Send Me Your Podcast Schwag

In two weeks I’ll be in Portland Oregon for Orycon with Cory Doctorow, Ellen Datlow and others. Some people have rightly noted the flaw in taking lots of schwag to PME in Ontario, California when mostly you are promoting to other podcasters. That’s true enough, so if you have leftover schwag and want to get it in the hands of some fans of SF and fantasy, I’m volunteering to accept it and keep it stocked on the Orycon freebie giveaway table. Just email me and I’ll give you the address to mail it to. It needs to reach Portland Oregon by Thursday November 16th, so don’t dawdle on this. Feel free to spread the word on forums and mailing lists and such. I’m not shipping anything back, so don’t send any more than you’d reasonably expect to give out during a three day convention. If it weighs several pounds, it might be too much.

Other than that, lets recoup some of the cost of having this damn stuff printed up and get it in the hands of some people that might actually listen to your show!

History of Podcasting

Dan Klass wrote this article about the early days of podcasting. I participated in it grudgingly and with mixed feelings. On the one hand, getting the story as correct as possible is a fine goal, but on the other I’m not terribly interested in navel gazing self-hagiography of ourselves and our new medium. I believe when I talked to Dan, I tried to get inserted a person who was an early pioneer doing interesting work who goes entirely unmentioned in these things. In the first months of podcasting, Gordon Smith did several months of consecutive daily commentaries to explain the behind the scenes of his photo blog. He still does the photos (and I’m still subscribed) but he has stopped doing the commentaries. I listened to them and found the experiment really fascinating and truly an innovative use of the medium. For all that some people bitch and moan about being undermentioned in these things, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Gordon referred to once. That’s a shame.

Dan made a factual error in the part about me. He referred to this show as starting on September 15, 2004. That’s wrong. I started August 20th. September 15th was the day that I was the first person to use the term “podcast” within one.

The Death of Podcasting

Lest I was tempted to comment on this piece by Frank Barnako (how shocking, a big media guy is gleeful that iTunes is focussing on big media podcasts), Steve Gillmor is already on the case. Thank you Steve, for removing that temptation and doing it far more entertainingly than I could.

Let me just add that it truly represents a glorious failure of imagination that these guys have no other way of looking at this phenomenon than through the lens of numbers obsessed bean-counters. Dear God, Al Franken has more listeners than me! Holy shit, the New York Times have more readers than this blog! Guess it is time to fold the tents of citizen media because what reason could there be to express oneself other than to be #1 in some ranking?

Sex, Cash and Podcasting

Mark Cuban posted about cash and podcasting, which included this:

Podcasting is hot.  Podcasting is cheap and easy. Podcasting can be fun. Creating your own podcast and trying to make a business out of it is a mistake. Unless you are repurposing content from another medium, it will be rare to find anyone making money from originating podcasts.

Talk Radio Shows repurposed from radio to a podcast. No brainer. It’s cheap and easy. Repurposing industry specific information from tradeshows, speeches, product presentations for employee or customer education or as sales support. No brainer. These are just extensions of existing content into a new low cost medium.

For those who are tying to jump on the podcasting bandwagon and create a “hit” podcast that you plan on selling advertising in, its cheap and easy to do, but even with Google Adsense for RSS its going to be really tough to do it as a fulltime job and make minimum wage back.

I tend to reflexively push-back on things of this ilk, but damn it I think he’s right. I think this obsessive focus on “quitting the day job” levels of income from podcasting is ridiculous. For god’s sake, most novelists and musicians I know don’t get to quit their day jobs, so what makes you think you are so special? I say this as someone who is probably in the top 5 percentile of revenue generated by an individual podcaster and yet who is still orders of magnitude from living on that. Being on fire to make mortgage-covering amounts of cash out of the box is a mistake and it will lead you down the wrong path.

About this time last year, over at Gaping Void, Hugh Macleod was coming up with the Hughtrain manifesto. He extracted one piece out of that work that he titled “The Sex and Cash Theory”. It included insights such as:

I’m thinking about the young writer who has to wait tables to pay the bills, in spite of her writing appearing in all the cool and hip magazines…. who dreams of one day of not having her life divided so harshly.

