Category: Rant

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?

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 »

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, 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 »

Been a while, hasn’t it? Sorry about that — life has become busy (as if four letters really encompasses it!).

Still, I remain committed to the open question which started me down this path: What should a podcast be?

Of course, in order to understand the desired future, we really need to understand the present, and that comes from understanding the past first. Fortunately, this is one of the few historical events where I can say “I was around during the whole thing”, and it’s still early yet.

So, let’s look a the present, shall we? I admit that my view might be limited, as I haven’t been as active myself in recent months, so if you don’t agree with my observations and have other data to add, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

This was originally a post with several points, but after starting to elaborate on them, I discovered that each one is an essay. So, rather than bury you on my return, here’s the first of them:

Directories Suck (except iTunes.. maybe)

View full article »

Breaking (and Using!) the Chains That Bind Us

Due to my recent Internet connection issues, I won’t be able to publish any sort of podcast for the next couple of months. Naturally, this stalls the progress of this podcast, but I’ll try to capture my thoughts with a few more regular blogposts (and concentrate on the other work I need to get done!).

In this case, I’ve become acutely aware of the fragility of receiving and uploading podcasts, given that both aspects of it are being blocked by the fascist administrators running the IT department of my lodgings (in the name of “bandwidth management”; lots of bandwidth available when no content is delivered!).

(I’ll try to keep the vitriol to a minimum, but this issue has my dial cranked up to “really annoyed”. Hey: if I weren’t passionate, I would be less worthy of listening to, right? ;))

So, back on topic: fragility. When got blocked, I was aghast: suddenly, I realized how much dependence I had on a single company, both for receiving podcasts and for producing them. When got blocked, I realized I depended on them for finding podcasts, or at least for finding out more information about podcasts.

This is a problem of single point of failure, an appalling heavy dependence that computer science graduates are very aware is a distinct form of sin.

Imagine if the power to your home were dependant on a single, easily-interruptable wire? It seems that way, ultimately, but it’s not easy to interrupt. And anyone who’s had a simple power outage knows that, while there might be temporary interruption, power is usually restored in short order, automatically, as the network reorganizes.

There are other podcast hosting providers out there, and podcast directories, too, but the market is still small. Rather, the ability to easily choke off the consumption or production of podcasts from a few rules seems improper — maybe even illegal.

I’ve tried to suggest that the blocking policies are incorrect and inappropriate, but I’ve met with no sympathy and no movement. Not knowing what avenues I have for recourse, I decided to think of it differently.

Is there a technological solution to this?

Some podcasts can be delivered by Bittorrent, which decentralizes the source, meaning that delivery is no longer dependant on a single place.

But Bittorrent can be blocked, and fairly easily. So we are dependant on a single protocol, as well! And while it can be used to bring podcasts in, it doesn’t (as far as I know) do anything for uploading podcasts.

It’s not just to defeat petty and/or moronic adminstrators that we need to think of this, either, but as a general robustness problem. A plurality of solutions is the way that the web survives — it is built into the very fabric of the Internet, in fact — and we should embrace that in every facet in order to fully be modern.

One method of avoiding these sorts of blocks is through proxies. Since HTTP is the only sort of general-use protocol that seems to be allowed on almost every Internet service, we should consider it our carrier. Since it is easy to block any given name or IP address by rule, we have to have the capacity for a large number of sites — both direct and indirect — that will simply be too big to block.

Alternatively, of course, we could “simply” have so much money that we pay the administrators not to block it, or find the political power to make such blocking illegal. (I, for one, would welcome a “Universal Internet Bill of Rights”, which properly casts it as the immoral act that I feel it is, and makes such blocking internationally illegal.)

But, short of that, consider this: what if your podcast host or web host participated? The power of podcasting seems to be in the community that it builds. What if we can make this not a problem of individuals, but a solution from the collective?

If every podcaster put up a proxy — somehow specifically for podcast transmission (up and down), at least in this initial context — then the number of avenues would grow immensely, and the blocking lists would not be able to keep up.

We would take the community to a whole new — and meaningful — level.

What do you think?

  • Am I just acting out of my own bitterness in my local situation?
  • Is this sort of thing feasible?
  • Is there a better solution?
  • Should the communication of podcasting be considered important enough that blocking it is immoral?
  • Are there technical reasons why this cannot be done?
  • Was I too emotional? I admit, having this particular problem has infuriated me, but also highlighted what must be — or could be — a very big problem.
  • Was this article meaningful? Have I strayed too far from my topic?
  • In case you are wondering, I’m looking into solutions like proxytunnel as a potential avenue for relief.
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