The author dropped me a note letting me know about this plugin to Bittorrent support to iTunes podcasts. This allows you to not only download torrented podcasts but to seed them as well. It is currently Windows only, but OS X support is in the plan. If you are a developer who wants to help move that along, you might should jump aboard. I’ve kept my support for Bittorrent mainly for political reasons. In spring of 2005, over 90% of my downloads came via the torrents. Nowadays, it’s more like 5%. iTunes killed it, so it would be nice to see people be able to breathe a little life back into it.
Yesterday I had a phone call with Doc Searls (about which he blogs) and while I was giving him some technical podcasting support, at one point we were talking about iTunes as a podcatcher. He was talking about not getting episodes that way for a long time, and I realized something simple. All this time I’ve been pissed off at Apple for screwing up the rollout, I had a stopgap available to me. I added an URL rewriting rule to my Apache setup and now any attempt to fetch the default (Bittorrent) feed by something with a User-Agent that begins with “iTunes” will get the MP3 feed instead. Completely fricking simple and suddenly, it should all work again for everyone, even the ones subscribed to the default feed.
It sucks that I have to do something kludgy like this, but at least folks will not find their subscription to my feed silently fail anymore.
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.
This iTunes support of podcasting thing is slowly sinking in. Since almost the beginning here, I could make the assumption that the vast majority of podcatching clients supported Bittorrent. Unless some heroic Apple engineer puts in support and quick, that assumption is going to change when iTunes does their thing.
Everything I’ve seen has unquestioningly been on the side that this is good for podcasting, but I’m not sure that it will be. Over and over, almost since the very beginning people have been making these statements that “what podcasting needs to be really popular is X”. That’s not been my focus. Like I’ve been saying in the podcasts, explosive growth just for the sake of it is not a good thing in my opinion. I’ve never felt that we had to be in a hurry here. While there is a coolness to the notion that my listenership might go up in a big hurry, it also has the potential of being an unintentional denial of service attack. I’ve liked the pace things have been growing at, which allowed the tool creators and the podcasters and everyone to build and figure out how to do things.
I’ve built up the Bittorrent infrastructure because of its sustainability and ability to grow over time without killing the server box or using too much bandwidth. Putting out a tool that can bring in an assload of listeners but without using that infrastructure is not necessarily doing me a favor. If it goes like I think it might, I’m going to be including a short MP3 in my feed begging iTunes users to get a tool that supports Bittorrent like every major one has up to this point.
Phil Torrone notes that he is seeing iTunes 4.9 hitting his RSS feed. I am too. Note to you Apple engineers: you are using the Bittorrent feed and seem to not be getting anywhere. Try using the direct MP3 feed and you’ll have better results.
Update: Cool, TUAW picked up on this. Just to clarify, it’s not that iTunes is gakking on the feed, it’s that it downloads the feed and then never requests the torrent files. I assume that is because it doesn’t recognize them as needing downloading, not being audio files and all.