Lights Go On, Some Stay Dim

I listened to yesterday’s episode of the Gillmor Gang. Dave Winer and Adam Curry were both on, as were several members of The Firesign Theater. It was really fascinating to listen to how quickly Ossman, Proctor and Bergman got from knowing nothing about podcasting to the “bingo” experience. This is a perfect example of what I’ve been saying – people in the business of creating interesting audio for other people to listen to need very little explanation to realize the value. Very quickly, one of the FT guys realized that they could podcast all their live performances when they go on tour next year. Yeah, daddy! Listen to this show, it is absolutely great. I’ll admit that I am even somewhat immune to the Firesign Theater gene (I never played them on my late 80’s comedy show for WREK because I didn’t like them) and I liked everything they said and now am more likely to go back and give them a fresh listen.

I’ve lost the link but I saw a reference to someone who points out the irony of webloggers that dismiss podcasting, because most of the arguments they use are straight out of dismissals of weblogging circa 1999. “Why do I want to listen to amateur radio?” is easily mapped to “Why would I want to read amateur journalism by random knuckleheads?” The argument “But there is more I can listen to” is the same as “There are more weblogs I can read.” The webloggers who don’t see the value in podcasting because it isn’t an exact analog of blogs are standing so close to the tree they fail to notice they are in a forest. That line of thinking, the “I can skim blogs faster than I can listen to podcasts” shows a remarkable lack of vision. If you think of the value of podcasting as tied to that of weblogging, you have your sights set waaaaaay too low. Even though much of what is out there originally were audioblogs, very soon they will be in the minority as lots of new kinds of programs go online. The fact that you can hear fresh voices talking to you about subject matter of mutual interest with such a low barrier to entry at both ends of the pipe, that is the value here. Already, we are seeing the early days of the explosion in variety of that subject matter and there is so far to go until we hit the limit that it is effectively infinite.

I’ll talk about this in the next audioblog at more length, but I also think people are attributing a weakness that isn’t there. I hear a lot “There is more than I can listen to”, but that’s a completely bogus argument. There is more anything in any medium than you can consume. You can’t read all the books and magazines published even in a small field, you can only listen to one radio show at a time, even with TiVo you can’t watch all of the TV that comes down. BFD, podcasting is bound by the same physical laws of the universe as all media. Oh the humanity! The key here is not your ability to cover completely everything published via podcast, it is whether you can be interested and engaged for all the time you want to devote to it. The important variable is not your “percentage completion” in listening to everything that came down the wire, it is the amount of time you spend bored and wishing you had something more to your liking to listen to. If that latter time is approaching zero, then mission accomplished via podcasting! As long as you are never at the mercy of listening to radio that doesn’t meet your needs just because it is your only option, this system is working just fine.

Update: Here is Rory Blyth making similar points.

Violent Agreement

Just to put it in text once here, I actually like Russell Beattie and like his work. He and I disagreed on one small point in the larger context of enthusiasm for podcasting. I made a few remarks about him that were not called for, for which I’m sorry. He made a few about me that were not quite correct. I’m cool with that. You gots to be able to take what you dish out.

Around the blogosphere I have seen a few things that made me think that some people have been influenced by me to have a negative opinion of him. That’s not my intention. He in general is every bit as excited about podcasting as anyone, and I appreciate that from him. I just want to be clear on that. However, I do want him to turn up the volume on his podcasts so the damn things are audible. Cranked all the way, I can barely hear them.

Pete Prodoehl on Podcasting

Pete of Rasterweb says very similar things about the birth of podcasting to what I said in today’s audioblog. I’m tired of people minimizing the significance of this because they had downloadable audio previously. Well, no shit. And every time someone talks about the value of TiVo I tell them that “hey, I had a betamax in 1979 so TiVo should mean nothing to you.” Let’s get real. We salute you for your pioneering work in audio creation, but it just wasn’t time for this idea until recently. Don’t rail at the tide for that, just step up or step off. If you were doing this good work many years ago, do us a favor and now podcast your archives so we can experience the joy for ourselves.

I had several episodes of Reality Break that were downloadable from the website in 1998 – in Real Audio which was the prevalent format then. Does that make me a proto-podcaster? No, of course not. The prerequisite infrastructure didn’t exist yet. In fact, because my show was aired on WREK in Atlanta it was being streamed on the internet back in 1994, one of the first 2 radio stations to simulcast over the internet. I’m not jumping up and down about that, trying to get everyone to “respect my authority.” It’s kind of interesting in a historical way, but shouldn’t matter to anybody. It certainly does not mean that current podcasters should bow down to me as their spiritual leader.