Well, over time the ‘harshly’ bit might go away, but not the ‘divided’.

“This tense duality will always play center stage. It will never be transcended.”

As soon as you accept this, I mean really accept this, for some reason your career starts moving ahead faster. I don’t know why this happens. It’s the people who refuse to cleave their lives this way- who just want to start Day One by quitting their current crappy day job and moving straight on over to best-selling author… Well, they never make it.

The basic gist is that when you make your art pay the whole freight for your financial well-being, it’s a compromise. It puts pressure on your creative side that it doesn’t need. Rather than whoring your art, whore your CPA self or barrista self or whatever. Don’t worry so damn much about making a mint, worry about making the next show good. If you get the right combination of talent plus luck, maybe it will happen. Don’t plan on it, though, or you’ll end up like all the sad sacks whose life plans involve hitting the lottery to achieve what they want. Keep the sex and cash separate, and your art will be the better for it.

Update: Podcasting News links to the same article with the headline “Broadcast Billionaire Badmouths Podcasting”. I just plain don’t see that.

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.

Clambake Episode for June 26, 2005

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

I play the newest interview bit with John Mark King where he talks about his own notions of open culture and play the newest Rocket City Riot song; I talk more about open and closed culture; I talk briefly about KYOU and about grassroots podcasting; I relate the tale of seeing the Arts and Sciences open for Indigo Girls; I play a song by Paul Melancon and then one by the Gentle Readers.

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:

PlayPlay

My Listening Breakdown

I’ve grown weary of the way pundits talk about podcasting. This is a situation much like the parable of the blind men and the elephant, where some assert that it is like a rope while others assert it is like a tree trunk and so on – all being completely certain they are correct. The framework is general enough to enable a number of different sorts of things but the pundits seem to seize on certain pieces and become convinced that is the whole. I’ve heard or read many pundits who laugh off the grassroots part as being unimportant.

Certainly nowadays one could listen to nothing but podcasts from radio, or nothing but podcasts from the grassroots. There is plenty of everything such that anyone can assemble the pieces they want out of the stream, which to my way of thinking is always what the point was.

Just to show my leanings, I went through my subscription list and categorized them in four broad buckets: grassroots podcast (something that is newly created for the format since last fall); existing contemporary broadcast radio archived and published via podcast; pre-existing internet radio content which is now also being archived and published via podcast; old-time radio or radio drama published via podcast. Note that I added these up a few days ago and have added and subtracted shows since, but this should be approximately correct.

  • Grassroots podcasts: 55
  • Pre-existing internet radio: 3
  • OTR or drama: 4
  • Contemporary Radio: 14

At least for myself, 2/3 of my listening (as measured by subscriptions, not by individual episodes) is citizen-created media. Some people might be 98% existing radio, but that’s not the way I rock. I don’t know there is any deep insight here, other than just a snapshot of what my current predilections are.

Follow the Money

Several people have already dissected this David Coursey anti-podcasting article. Mike Dunn, for example, really ripped a new one on it and Coursey (citing me and the term “knee jerk off” in the process). Check out the anti-populist condescending sentiment in this:

Personal Podcasting, like personal blogs, is a fad and will fade. Just like personal sites were a fad in the early days of the Web. People experiment because content creation can be fun, sort of like finger-painting was back in preschool, but people also run out of creative energy, and the maintenance of a site, blog or Podcast becomes a chore. And the content gets boring, and the audience goes away.

Pretty much, anyone that I’ve seen express this sentiment is in the business of being more authoritative than the “common man” and whose livelihood is threatened by a world in which they are not elevated about the hoi polloi. The stupider and more condescending the argument (such as self-expression as “finger-painting”), the more desperate it sounds. David Coursey, if you want to prove you are better than the citizen media produced by the great unwashed, you might want to write better stuff than this phoned-in, auto-pilot stuff.

