Via Read Write Web comes the news that Yahoo’s podcast site is shutting down on Halloween. Very scary! I’m not neutral on this, as I have a dog in this fight with AmigoFish. It would benefit me if everyone that formerly used the Y! podcast thing (or even a fraction) would come to my site and use it. The interesting question is whether Yahoo getting out of this business helps or hurts the broader new mediascape. This commentor at RWW thinks it is a sign of doom:
This article nails it. Audio podcasting is dead. It never caught on because most people got tired of listening to all the amateur hacks trying to be amateur d.j’s and pundits without the talent. Yahoo is getting out before the whole audio podcasting thing crashes to the ground. I’m sure it wasn’t an arbitrary decision.
That’s a valiant swing at the straw man, and obviously not an opinion I share. I’ve said before that everyone who believes that “audio podcasting is dead” are the same people who said it would never fly three years ago, the same ones who said “It isn’t growing fast enough” two years ago. They have always been drag on the system and are unimportant to anyone who actually cares about the medium. New media is better off if everyone with that sentiment will turn their attention elsewhere to the next thing. They won’t, because the main driver of their continued belief is the outrage that people have the poor taste to be interested in this thing that they don’t like. (I have this with Twitter but I try to suppress my urge to talk about it.) My reality on the ground is that I’m listening to even more podcasts today than I was a few years ago, and in fact the percentage that are repurposed big media (NPR, BBC, commercial broadcasters) has shrunk in the last 12 months while the number of indy efforts I listen to has increased. It is possible that the “podcasting industry” is in trouble. What is not in trouble is the podcasting medium and the people that publish work of interest to me.
So then, what killed Yahoo’s podcasting product? I’d love to hear something definitive from the company. My guess is that since they are burdened with the big company mentality now, that the segment didn’t grow fast enough or generate enough traffic for them to prioritize resources to work on it. When it first went online I fiddled with it and I thought that it well and truly sucked. Why? I personally find any new media directory that hides the real URLs of things to be completely and totally scumbaggy. When all the URLs it present are redirection URLs meant to obfuscate where the traffic is really heading, that’s pretty cheesy and that’s entirely how Yahoo operated and how a lot of these sites work. “Hey, let’s take these open RSS feeds, lock them in our database and make people use our site exclusively to get the data back out. Buwaahaahaaaaa!” I really hate sites that do that. When you do get the real URL, it is embedded in this weird pcast file that I have never known what I was supposed to do with.
To be honest, when I heard that Yahoo was shutting down this service, I thought about setting up robots to scrape out what information I could for AmigoFish. The only real thing of value to me would be the feed URLs of shows that exist but I didn’t already have listed. Looking around at Yahoo, I decided they didn’t provide enough value to even bother with it. They have these long hash URLs, presumably to keep someone from just iterating down the list of IDs the way you could in most other directories (including mine.) They only expose a few at a time, locked away in their DB. It’s not that difficult to take their URLs and keep following the redirects and cracking pcast files until you finally get to the real one but it just wasn’t worth it to me. I’d get better value by just encouraging people to import their OPML files. I note too that people don’t seem to be able to export their subscriptions from Yahoo, so if you spent a lot of time subscribing and rating and doing reviews on there, that work evaporates in a few days. “Thanks for doing lots of that work, we’re not going to let you have it. Tough luck for trusting us!” Not nice. In AmigoFish, not from Day One but maybe from Day Ten you could export the OPML files of both your predictions as well as your rated shows. At the very least, you could take your ball and go play somewhere else without losing that time investment. I did and do think that is important. I hate doing lots of busy work for online sites without even having access to it, and I wouldn’t ask that of others.
Is Yahoo leaving the market a bad sign? I don’t think so, not just because of a zero sum “more for the rest of us” belief, but because I think it just rarifies the field to the people who didn’t enter on a whim and won’t leave because of one. I’d put both Odeo (with the original founders, not the current version) and Yahoo in that camp. I’m happy to see the going get tough enough. Let everyone who is going to fold their cards do it, and the rest of us will play out the hand. Let’s get it on!