Lots of people are doing lots of good work to bring all this about, on the publishing tools end, on the receiving tools end and on the content creation end. Claiming that these people are irrelevant because you did something similar once is uncool. If you did good work then, jump in now. It’s very simple, which is what this is all about. If you were able to do it when it was difficult, get back in the game now, friends. Show us how much better you are than all us the good old fashioned way, by doing better work than we do.

iPodders and Unique URLs

A while back, I created a few proof of concept test feeds to use the iPodder class of scripts to get complete programs from WREK’s weekly MP3 archive. One of the issues here that I ran into from the script development end is that because of the way that rolling archive works, the URL that is downloaded is exactly the same every week. Each week, that file is overwritten with new stuff, but the URL is constant. In my script, I built in the capacity to have the cache based on the date, so that the same URL could come down more than once, if the date was newer. I notice that in most of the new scripts, this capacity is missing. I could lobby the developers to build that in, but as far as I know WREK is the only existing system for which this matters anyway.

I decided to skin this cat on the server side. I wrote a simple redirector script that will take in an URL with some date parameters and redirect it to the corresponding file in the WREK archives. This way, the URL will be unique every week as the data parameters change. This should trick all the scripts into getting the file anew. It’s not really a trick, they are based on uniqueness of URLs and the URLs really are unique. That the underlying file will be the same every week is irrelevant. I’m hoping that this works, my first test looked promising. The trick will be if Monday morning I wake up to have new WREK programs in my iTunes.

Wire Me Up

The Wired article I was interviewed for is now up on the website. By and large, it’s a pretty good story that captures the excitement certain of us have for the medium.

It has the obligatory “still, some say this is no biggie” section that any such article seems to have. Interestingly, the quote he pulled for that is from a weblog that I had left a comment on. I stand by what I said in that comment, the blase “Oh, I’ve been doing this for time period X because I’ve had downloadable audio files” comments all miss the point. You have only had this if arbitrary listeners were able to subscribe and have your files automatically appearing in their playlists without attention or intervention. That automatic handling is the podcasting, not the availability of the media files.

All in all, I think the IM interview worked well. In the final story I sounded less like a dumbass than baseline.

Update: A little farther down my pass in the aggregator, I found this post from Mitch Ratcliffe that also references me. Mitch and I talked earlier in the week and I had a good time speaking to him. It’s just dumb luck that the first post someone will hear now if they follow these very prominent links and listen begins with me explaining the origin of the “Evil Genius” tag. The downside is that it also has my angry response to the folks saying I talk too much about podcasting. Ah, the yin and the yang. Got to break some eggs to make an omelet, your mileage may vary, Viva Knievel.

Holy Hell!

Goddamn, I just heard my name on the Gillmor Gang! It’s at 9:16 for thems what care! Holy crap. I’ve been in a bad mood most of the day, but a ton of really cool things are happening.

Update: There is an even cooler mention there towards the end, with Steve Gillmor saying stuff that makes it obvious that he has listened. He cites Brother Curry and myself as people doing work that he thinks is the quality equivalent of anyone on the broadcast media. Dag, chilluns!

Different Class of People

From Patrick Richie comes this post tieing together the winning of the X-prize and podcasting:

Podcasting and private space travel aren’t about doing something new, people have been doing both for decades. It’s about allowing a whole different class of people to participate in the process. And that is precisely what makes both so cool.

The fact that anyone with a net connection, a microphone and the desire to do so can have his own Radio show is more than just awesome it’s historic, and the results are awesome too…

Well said, Patrick. It’s not about the fact that “I can read a weblog faster than I can listen to it”, its about about the fact that for no cost, vast numbers of people are suddenty empowered to do what before only the gatekeepers could. I absolutely can’t wait for the next phase when new and previously unconsidered forms of programming come about.

Poets publishing their spoken works via podcast? Candidates making all their stump speeches available? Shows like This American Life making the raw interviews that go into their programs available for “remixing?” Someone like Brad Sucks, rather than just posting links to the fan remixes of his songs publishes them via podcast? Historical societies interviewing the oldest members of communities to capture recollections before they disappear and making them available? Some brilliant but crazy shit so far out there that I can’t even conceive of it? I hope so! I long to be astounded by what comes next.

Attention Train

Earlier this evening I was interviewed for Wired News about podcasting. I’m not sure when the story will appear. I was one of the first interviewed for it, so I guess sometime when he either gets enough to file a story or gets tired of hearing the same few bits of information is when it will get filed. Watch the skies.