Katz Responds

Don Katz of Audible.com has a post that responds to some of the criticisms of the Audible/podcasting thing. This includes a namecheck of me, for god’s sake!

For the record, I’ve had multiple exchanges with Mitch Ratcliffe about his response to me, in the comments here, in the comments there and in email. I still remain perplexed and feel we are talking past each other. At the heart, I said “Audible is centralized”, which still seems to me indisputable. Mitch is saying “that’s not bad”, which isn’t what I said or even think. It just is what it is. Anything that has a central catalog in one place is centralized. This is an architectural statement that Mitch seems to be interpreting as a moral one. I’m highly confusable and this has done it to me.

More on iTunes

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.

iTunes 4.9 Walks the Earth

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.

Ummm, OK

I’ll admit to not understanding this one at all. Mitch Ratcliffe disputes my statement that when Don Katz claims Audible.com does “something much like podcasting” it involves a centralized authority. I read his whole post through a couple of times and I don’t get what his refutation actually refutes.

Mitch thinks I am incorrect when I claim that I have more access to the podcasting infrastructure than I do to the Audible infrastructure. Let’s not argue, let’s get empirical. I recorded a show this morning and 15 minutes later it was published into my bittorrent feed. I want to publish that same show into the Audible system tomorrow. Can I do that, and if so how?

Mitch also states in his post that he likes me, and I also like him. How come it seems like we are always at loggerheads?

Fools Onboard

Oh lord, I’ve seen podcasting referenced in a Motley Fool email newsletter. From a recent one was this quote:

– “Podcasting” will do for audio what TiVo is doing for
television — sending advertisers scrambling to reinvent their
profession.

So the question is, if the Motley Fools have this on the radar, how cool can it still be?

Podcasting: Mechanist View vs Humanist View

I’m going to take another run at this, even though I’ve long since tired of the topic because I keep feeling like I’m tantalizingly close to expressing something so that someone else might actually understand where I’m coming from. Rob Greenlee responded to my post about his interview with Don Katz, to which I re-responded. In debating with Rob, I think I finally understand why we’ve been talking past each other on this topic since last October.

I’m frustrated by the fact that Rob cannot discuss podcasting without saying some variant of “… but people have been downloading audio files from the web for years..” I find that statement true and correct yet useless. I’ve never understood why that has to count against what we are doing. Does it matter how long audio has been on the web or for that matter who the first to upload it was?

I think Rob is approaching this from a Mechanist viewpoint, as a number of folks do. They are ascribing the value of podcasting as some complicated calculation of the sum of value of the component technologies times the novelty of them to the factorial of users or some crap. That kind of thinking isn’t at all how I’m approaching it.

I look at this from a Humanist viewpoint. The technology is necessary to make it happen, but is really kind of irrelevant. The important bit to me is the human and social interactions that happen once the technology existed and was combined together in certain ways. I don’t have a fetish for RSS and enclosures per se and if it were some different format that was equally easy to use and develop to, I could care less. What I do care about is that automatically, I have human voices that appear on my computer and communicate to me. That’s it. That’s all I care about. I care that the scaffolding exists but not what it is, and from my perspective any scaffolding that does the same job with the same ease is effectively the same thing. That’s why I don’t care how novel any part of this is. Being able to have 50 different ordinary yet compelling people to listen to whenever they choose to publish a file is what excites me. This part is inarguably novel because it wasn’t happening and now it is.

Because of my viewpoint, once the human interaction is there the technology questions fade into irrelevance. Rob feels a need to deflate the “untrue hype” that this is new and exciting, because his Mechanist view says this combination of old technologies isn’t new and exciting from a technical level. I think it is new and exciting because the voices I listen to all day every day weren’t speaking to me in this manner in the recent past, which is new and I find it exciting because it excites me.

Is this making sense to anyone? I’ve grown weary of the Mechanists feeling the need to “take the piss out of podcasting” because of the lack of technical novelty. Are people lining up to say Flickr isn’t new and interesting because people have been putting photos on the web for 15 years? I find it exactly analogous to what we are discussing here – the novelty is in reducing the friction of creation and publishing to a low enough point to allow new human interactions to occur. My new response to the Mechanist argument is this: “What you say is entirely correct, entirely factual and entirely irrelevant to me.”

