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Has Podcasting Arrived?

I'm not feeling happy about podcasting having settled into stone..

I’m not feeling happy about podcasting having settled into stone..

Podcasting has been going on for over a decade now — has it finally arrived? How can we tell?

There was once a time when the word itself was new, and you inevitably has to explain to multiple people what you just said. The word has the benefit of having a certain level of familiarity, flowing well like it’s always been part of the English language, despite the fact that it’s very new. It was quickly recognized as “legitimate” by venerated institutions like Oxford (2005), and most of us set to using the word, flawed as it might be.

And there was a point when podcasting transitioned from being “amateur hour” to being flooded by seasoned media pros, from traditional media makers like terrestrial and satellite radio to people who had prospered in the predecessors to podcasting, like YouTube stars and live streaming Internet stations.

It was a very strange period of time, with traditions developed from within the existing podcasting community clashing with the long-established behaviours of traditional media. It was also a blossoming of numbers, when podcasts went from the few you could list on a page to the multiple attempts at directories and to the current explosion across all of the web.

(That shouldn’t have been unexpected, given we’d already seen this pattern in a similar genre of online communication, the blog. Still, it took many by surprise.)

There was also a gold rush amongst established podcasters and those who sensed a new media in which to make money. “Monetization” became a big buzzword, with companies like Mevio suggesting strongly that many would “give up the day job” and do media communications full-time. Some managed to do that, but the vast majority never realized the numbers on levels similar to traditional media that traditional advertisers considered significant.

Networks and aggregation tried to accumulate those numbers, but podcasting remained either a niche advertising industry or a side-effect of some other form of profit — often being the loss-leader for traditional media which sought money elsewhere.

Along came crowdfunding, which has created an interesting return rush to comments about monetization. Granted, people are much more cautious these days, but it seems to be more stably growing. Crowdfunding is the kind of “trickle-in” fundraising model that comes from lots of people giving a little bit, and giving it directly to the producer (as opposed to indirectly through sponsors), and that seems to promise a kind of stability that is easier to manage than the “make it rich, quick” feeling the earlier era promoted.

But has podcasting arrived?

No, I don’t think so.

It’s largely chaotic, directionless, unguided and yet subject to corporate interests. It’s dependent, fractured into multiple directions, and resting on its laurels. It lacks conventions of behavior, expectations of normalcy and consistent patterns.

It succeeds, of course, despite all of these things. In a way, because of the way it was formed, the chaotic nature has been its strength before. Now, it doesn’t help, but it doesn’t exactly hinder, either.

From the consumer point of view, podcasting is a mess. There are multiple ways to get a podcast, and they are all contradictory, fragmenting your experience rather than regularizing it. In a way, it feels like podcasting has given up on trying to even present a uniform platform, content to simply allow people to experience to content without any regard to how they can normalize that experience.

There are multiple apps, each providing a different organization, management and playback scheme. Many of them are situation-dependent, they often seem to be unaware that users are often in different contexts or have different needs based on content, time or category of podcast.

And forget about trying to tie these experiences together in any coherent whole. You may be one person, but every playback method (and sometimes even different instances of the same method) considers you to be an entirely different person, and doesn’t seem interested in what you’ve done elsewhere.

In an era when we are supposedly all working “in the cloud”, with our preferences and personal options consistently available across platforms, locations, times and contexts, it seems somewhat laughable that podcasting is so disorganized.

Perhaps more confusingly to me, it often appears as though no one else has noticed.

Academic papers appear to focus largely on using podcasts as an educational tool, something I think extends from a desperation to engage with their increasingly social-media-distracted students.

Books on podcasting focus on providing introductory material about the mechanics of podcasting, dealing as much with the use of particular audio software as they do about the philosophy of organization or potentiality embodied in a new medium.

Both of these are forgivably narrow foci, dealing with immediate needs within established and known parameters.

But they are also not enough. There needs to be more dialogue about potential, more attempts at shifting the medium to be useful, more consideration of alternative ways to organize podcasting, from both consumer and producer perspectives.

My fear now is not that podcasting is a passing fad. It was, once, but once traditional media discovered the usefulness of an Internet-distributed program, it was secure.

Instead, my fear is that podcasting, as a medium, will settle. I worry that the sorry state that it exists in now will be the best that it gets, for a long time. There was a tremendous push for innovation in the early days, and while some vestige of that still exists, it is coming from narrow, self-interested companies rather than open, intellectual group forums.*

(* Admittedly, this might be my own limited vision of what exists. Feel free to let me know where such discussions are taking place, and I’ll join them.)

All of this, I suppose, is my way of attempting to reinvigorate my own sense of why I started this blog in the first place. Something is missing, and if no one else is going to start rocking the boat, I suppose I’ll have to.