This was conducted via IM, which is actually a pretty pleasant way to go. You have a safety switch right before you send a message, where you can sanity check and make sure that’s what you want a reporter to get from you. That was very different when I was interviewed for the Atlanta paper about the Indigo Girls. Then, everything I said sounded stupid even as it left my lips, and getting put in print didn’t help it out one bit. I might conceivably have said something worth quoting this time out.

DotNetRocks

I subscribed to the podcast feed for DotNetRocks and am downloading some of the shows. I’m curious to listen to the programs. I can’t say I know that much about .NET, never having programmed to it, and if I’ve ever used something written to it I didn’t know it. Mostly I’m curious about their format and how the shows sound. It is good to see some other people putting out shows that are adopting the medium so readily.

This echoes something Curry and Winer were discussing on the most recent Trade Secrets – that radio people and those who create programming only need a 20 second explanation before they are excited by the possibilities of the platform. Particularly for those who already publish audio that they have MP3 archives for, it just makes sense. “You mean that if I write this simple XML file and make it match my files, people can have the programs automatically show up on my listeners computer? Sign me up!”

Podcast for Advocacy

One of the ideas that people have floated to me for podcasting is that a candidate on the campaign trail could very easily record some or all of their speeches and also statements every day about what they were doing and what they stand for. Well, here is someone saying just that. I love this idea. It would cost little or nothing to have a campaign intern recording the speech on a laptop, then rip it and post it and update the RSS. Those interested voters can then get all these showing up automatically. I’d be even happier if all the candidates did that. Then you could subscribe to all of them and see which one makes the most sense to you over the long haul. Imagine that, forming your opinions of a candidate by listening to lots of what they say!

Bittorrent Experiment: Wild Success

I haven’t been talking about the Bittorrent experiment here, partly because it has stopped feeling like an experiment and more like just the way I do business. Before I published the web link to today’s audioblog, I first published the link to the .torrent in the RSS feed a few hours prior. This was the only way anyone could have found out about it. Like always, I published the link in that RSS and started seeding it from here at the house. Within a few minutes I got my first peer connecting to me, and within say 20 or 30 minutes I had multiple other people who had complete full seeds rolling. At the high point, I had 11 different people downloading it simultaneously, and I by the time I published the web link I had served out a share ratio of 13 or so.

My own copy of iPodder happened to pick up the Bittorrent file as well, and I noticed from the logs that in the time it took for it to come down, the share ratio was actually over 1 – for this 11.5M file the iPodder bittorrent served out about 15M. That’s actually something that is pretty good to see. One of my worries about the whole use of the Bittorrent baked into iPodder is that because these processes are not sticking around and seeding after the download is done (at least, they aren’t now) that this wouldn’t help that much. It’s good evidence that things will be pretty good if just the partial download coming down can do such significant uploading. This suggests that for the iPodders, things will be pretty good with some simultaneity. Thus far, I’m delighted with the way this experiment has gone.

Podcasting Conversions

The Linux Link Tech Show has seen the light, and is now publishing an RSS feed for podcasting. Cool! What I’ll be curious about is if in a week or three if they can get some feeling for the proportion of their downloads that are coming via this route vs. normal link clicking.

I talk a little about the show and Linc Fessenden in the newest audioblog (which is converting to MP3 in the background as I type.) The more folks like this that come around the better because it helps emphasize a point that is being lost – podcasting != audioblogging. You can audioblog and podcast that but podcasting as a transmission medium is waaaaay bigger than that. The sooner that message is driven home, the better.

Open Source Podcast Promos

Eric Rice has a cool idea – recording open source promos for each other’s audioblogs. This was inspired by the promo Doug Kaye did for Gnomedex that Adam and I played in our audioblogs. Says Eric:

With all of us chatterboxes audioblogging, podcasting, and posting mp3s of ourselves, I thought, why not do some open-source voiceover for our friends and the community. I’d love to throw my two cents in for a hip Daily Source Code or IT Conversation promo. Use the voiceover at will. Or don’t.

That is an interesting notion. If someone sends me pointers to promos for their podcasts or for promos you did to someone else’s, by god I’d use them.