Audio Hijack and WordPress Experiment

I recorded my experimental zero-edit, zero-post-production show this morning. It’s very short by my standards, less than 10 minutes. Since I’m using the unregistered version of Audio Hijack Pro, at 10 minutes some godawful static is overlaid – you can hear it in the last seconds of this episode.

It worked pretty well overall. It will take a little time to get a feel for how to use the levels. Since all the inputs I’m using are actually “effects”, I don’t get a nice bouncing meter level and am instead doing it by ear in real time. That’s the downside. The upside is that when I finished recording the show, I was publishing it 5 minutes later. I think that gain is enough that whatever hiccups it has in the audio makes it worthwhile. Let me know what y’all think.

The tricky part is going to be getting WordPress and my bittorrent to work together. It is supposed to automatically make any MP3s you link to an enclosure, but that’s not what I want. I want the bittorrent to be the enclosure of the main feed. I looked in the PHP code of WordPress for the enclosure making bit so I could hack it, but never did see what makes this happen. We’ll see what can be done.

iPodderX Version 3

I’ve been using this for a while, so long in fact that to be honest I forget what all features are new since 2.2.9. I can say that iPodderX 3 is a huge step up and it is now released into the wild. I’ve been sworn to secrecy on the feature set, but it is damnably cool and features lots of stuff I’ve grown dependent on, such as converting MP3s to bookmarkable AAC as they are downloaded (something that makes use on the Shuffle that much better.) If you use it, this is a free upgrade so grab it post-haste. If you have been thinking about trying it, this is a great time to try it.

BTW, I’m not saying all this because they sponsor me – it’s kind of the other way around. They sponsored me because I used and liked the tool. It makes my life easier, and it does that better than the alternatives. In other words, it is the tool here not me.

Don Katz on Podcasting

Yesterday I listened to Rob Greenlee’s interview with Don Katz of Audible.com. I remain kind of befuddled by Rob’s approach to the podcasting world. He cannot talk about the subject without trying to point out that aspects of it existed previously, to the point that it has become a tic. It’s like he’s on a crusade to point out the injustice of people’s current interest and excitement in the subject and must try to deflate that. Good luck holding back that tide.

As time goes on, I find that part of the conversation has sank to the bottom of what interests me – exactly who did what first. Who gives a shit, really? What matters more to me is what has happened with the people doing it currently, which no matter how you slice it did not happen before last summer. That’s the thing I always think when someone wants credit for doing X aspect of podcasting Y years ago. No matter how true that is, that work on X didn’t start the snowball rolling down the hill. It sucks to be too late and it sucks to be too early – sometimes only the people working at “steam engine time” get the hosannahs. Sorry about that dudes, life is so unfair. Maybe the day everyone else gets everything they deserve, that will get straightened out for you.

Don Katz talked in the interview about how Audible did things much like podcasting, but again that was via a centralized authority. Unless I misunderstand how it works, I can’t decide to publish arbitrary free shows into the Audible catalog. You get what Audible decides to carry. The claims in this show to the contrary, it lacks one of the important aspects of what we are calling podcasting, mainly that ordinary citizens have access to produce and publish into the automatic download infrastructure.

Over time I have noticed that people who are uncomfortable with the grassroots notion of podcasting are almost entirely people who benefit from the status quo in one way or another. That is not to say that people from the current system always dislike it, because plenty of media folks love the medium and/or use it, but the people whose objection is “I’m not sure if it is a good idea to give just anyone a microphone” almost always are. I’m starting to pay attention to when someone expresses that opinion and examine if they have some of the following riding on the status quo: their job, their money, their social status, their celebrity, their ego. It seems antithetical to me to say “I think fewer people should be able to express themselves.” If someone says that, are they in a position weakened by that ease of expression by citizens? If so, you might should pay attention to that and take their opinion with a grain of salt. As you should mine, I point out with I hope is superfluity.