I was listening to to Sam Whitmore’s Tech Media This Week yesterday. In it, he made a statement not unlike what I’ve heard him say a few times, which is that “podcasts are too long.” His particular length that he ascribed “too long” to was 10 minutes. Good gravy, Sam! He is keeping his show shorter than that because of his particular tastes. My tastes swing the exact opposite way, in that I don’t want to listen to 75 different 5 minute shows in my day. This brings me to a larger point.
It is highly common to hear people proclaim how podcasts should be. They should be a certain length, they should be published on a certain schedule, they should sound a certain way. Friends, there is no one answer to these questions. The audience is too fragmented, and when you act like there is an answer it just makes you sound silly. If the value of the medium is that it can pertain to so many disparate people with so many disparate interests, why do you think they have a single characteristic?
Way back in the early days, Halley Suitt did a show for IT Conversations. In an early episode someone (Dan Bricklin maybe?) mentioned that he listened while he jogged, and at the half hour point his run was done. For the rest of her shows, Halley inserted a short musical break at the 30 minute point. That always struck me as pretty ridiculous. What about the people whose commute is 20 minutes, or 40 minutes, or an hour or 5 minutes? You can’t possibly meet all these needs simultaneously so why do artificial things to meet any of them? I’ve heard a number of “podcast experts” declaim very forcefully how important it is that shows be on a rigorous schedule. To this day, there are maybe 10% of the weekly shows I listen to that I could even tell you what day the new shows come down on. I’m sure a lot of people care, but a lot don’t. I certainly don’t.
Do the show you want to do in the way you want to do it. Do the show you want to listen to. Don’t put artificial constraints on your show based on a vague feeling because “that’s how it has to be.” If your audience is one that thrives on short shows and you want to serve that audience, you should do a short show. Don’t tell others that shows have to be short. Don’t tell them they have to be long. Don’t tell them they have to be the same length every week. There are no rules here, so take advantage of that freedom. Do what feels right, what seems natural, what creates the kind of show and environment that you would listen to. I repeat my new media axiom here: “The one sure way to know something someone tells you about podcasting is bullshit is that they are convinced that they can’t be wrong.” The most experienced podcast experts know only slightly more than the least experienced. If you march to their beat too closely, you’ll never invent your own dance moves.
Just for fun, I present the list of files on my crappy mobiBLU cube today with their times. This is a different mix than it might be on other days, and this list includes the very last file from the Penn Radio cache I had squirrelled away last fall. Only one show (Secret World Chronicle) has more than one episode although often I have multiples of shows, just not today. You can see my mix leans toward the longer form.
Writers Almanac – 5:35
NoiseBoxx – 11:43
Fnordcast – 25:05
An ITConversations talk – 17:29 (short by ITC standards)
In Our Time – 42:37
Irrational Public Radio – 2:45
Longboards and Longhorns – ~1 hour
Girl Meets Girl (AKA Makena) – 53:58
Mental Escher/Cyberpunk Radio – 9:08
Needs No Introduction – 43:15 (this was the episode that convinced me to unsubscribe)
NeoFiles – 26:46
New Forces – ~1 hour
Penn Radio – 43:40
Skepticality – 35:28
Smart City – 52:35
SXSW panel – 57:16
The Onion – 0:52
Secret World Chronicle – 6:14
Secret World Chronicle – 21:11
Bat Segundo Show – 51:01
Update: Sam himself responded on his blog. I’ve been listening to Tech Media This Week ever since I met him at PME 2005. It’s one of those things where the subject matter of his show is of a slight bit of interest, but mostly I like Sam and want to spend a few minutes a week with him.