I like leaving the audience with a final question, a challenge to respond (even if sometime unrelated to the topic at hand). In this case, I’d like to suggest that you consider the limitations of podcasting in your own usage. Where does it fail? What makes it hard to use? What makes it hard to explain? Where is there a short-coming that, if only it were overcome, new vistas of podcasts would suddenly be available?

Headhost In The DarkDragon*Con 2014 was a very busy, very fun convention, and I’m very happy to have had the chance to participate not only as a wide-eyed viewer but also as a big-mouthed podcaster & presenter. :)

I was one quarter of the “Podcasting: Present, Past and Future” panel, along with good friends Chuck Tomasi and Kreg Steppe who collectively come from Technorama and individually podcast with Freestyle and Look What I Found, respectively. Also on the panel was someone I was not really familiar with, but will definitely change that in the future, the host of Nobody’s Listening and creator of the NLCast Network, James Kennison. The panel was set-up and moderated by Charles McFall, who I met last year.

Here’s the audio recorded by the good folks at Alpha Geek Radio, who were also live-streaming the entire event. I’m very happy to see this kind of support for the podcasting track, so they have my own thanks as well as bigger and better kudos.

We could have easily spent an entire panel on any one of these time eras, past, present or future. I think we spent a little too much time talking about the past, but it’s also the easiest thing to talk about. We gave some advice about podcasting, lessons learned and supportive slogans, but that was probably more effectively covered in Podcasting 101-type panels (which I did not attend this year).

About the present we spoke only a little. There are eminent things on the horizon of significance to podcasting, like the podcast patent wars, the release of new devices like smart watches, the rise of the fourth (or is it fifth?) wave of podcasters (who think they invented everything), the influx of professional radio and television productions being released as podcasts. Despite all this, we moved quickly into the future, in part (I believe) because there is some sense of frustration and urgency, and it always feels more useful to be a bit ahead of the current activity rather than reacting only to the present.

The future of podcasting is somewhat in question, and generally has always been. We’ve had some great leaders who have contributed those initial steps, and some great innovators along the way, but we are in a period of plateau. We, the podcasters, have become complacent with what has become established technology, and have ceased to truly innovate.

Instead, we see some motion in the bigger players like Apple. Despite my love-hate relationship with Apple products, they largely lead in podcasting support, from iTunes and its introduction of podcast “station”, to the Podcasts app for IOS, to the directory at the heart of iTunes which dictates certain rules, regulations and guidelines upon podcasts.

I’m not comfortable with the podcasting medium being defined by corporate or government interests. As a technologist, it offends me that we would not seek the best technological solution and possibility. As a broadcaster, it offends me that we might stifle the exciting prospects of a brand new medium by indifference. As an academic, it fascinates me that we have something which its own unique features and surprises me that we haven’t studied it properly.

So, I am revisiting this blog and podcast. The perpetual danger that always accompanies people who cry out “Why doesn’t such a thing exist?!?” is that someone will point the finger back at the speaker and say “But why don’t you do it?”.

I am not alone in this journey, and I’m going to need more time than a single hour to do it. So I’ll be blogging here, podcasting when I can, and enlisting others along the way to answer, from a philosophical standpoint: What Is Podcasting?

Update & Dragon*Con Podcasting Panel

Rusty Split

Are we doomed to division while the foundation crumbles?

It’s been a terribly long time since I stopped in, but I haven’t gone away, just got rather busy. I’m still busy, but I’m itching to get more regular posts here. I continue to work in both radio and do podcasting, and continue to wonder where this new medium is going.

Sadly, from what I’ve seen in the last couple of years, very little has actually changed.¬† Here are a few notes about my impressions, and a note about the panel I’m going to be at in Atlanta at Dragon*Con.

View full article »

Podcasting, Radio and Conferences

I’m a radio guy.

From a very early age, I was a fan of the radio, although when I was young, my choices were sparse. In the decades since, I’ve discovered the grand traditions of radio, largely because they are re-emerging now in both my day-job as the Program Director of an alternative, campus/community radio station and in my passion, which is podcasting.

I’m working on integrating these passions where possible, seeing where our radio programs can be podcasted and bringing shows I discovered as podcasts to radio. I continue to podcast and do radio shows every week, and continue to try to rediscover lost knowledge from the nearly-lost era of classic radio, as well as try to look forward to how it will all fit together in the future..

It’s traveling season for me, a rare treat in a life so busy, and I’m looking forward to it. What’s more, it all relates to podcasting, one way or another.

Next week I’ll be attending Balticon from May 25-28 near Baltimore, Maryland. It’s a science fiction convention by origin, but it also is perhaps the largest gathering of podcasters on the East Coast, save for Dragon*Con. There will be discussions mostly about the content of podcasts (fiction, news, fandom, philosophy), but I hope to pick the brains of several of the participants about the whole meta-discussion of podcasting. If I’m lucky, I’ll remember to record some audio for another UP! episode, but since these events also largely serve as my vacation and socializing time as well, I won’t exactly be at my most vigilant.

In June, I head to Kingston, ON for the annual NCRC event (National Campus/Community Radio Conference). At that, I’ll be talking to staff and volunteers from radio stations across this country (Canada) about the whole business, craft and madness that is community radio.

I’ll also be on four panels, two of which are going to relate to podcasting. One of them, in fact, is simply entitled “Podcasting”. I sat back last year and listened to what others had to say last year (my first year), but this year I feel confident that I can give advice and commentary (even if our own podcasting offerings have yet to flourish).

The other panel directly related to podcasting is entitled “The Future of Radio Technology”. Originally, I just proposed it as “The Future of Radio”, because while it will be related to technology, it’s not (to me) about better mics, better mixers and better transmitter. No, there is a definite need to consider what radio is, and to branch out from only having terrestrial broadcast as the primary medium. I don’t consider podcasts and broadcast radio to be the same, although the distinction between them is sometimes hard to see and even harder to articulate, but I want us to probe what the integration of such things can mean — and how we can position ourselves to best take advantage of them. It’s been a topic on the back of my mind for quite a while, but has been stifled as an active thought process by the other tasks in my life — most significantly, by the attempt to finish a PhD, which sees some progress.

The other two panels are on “Building a Kick-Ass Website” and “Advanced Audacity”, and while they aren’t directly related to podcasting, you can bet that my podcasting experience is related.

I’m going to try to record and release those sessions as podcasts afterward, but since they aren’t likely to be amplified and rooms where these talks are held are likely to be hard-walled and terrible for recording, I’m not sure what the quality will be.

If you find yourself at Balticon or at the NCRC this year, keep an eye out for some strange bearded dude talking to everyone about podcasting, by the name of Mark Kilfoil — sometimes known at the Encaffeinated ONE. :)

 

Are Podcasts Dying?” asks a blogger for Stuff online.

The evidence (paraphrased):

  1. The New York Times is getting out of podcasting.
  2. People the author’s age (youth?) aren’t listening to podcasts (but his parents love them).
  3. Most people listen to podcasts of shows that they missed on radio.
  4. Podcasts are hard to make.
  5. Podcasts are hard to monetize, and have “smallish” audiences.
  6. Podcasts are hard to get/manage.
So, let’s look at this closer…

Good friend and author, Scott Roche, is also a rather ambitious fellow. He’s recently launched an effort to catalogue the podcasts and podcasters out there, as an independent, community-driven effort. I’ve signed up, and maybe I can help — maybe you can too!

This effort is sparse, at the moment, but could grow, with effort and participation. It is the Internet Podcast Database (IPDB). (Scott has suggested that things will be moving soon to PodcastDatabase.com, so I’ll include that link as well.)


I’ve lamented continuously about the lack of real discovery and management tools we have for podcasts, so I won’t rehash that topic. Sadly, despite the break I’ve taken from publishing here, nothing really dramatic seems to have happened.

One thing I’ve never really talked about here is Stitcher, or the various other on-device podcatchers. Mostly, that’s out of ignorance and a lack of time to remedy it, but also because I confess a certain aversion to the concept of end-device podcast management. Some are quite happy to separate the collection of podcasts from their central home computer or laptop — mostly, I suspect, because it frees you from using the stagnated singular leading product in the market, iTunes. Given the growth in processor power and storage on portable devices, as well as their role in day-to-day activities formerly associated with desktop computer use growing (email, web browsing, messaging, gaming, etc), it’s a trend that’s likely to continue.

But it leaves power-users like myself a bit in the dust. I can’t possibly store the unheard episodes of the podcasts I’m already subscribed to on any portable devices on the market, nor would I want to subject myself to podcast playlist management on a screen barely big enough to handle my sausage fingers.

(Side note: bring back physical buttons, dammit!)

I also wonder about the history of a podcast being appreciated when you put in on a compressed device. There are podcasts I’ve collected for a “rainy day” of listening. Others which had their run, podfaded, and have now become complete volumes on my “podshelf”, to be brought down, dusted off, and enjoyed when I have a lull in other programs, much like I will pick up a book from my bookshelf that hasn’t yet been written. There are other podcasts which I will complete but not delete; rather, I put them back on the podshelf to enjoy again at a later date. This is particularly true of fiction podcasts, but there is a class of “timeless” podcast which includes non-fiction as well.

And finally, there is the biggest problem of all: podcasting silos, otherwise known (crudely) as the creation of a vertical marketplace. Each of these end-device applications has it’s own database of podcasts, which is created either through the googlescraping of podcasts and defunct directories, or must be submitted to by overworked podcast producters who have to somehow keep on top of every nickel-and-dime-store podcasting application creator’s product release.

So, instead of really solving a problem, for example, the issue of iTunes being a “walled garden”, you have, instead, the creation of a panoply of walled gardens, or the creation of the “podcasting walled garden” as a category of thing, and instances replicated throughout these applications.

So, I laud Scott’s effort for an independent body of knowledge, free of individual applications. It’s form is that of a wiki at present, and it is a community-driven effort, but I suspect it may transform into a form of directory at some point. With luck, it will survive the transformation with the lessons of the past failed and faded directories, and provide a resource that can automatable connections to software. With luck, we’ll see the offspring of such a project be the podcast directory service equivalent of what RSS is to podcasts; that is, an organizing principle which is metaphorically accessible and machine-readable.

Where’s My Remote?

You car radio can be randomly accessed; you can tune into any station along the dial, although you generally have a few favourites. Rather than wear your dial out, and to save on car accidents, car stereos developed presets. Now, in the digital age, we still tune in somewhere along the spectrum from one side of the frequency bands to the other, but we still float back and forth and jump to faves.

Television grew quickly from just a few channels to many. I remember the dial on my mother’s most advanced TV was still only rated for about a dozen channels. We propped a cable box on top and the little 2-number LED display could suddenly get all the way to 99 channels. Obviously, it made no sense to flip through the channels linearly, so it came with a number pad.

Even more significantly, it came with a remote control.

(Yes, this is eventually¬†about podcasting..) View full article »

Managing: time, podcasts, life

Podcasting is not really a profession, as such — and neither is pontificating about podcasting.

That means that it really falls into the hobby category, and that means that other things take priority, sometimes.

Obviously, I’ve had a few priorities to deal with, but I’ve kept this blog set up and paid for the hosting to make sure that I remind myself to come back to it, when I have time.

And then I realized: I will never have time, just free-floating time that is free of all obligations.

I have to do what people have been telling me for years: I’ll have to make time.

For all those years, I’ve bristled at that term, feeling myself surrounded by obligations that don’t have any room to wiggle in. I’ll still do, but I’m starting to realize the real essence behind the phrase. It’s not about “making” time, it’s about deciding not to waste it.

With the multitude of things to distract, amuse and work at, it’s no surprise that time rarely feels wasted, but rather just consumed.

Ah, but what does this have to do with podcasting? If anything?

Actually, I think it has something very fundamental to do with the emergence of the podcasting medium. I think podcasting is one of the ultimate expressions of people wanting to organize their leisure time, to take control over the schedule of entertainment that, for the majority of its modern timeframe, was out of our control.

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How Do Podcasts Propogate?

How do podcasts propagate?

If you listen* to podcasts, think about how you came to listen to them. I suspect that the most popular answers, based on my own experience and discussions with others, are in roughly this order:

  1. I knew someone working on the podcast
  2. Someone I knew recommended the podcast because they listen to it.
  3. I heard a promo played on a podcast I already listen to.
  4. The podcast is attached to some other media product (TV series, movie, book series, video game, music, etc.) that I already consume.
  5. I did a web search for specific keywords.
  6. The podcast was recommended by iTunes.
  7. I looked in a podcast directory at the most popular podcasts (possibly within a specific category).
  8. I searched through a podcast directory.

Any others? (I suspect there are; please leave your additions in the comments.)

Now, look at the list again. The order is admittedly somewhat slanted to make a point, but I think it still accurately reflects the sentiment that I’ve heard from the people I’ve talked to, with a bit of reflection on my part.

Let’s simplify the list a bit, to make my point more clear:

  1. Social networking
  2. Commercial enterprises, advertising and prominent search results
  3. Directories

View full article »

Save The World… Please?

I’ve seen the pictures and videos of the recent earthquakes in Japan, and I am nearly speechless. I’ve only been able to shake my head, to try to reconcile the scale of the disaster. I reeled a bit from the New Zealand quake, as I actually know people there. The Haitian quake was more distant, as I don’t know anything about the place, and earthquakes and tsunamis and all other disasters before have elicited in me concern, but also frustration.

The question always arises: how can I help?

I don’t have money to give, can’t afford to go there and help in person.

But I have a voice, and a little bit of savvy, and I trust some organizations to do the right thing.

If you can, donate to an organization you trust. I know that the majority of my readers/listeners come from Canada, the US and the UK, so here are links to the appropriate Red Cross websites.

The Canadian Red Cross

The American Red Cross

The British Red Cross

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