Dan Gillmor on Podcasting

Dan Gillmor has a post about podcasting. Check out the comments below it to get a sneak preview what the next few months will be like. This is all the same stuff I’ve grown so fond of in my 5 years of ebook advocacy. The amazing part of the detraction is that a lot of these are the same arguments why weblogs were unnecessary and irrelevant. “We have pros to do this, why bother with this amateur stuff?” To appropriate a line from Steve Gillmor’s defense of RSS:

Nothing indicates success more than the counterattack by those threatened by disruptive innovation.

This is all predicated on asking the wrong question. It isn’t “What is so important about these guys in their basements talking to their computers?” The real question is “How has modern commercial radio failed us so badly that these guys and their homegrown content is more compelling than what huge corporations are able to provide?” The answer is simply – relevance. Clear Channel has gone out of its way to make radio less relevant to the listeners. Instead of locally programmed and DJ’ed shows, it is national playlists and DJs that run 20 different stations simultaneously from Scottsdale Arizona. On the otherhand, when I pick podcasts to subscribe to, it is relevant to me. If it isn’t, I unsubscribe from it. It’s a remarkably efficient system. If someone is talking about a subject I care about, it need not have the highest production values. I’m starved for relevance, and all the highly produced bullshit served out by big media isn’t giving it to me. Listening to guys talk about board games is more interesting to me than anything I can find on the 200 digital cable channels available to me right now.

Definition of Podcasting

Let’s get in front of this before it gets out of hand. As I’ve said 100 times, I love Doc Searls but he’s not only trying to ascribe new acronyms to the term “podcasting”, he is using it to describe things that aren’t quite it, thereby confusing new people as they learn about it. Here’s what I see as necessary for something to be a podcast:

  1. Must be a discrete and downloadable media file
  2. Published in an RSS 2.0 enclosure feed
  3. Handled automatically on the receiver end, downloaded and moved to where it needs to be and put in the playlists for your playback device

That’s it. It’s a really freaking simple concept. A downloadable MP3 is not a podcast – it is a necessary but not sufficient component. He was referring to The Linux Show as a podcast, which unless I’m missing something, is not. [Update: It is now] It does have MP3s archives (which I had to dig like a MF to even find on their site) but I can’t find an RSS feed to save my life. You can’t subscribe to this and just have it show up. Folks, that’s the important part here. Being able to download things is cool, but having them show up automatically and be ready for you to play without your attention being required is the thing. That is what podcasting is.

In summation: podcasting is based on “asynchronous bundles of passion, automatically delivered to your device of choice while you sleep.”

Update: For the record, here is the ipodder-dev message in which Dannie Gregoire coined the term “podcaster.”

Constructive Criticism

Just a word of advice to you new podcasters getting in the game – watch the music levels. I’ve heard a number of otherwise excellent podcasts that were marred by having an intro, outro or music bed so loud that it obscured what you were saying. If you are mixing live, keep an eye on that. It might be a good idea to do a dry run a few times just starting up, talking for a few seconds and going out, so you get a feel for the right place to put volume sliders at the critical moments. If you drop your music in at the end in a second track in Audacity or SoundEdit or Sourceforge or the like, learn how to use the envelope tool to drop the levels and/or the fade in/out controls. You undo all your hard work creating the bundle of passion when you drown it out, so please just take a little extra effort to calibrate this one aspect. Once you learn how it feels, it will be nearly effortless to hit it every time.

Remember, when the music drowns you out the Maciej Ceglowskis win.

Last.FM

Here’s something that never occurred to me that it would happen, but I should have thought of. Both myself and Adam Curry are in this guy’s Last.FM list as “artists” he has most frequently played. For those listeners with the Audioscrobbler plugin that listen via Winamp, you will get added to their account. There’s another strong reason to fill out your goddamn IDV3 tags, podcasters and distributors of MP3s! You want to get credit for your listenership on sites like this, and you want your fans to be able to do the “people who like X like Y” based on you, right?

Gillmor Gang on Podcasting

Yesterdays episode of the Gillmor Gang had a lot of discussion on podcasting and iPodder. There was a little bit of misinformation like in what Scott Rafer of Feedster said on various points (Adam Curry was not a “VH1 VJ”, there do exist Windows and Linux ipodders, etc.) By and large, though, there was a lot of talk and it was all positive. The mindshare is growing.

(Note: what comes around goes around. Whilst I was giving him crap about getting some facts wrong, I had originally said Rafer was CEO of Technorati, thereby committing the same sins as I was bugged about by him. A little too ironic, wouldn’t you say?)

I was going to write up more about this, but I’ll save it for the audioblog later today. Rather than type up their quotes and then discuss them, I’ll actually use the audio clips on the show today. We might as well use the medium for what it does well, right?