled or claimed my feed or whatever you do with them. In fact, I don’t even know how you work Odeo and I have a hard time caring. I got an email from the Podcast Pickle guy saying that I’m not in their directory and only the feed owner can add themselves – I haven’t even done that. I don’t really even want to begin this game, because it never ends.

There are hundreds of players that want to come in this space and make money by their “long tail-centric integration of niche media buzzword buzzword blah blah.” If every player that comes in wants me to do something special for them, then they can collectively bite me. I find the idea of doing extra work (even a small amount of it) in order to add value to your company an uncompelling proposition. The reason this whole thing works is because of the standard mechanism for publishing and subscribing. Use them, and don’t expect me and 10,000 other podcast publishers (and climbing) to each do N amount of work * every new company that comes slouching into the gold rush. You knew the job was dangerous when you took it. There is no crying in baseball.

Public Radio v Podcasting: Prelude Step, Normalization

Before I write up my piece responding to Stephen Hill’s thing about public radio and podcating, I’m going to do an experiment. If it works, I’ll always do this before tackling any of this “Thing X” vs “Thing Y” written by someone who has a dog in the fight (whether or not I’m rooting on that dog.) I’m calling it either “Stacked Deck Normalization” or “Straw Man MRI”. The idea being, let’s get a sense of where the sympathies lie in as succinct a manner as possible.

In order to do this, I’m going to go through his piece and extract out only the adjectives or adjectival phrases that are applied to the generality of either the public radio/old media or podcasting/citizen media/new media spaces. My theory is that this will be illustrative. I got a sense of the deck being stacked while reading it, and by stripping out everything but these couple of words I think we can go straight to the sympathies.

Public Radio/ Old Media:

slow, polite, idealistic, chronically underfunded, niche content, small audiences, donation business models, descending spiral of pandering to audiences, endless lifestyle fundraising specials, pathetic subversion of the original mission, high production value, high quality, high performance standards, greater experience and resources, incumbent program brands, production expertise

Podcasting/ New Media:

brutal techno-Darwinism-on-crystal-meth, “truth” (yes, in quotes) relevance, creativity, amateurish, casual, creative, offbeat, inconsistent, self-indugent, libertarian values, open standards, transparency, interactive ethics, superior distribution  technology, smutty charms, unique talents

That was harder than it seemed like it would be. I tried to only use the terms applied to the whole of the fields, not to specific things. I also tried scrupulously not to cherry pick and to take both positive and negatives used on either side. Still, taken as a whole don’t those two lists tell quite a story? Even though Stephen Hill might think he’s being even-handed, and it reads like he wants to be, his underlying assumptions still shine through. I mean, who in their right mind would want the “brutal techno-Darwinism-on-crystal meth world of smutty charms” over the “high production values and high quality?” Well, besides me, that is.

To be continued.

Game 3

You know, whenever there are two teams in the World Series that are not any of my rooting teams, I almost always habitually root for the NL team (with exceptions being made when the NL team is the Mets or the Cubs). For some reason, I’m captivated by this year’s White Sox and am pulling for them over the Astros. Unlike the damnable Cubs, I’m not hearing lots of stupid curse nonsense this year. Go Sox! It would be quite cool to have both the longsuffering Sox teams win in consecutive years.

Public Radio and/or Podcasting

I’m busy at work and don’t have time to write this up, but I read both Stephen Hill’s statement on podcasting and Doc Searls’ response. I don’t think either of these meshes well with what I think. This is something I actually have some insight on, as a very early podcaster and as someone who produced entirely by myself a nationally syndicated show that was on the NPR satellites (but not an NPR production) in the 90’s. I’ll write up my thoughts when I can, but suffice it to say I have many on these pieces. Watch the skies!

East of Eden

If you’ve been following Clayton Cubitt’s story of his family’s survival, there is a moment of hope finally. It’s not a happy ending, but what he calls “a happy end of a beginning.”

I talk about the power of connection of the internet, about the positivity of the connections I make through the podcast. Here is a similar sentiment, stated by Clayton so powerfully that it brought tears to my eyes.

And there it is, for now. The internet saved my family. My camera saved my family. I’m a high school dropout, but my writing saved my family. If this had happened ten years ago, my photos, my writing, wouldn’t have saved anybody, because nobody would have seen it. It wasn’t on CNN. It wasn’t on the broadcast networks. It wasn’t even on PBS. It was on a plain, small, free website, and that’s the only reason Elizabeth saw it, and brought her family into the effort.

Katrina has shown me some things. She’s shown me that the American government is unable to protect anything we hold dear. She’s shown me that the American people are an amazing, giving, tough, resourceful, huge people, and that they’re not being represented fairly by the current class of small-hearted politicians and lazy bureaucrats. She’s shown me that people around the world care about us after all, despite our government. She’s shown me that it’s not about FEMA, it’s not about the Red Cross, that it’s about amazing families like Elizabeth and Kenny’s family in North Carolina. Like I’ve said before, it’s just about people like you and me, on our own, together.


EGC Clambake for October 21, 2005

Here is the Bittorrent link and direct MP3 download for the EGC clambake for October 21, 2005.

I play a clip from the Barack Obama podcast; I play a song by the Siderunners; the Marjane Satrapi video interview is up; I used Virtual Dub and Deshaker to clean up the video; I lay out my term for the DIY lifestyle; I play another Siderunners song; WREK has a new show I love called “Longboards and Longhorns”;

This episode is sponsored in part by the fine folks at iPod Observer and Reel Reviews! Don’t forget, you can fly your EGC flag by buying the stuff package.

This show as a whole is Creative Commons licensed Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 1.0.

Links mentioned in this episode: