Archive for April, 2010

I’ve struggled to define podcasting properly before. I’ve seen people (including me) use an enormous number of words, but I seem to have hit upon most of the key elements with this startingly short definition: “automated digital downloaded media”.

Let’s look at that definition in detail — in reverse.

  • “media”: We’ll be throwing this term around quite frequently. The basic meaning is one of conveyance: “media” is the truck on which our information is delivered. We could get that information in other ways (newspaper, TV, web site), but each medium tends to shape its content, sometimes subtly, sometimes explicitly. The question of how podcasting shapes its content will be a separate discussion on its own — perhaps many. Note that “media” doesn’t really imply that much about content. Podcasts are typically used to deliver video or audio content — although some occasionally deliver PDF texts — but might conceivably deliver any kind of media. This, too, will also get (at least) a post of its own.
  • “downloaded”: There are two different facets described by the term “downloaded”: method and asynchronicity. When we use the word “downloaded”, we silently add “from the Internet”. (At one point — and on rare occasions — we also talk about “downloading” from a computer, but most often we really meant “sync”.) We don’t talk of our newspaper being “downloaded” to our doorstep in the morning, or the act of transporting a DVD box-set from the store to our home as “downloading”. There’s also a sense that we initiated the action — we went and got the content, it was not delivered to us. The other facet, asynchronicity, gets implied by the past-tense of the word “downloaded”. It was an act we already did, a precursor to consumption. It implies that the time at which we get a podcast is different from when we consume it. I think this is a pretty important distinction: it pretty quickly separates podcasts from streaming media, where you consume it while it is coming to you, like live TV or uStream or radio.
  • “digital”: As a computer scientist (and what does that term mean, anyway?), I find the widespread use of the word digital to be somewhat amusing. The origins of the word are meaningless here — who really cares that it relates to fingers? — but it has become a catch-all term for anything which is not analog. There’s not much that really is an analog experience — not much besides real life, that is! — so this distinction isn’t quite as big as it once was. Primarily, it ties us back to the computer again, and suggests that it isn’t exactly part of real life, in a way. Digital media live in an imaginary, virtual world that isn’t exactly here or there, but somewhere else. (Or maybe this is really a definition fitting of the content of all media: it doesn’t exist unless it is experienced.)
  • “automated”: Downloading digital files (media) predates podcasting. I remember downloading and listening to episodes of some Internet-only shows long before podcasting, but it was a pain. When a new episode came out, I had to go check myself (or hopefully catch a notice in my churning email, if they sent one out), then find the link, download it, copy it to my portable device, then listen. When it was finished, I had to then take it off the device manually. The automation and streamlining of these tasks was a fundamental and tremendously important step in making podcasting important and widespread. Before, it was akin to having to tune a TV manually to a station, rather than just flipping between known channels and telling the PVR to “get me that program when it comes out”.

Whew! This definition contained a lot more information than I expected. What’s your definition?

The Structure of UP!

Before I dive into article writing, I want to give some indication of what can be expected, what kind of articles can be expected. While I’m setting this out as a plan, there will inevitably be changes along the way. Nonetheless, as one of my former software development managers loved to say: “You always need to start from a plan; it’s the only way you can deviate from it!”.

Typically, articles will fall into 15 categories:

  • “Podcasting Is…”: defining articles, usually looking at particular aspects that seem core to the concept of podcasting. Examples include “aynchronous”, “mobility”, “easy to do”, “easy to consume”, “subscribing”.
  • “Podcasting Is Not…”: defining articles in a negative way, looking at some aspect which people generally confuse with podcasting, but which don’t really fit the concept. Example include “streaming media”, “podcasting live”, “direct download”.
  • “Podcasting Means…”: articles trying to understand the importance of podcasting in a broader sense, trying to suss out what makes it important in both a positive and negative way. Example include “democratizing media”, “cheapening media”.
  • “Podcasting Versus…”: articles comparing and contrasting podcasting to other things, most particular other forms of media. Unlike the “… Is Not” articles, there is a focus on looking at all of the aspects of the other media, rather than just picking on one. Example include “radio”, “TV”, “blogging”, “newspapers”, “YouTube”, “uStream”, “MP3 music”.
  • “Podcasting Should…”: articles which look at the potential of podcasting, both from examining the things that it is doing wrong or badly now (and how they might be fixed) and from dreaming a bit about what changes can make the medium stronger. Examples include “podcatchers as proprietary software”, “organizing podcasts”, “podcast interactivity”, “closing the feedback loop”.
  • “Under the Hood”: articles discussing the mechanics of podcasting. The focus of this site is not about the mechanics — there are plenty of books and web sites which cover that. Sometimes, however, it might be useful to discuss these things and not force people to go searching for background on their own. Examples include “RSS”, “MP3 format”, “M4A format”, “routing feeds”, “tagging”.
  • “Bad Podcaster Habits”: articles describing what appears to be bad habits that podcasters fall in to, why they might not be good, and what you can do about them. This began as a series of Twitter comments borne out of my listening to thousands of podcast episodes, and people seemed to appreciate them.
  • “Good Podcaster Habits”: articles which give praise where it’s due, that point out what habits that podcasters might have which are really good — even if they aren’t conscious of doing them.
  • “News”: articles related to any news articles, statements, blog posts or related goings-on in the podcasting community. Examples include conference notifications, changes in relevant specifications.
  • “Links”: articles describing an existing or new website, mailing list/forum, blog post, podcast directory, individual podcast or something else that seems worth mentioning. This is not meant to be exhaustive, but hopefully useful and illustrative.
  • “Bookshelf”: articles discussing books about podcasts. There are a number of books on podcasting that already exist, and new ones will (hopefully!) continue to come out. I won’t necessarily be offering in-depth reviews, and my book purchasing budget is small, but I want to make sure to acknowledge them.
  • “Interview”: articles which either describe or transcribe part of an interview I’ve done, or describe and discuss interviews that others have done.
  • “Op Ed”: articles which present particular opinions. Now, this entire site can be considered my opinion, really, but I welcome dissenting and otherwise alternative points of view. I hope to invite others to participate with their own articles, and this section is meant to include them.
  • “Meta”: articles about the running of the site itself. Example include warnings of upcoming outage or delays, notice of changes to structure, answering complaints.
  • “Rant”: articles which present a highly emotional response to something, usually negative (but not necessarily always). Sometimes, there are current features or activities that just drive me nuts in this crazy podcasting world, or things which just earn from me some unmitigated praise. Rants are likely to be less structured, less cultured, more raw, less thought out, pure expression.

You might notice that these all describe articles, but not podcast episodes. I haven’t worked out any sort of podcasting schedule (if there is to be one), but in reality any of these articles might be presented as a podcast episode, or part of one. I want both the site and the podcast to be useful on their own, and when integrated together. It just so happens that, at the moment at least, it’s easier for me to type articles than it is for me to record episodes.

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