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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)

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Schedules, Seasons, Hiatus and Podfading

In more traditional media, the notion of schedule is very strong. The origin of this is likely bound to the requirements of publishing, whether it be the minimum profitable cycle for printing and delivering magazines or newspapers, the advertising expectations of television broadcast or the audience location expectations of radio broadcast.

Over time, people who consume and produce media come to regard that schedule as a necessary part of the media. They rely upon it, particularly when there is little media to choose from, or the cost of having lots of media means that limited choices must be made.

But is that still true? Or more accurately, does it apply to newer media, particularly digital-based, globally-accessible media such as podcasts?

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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 libsyn.com 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 apple.com 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.

Podcasting Community Grand Central Station

"Phone Me" by spierzchala@Flickr; used under CC license“The community of podcasting” reminds me of an old-fashioned party line telephone. For those too young to know what that is — and I am just on the cusp, having experienced this technology at my grandparent’s place, never my own — back only a couple of decades ago, it wasn’t feasible to give everyone in a rural area their own phone line. Switching technology wasn’t as advanced as today, and it simply wasn’t worth stringing additional lines or putting up additional boxes or whatever they needed to do to get everyone their own line for customers that lived far enough apart, and didn’t really talk on the phone as much anyway. (No ordering pizza when you are 30km down a winding, possibly unpaved, possibly dirt/mud/rock-strewn roadway..)

Now, for each person to get their calls, they each had their own special ring — one long, two short, that one’s for Martha; two long, that was for the Demerchant farm; three short, that’s for you! This sort of open ringing system meant that, once you got to know the ring, you could see — or rather, hear — who was getting calls.

Since it wasn’t a dedicated line, there was another wrinkle: anyone could pick up the phone and hear and possibly interact in the conversation. The term “party line” probably didn’t refer to the idea that groups of youngin’s could get together and “party” on the line, but I’m sure that it eventually co-opted the term. Imagine: easy conference calling was once an accidental feature more available for rural customers!

Ok, so my (probably inaccurate but hopefully illustrative) history lesson is over. How do I draw the analogy to the podcasting community? I think it has to do with them both being open, rural, evolving, neighbourly and having distinct rings. View full article »

I’m always conscious of my limited knowledge of the way the rest of the world works, so I invited Katharina, a friend and European resident, to talk about what podcasting means in Europe.

Katharina (@KMLaw on Twitter) has been a podcast listener for 5 years and a podcaster for 4 years. She is currently the host of Luscious Leftovers and co-host of Every Photo Tells.

More thoughts an analysis below the cut line!

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UP004: Podcast Idea: “24 Hours ‘Round The World”

An audio call for comment and participation in the “24 Hours ‘Round The World” podcast, in which participants from around the world give a short slice of what their world is like, at that hour.

An interesting roundtable about criticism in podcasting, particularly in podcast fiction. This is further wellspring from the #podcrit Twitter discussion.

I encourage you to go listen to this discussion; I’ve got a few comments and quite a bit more thinking below…

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(This is the second part of a two-part series of posts inspired by the #podcrit discussion on Twitter of 2010-06-05/06. The first part is here.)

The second factor is largely a technological one. Podcasting hasn’t really changed since it began, despite the fact that it has grown so big. For the most part, I think podcasters have largely rested on their laurels, content to simply put out podcasts in the form that exists now, rather than innovating to make the form better. For most, that’s a reasonable notion. But podcasting needs to innovate, or it will drown in its own success.

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Podcasting is often described as a community, implying that we all should be good neighbours. What does that mean?

The point erupts from time to time (see Scott Roche’s podcast ep “Public Critique” from a few months ago, or John Miereu’s taking-the-Canadian-polite-hat-off, “Social Media: It’s Okay to Rock the Boat!” post), and sparked an interesting discussion on Twitter last night (look for the #podcrit tag). (Aside: if you know of more examples of this kind of discussion out there, please add them in the comments.)

(This is part one of a two-part series that sprung up from that discussion. The second part will follow.)

There were essentially four discussions that came up:

  1. Podcasting needs more real criticism in order to get better. Too much criticism is too soft, and really just supportive fluff.
  2. Podcasting needs to grow the pool of listeners, not just cross-pollinate the listeners we already have. New blood, rather than spreading old blood around.
  3. The notion of “podcasting standards” gets raised — not only in terms of production and content quality, but also in terms of the physical structure of podcasts, the use of tags, and other mechanical things to assist intelligent podcast discovery.
  4. The notion of “genre” has been abused within the podcasting arena; specifically, podcasts aren’t given genres, but “podcasting” is classified incorrectly as a single genre.

(These are my distilling points from the conversation. The discussion ranged quite a bit, and I’m sure I’ve missed something…)

What follows is my consideration of these questions, along with some ideas on what we might do.

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A conversation with podcaster, author and IT professional Chuck Tomasi. Chuck is the host of Radio Yesterday, The Gmail Podcast, Freestyle and co-host of Technorama and The WordPress in 10 Minutes in 10 Minutes podcast.

Chuck and I talk about what has — and hasn”t changed about podcasting over the last few years, what makes podcasting special, and what needs to change.

Find the root of all Chuck’s podcasts at http://www.chuckchat.com.

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