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.

We don’t control the TV schedule, or the radio schedule. We don’t organize the paper to our needs. Those schedules were given to us, partially because the number of content generators was low, due to barriers to entry.

For a time, in the early days of popular books (as opposed to academic or religious texts), it was possible for the well-read scholar to have read much the same books as another well-read scholar — or to be able to catch up by reading the half-dozen books they didn’t have in common.

(Alright, I admit that I’m stretching the point a bit here..)

Now we are in the stage of post-scheduled media. Television got VCRs and now DVRs. Music got CDs (which allow rapid switching between songs, as opposed to reels or cassettes) and now iPods. The newspaper got the Web, the most dramatic de-scheduler of reading possible, as well as eBooks.

And radio got podcasting. (Well, technically television also got podcasting, but the number of video podcasts seems to be vastly out-numbered by audio podcasts, despite their disproportionate popularity and interest.)

I should pause here to point out that one of my current distractions from podcasting is the fact that, nearly a year ago, I started working full-time at a campus/community radio station. I’ve been a volunteer there since the 90s, but now I’m responsible for pulling the dang thing together.

I think about the clash between podcasting and radio considerably, and hope that I’ll be able to expand upon some of those thoughts here, in future posts.

Now, to return to the disruption of the scheduled media…

I think we missed a step, or rather, have created a vacuum that needs to be filled. We have successfully flattened the field of media and created a chaotic mess into which we can dip our minds whenever and whereever we please.

This is pretty daunting. It’s like getting rid of all the channels on your television, as well as all the timeslots, and just offering all the shows directly to you.

I think that the schedule wasn’t inherently the problem — control over the schedule was.

To remove that control, we’ve created a medium which is direct from producer to consumer, and scheduled only in time.

I remember a project that was started at Podshow, one of the places that was (for a time) trying to be innovative in how shows were delivered. They re-introduced the notion of a channel, but with a distinct shift in the control point: it was your channel, it gave you the ability to play organizer and remake the podcasting world to your own needs.

This was a pretty impressive feature (marred by a weak early implementation), but suffered from a fatal flaw: it was great for Podshow shows, but was not really useful for non-Podshow programs. In other words, it offered you great control — in a limited domain.

I’ve seen this sort of thing over and over again: walled gardens which want to exercise control over their audience, to “monetize” them, capture them within an area to squeeze them for money, usually for an auxiliary group (rather than the show producers themselves).

The excitement for the Podshow channel notion passed quickly for me. Instead of offering me a real tool of control, it offered me a leash. (Checking in on it quickly today confirms that its stuck to that same model.)

It’s kinda like a cable company that only lets you record the television programs that the company wants, rather than any program that airs.

(And yes: I’m aware that this is actually what they do, and pointing out that it’s offensively nonsensical…)

I think this user-control issue is one of the limits on podcasting, one that hasn’t really been solved. With iTunes being now the de facto podcatcher standard, there is no competition in this market, and even more market confusion than ever before.

It frustrates me, because I can see how much better it could be!

The one good thing is that the Smart Playlist feature of iTunes is relatively sophisticated, and I can create mock channels of podcasts for playback management. In particular, I have a playlist which captures an unheard subset of the podcasts that I wish to check in on daily. I have another playlist which is manually managed, and the other smart playlists will check to see if I’ve already scheduled the podcast episode to be heard.

In this way, I can create a pseudo-channel, albeit a primitive form of the real notion I’m grasping for.

I fear I’ve reached the end of my wind for this article, but I hope I’ve given you something to ponder. As is tradition, here are some specific questions to ponder:

  • How many podcasts do you subscribe to? In my case, the number fluctuates, but generally remains between 100 and 200, with a peak at well over 300.
  • How do you organize your podcasts? Or more accurately, how do you organize your podcast listening?
  • Do you separate your podcasts by “kinds”, such as “podcast book”, “serial drama”, “daily news”, “weekly”, “evergreen”?
  • Does the “channel” notion make any sense when applied to podcasting? How would you define “channel”, in an ideal podcasting world?
  • What other podcatchers do you use? I know of Juice/iPodder, but that seems stalled. What would you want in a podcatcher, from a consumer’s perspective? What about from a producer’s perspective?
  • I’ve given a short view of the channels as offered by Podshow (now Mevio). Care to defend them? Expand upon the description or point out their benefits? I’m quite willing to expand my learning, and admit to not having looked deeply at them again.

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