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I’ve recently talked about the power that podcasting has from its mobility: it can be produced anywhere, consumed anywhere, and available anywhen.

Why not put that to the test?

I’ve had an interesting idea for a podcast, one that is produced all over the world by local people to be consumed by other local people in a different part of the world.

Each episode would feature (at least) 3-5 segments of 5-15 minutes each from a different part of the world, on something going on right then. The common thread of each episode? It has to relate to a particular hour in that local time zone. So, one episode would be all about life at 14h/2pm; another would be about 6h/6am.

Episodes would come out once a month, meaning it would take two years to get through the entire day. We could refine the concept by either a) combining two hours together, or b) allowing both the original hour and it’s 12-hour cousin (2am and 2pm together). (This might be important, as there might not be much to talk about for 4am..)

What are the contents of each episode? Just about anything, really, as long as it’s local. It could be about the farmer’s market, or the business hour; it could be reminiscences of the lunch counter or tradition dinner at home; it could be a deep exploration of what was once done at this hour when you were a kid or a light description of what are familiar daily sights to you on your walk to work (but that might not be so familiar to someone on the other side of the world!).

What do you think about the idea? I’d love to hear about it from many different places of the world, so if you can, share this idea widely. If you want to contribute or sign up, let me know with a comment. With enough interest, we’ll get this off the ground..

UP002: Movin’ ‘n’ Shakin’

A short discussion of what mobility means to podcasting.

Two pints and One thought

Corrigan's Pub, La RochellePodcasts take time and effort to produce. Most of them are produced as projects of interest by their hosts, and not as paid gigs. So is it fair to hold them to the same schedule as everyone else?

Usually, I see this question posed from the other side, as a sort of shame-inducing pledge for podcasters, an admonishment to produce episodes to a regular schedule and not let their listeners/viewers down. To not do episodes on a regular basis is to not act professionally, and this is a black mark against your podcast, your future, and any hopes you might have in becoming a professional podcaster, blah, blah, blah…

But I think we need to rethink this, at least a little bit — because podcasting isn’t that kind of medium..

A recent experience in a little Irish pub illustrates the difference between the “traditional big media” take on podcasting and what I feel is the majority, the “grass roots” podcasting.

This little Irish pub was essentially a rectangle big enough across for about 5 people to stand, and deep enough to hold a good-sized university class or two (although they better be friends). To the left as you walked in the door was the bar, taking up half the width and at least a third to half the length. Opposite it, without any elevation or real demarcation, was the “stage”, which really consisted of a few stools, a microphone on a stand, a few lights and a mixer propped up on a table. The performer arrived — he was just across the street having supper — and many people flooded in at the expected start time. Without any introduction or ceremony, the lone man with his acoustic guitar said a few words, then launched into some folk songs and modern standards.

The performance was simple, earnest and direct. The performer was good, more because he seemed to be having fun and really seemed to enjoy the songs than being absolutely stunning or professional. Mistakes were overlooked by the friendly crowd — which, as it turned out, contained a considerable number of his friends. He is a biochem professor and researcher at the local university, and in the packed pub were many colleagues and friends.

The distance between the audience and the podcaster is much shorter. It’s much more like a pub performance than a stadium show. The audience is more intimately involved, usually very friendly and understanding, perhaps even friends or other performers.

So, what is all this “professional” talk about? Why are we seeking to be professional, rather than just good?

* ~ *

In a way, this article is also a mea culpa: I set out ambitious and perhaps unrealistic goals for the regularity of this blog and podcast, and they were easily missed due to impending travel I knew I was going to take. I do have another episode ready to be edited (an interview with author and podcaster Chuck Tomasi), and there will be more updates and episodes coming soon.

But, I hope you understand as friends: episodes will probably not be on a regular schedule, but on an appropriate schedule.

And I’ll try not to spend so much time in the pub! 😉

The first episode!

Thanks to Devin Cox (@devincx, Forward Momentum Productions) and Anthony Gartner (@anthonygartner) for helping out with the PodFacts this week!

Feedback needed!
Phone: 206-203-2292
Email: understandingpodcasting (at)

I need more PodFacts, more contributions and more everything. 😉

Music in this episode comes from Music Alley.

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.

Some things we learn because someone told us what they are. Other things we learn from experience, and we give that experience a name — in fact, the people who told us what things are might have learned them this way.

The question at hand, of course, is “what is podcasting”? What do I mean when I ask that question? Why does it seem even interesting?

First attempts at answering this question are usually something like what Wikipedia currently cites (and the first definition I cited in my presentation):

A podcast is a series of digital media files (either audio or video) that are released episodically and often downloaded through web syndication.

A later section cites work that I’ll look into further where a four-part definition of podcast is used:

A podcast is a digital audio or video file that is episodic; downloadable; programme-driven, mainly with a host and/or theme; and convenient, usually via an automated feed with computer software.

I have a problem with these definitions: they don’t actually answer the question — except in a very surface way.

Or, as I have come to call it: these things are the mechanic definitions of podcasting.

It’s understandable, really; from what I’ve learned about learning styles and the process of cognition, humans generally move from the more concrete descriptions of the world to the symbolic and abstract. It speaks not to the skills of the definer that these definitions lack any sort of real meaning, but rather to the newness of podcasting itself.

But this mechanical definition really gets us very little, and it’s not the question I’m asking anyway. One could have made a similar description about a car, describing the elegant dance of hardware, instrumentation and control that gives this hunk of plastic, metal and chemicals its forward mobility. It would be accurate, at least for a while — when the technology changes, this mechanical description either gets broader, changes, or simply gets abandoned.

But the “real” meaning of “car” is far more than the particular make and model, the parts and the construction, the history and the price. A car means providing vast mobility in a world previously ruled by rail and horses. A car means transforming cities to wrap them in ribbons of concrete towers to allow traffic to flow in a semi-orderly manner. A car means giving independence to millions who would have otherwise depended on the services of others to provide them with goods, and choices of where goods and services can be bought. A car means an increase in the use of and reliance on fossil fuels — or at least some energy supply. A car means having a portable office to some, a mobile house to others.

I could go on, but I think my point becomes clear: it’s much more than simple mechanical definitions that I’m after here: it’s that deeper meaning that I’m curious about. What is the impact of podcasting? How has this very young medium already shaped things (if at all)? How can it continue to do so? What should we seek to do with it, and how can we bring about such a future? Does podcasting deserve a seat at the big table with older, more established media, or is it resigned to the kid’s table alongside Youtube, flickr and Twitter?

That said, I will probably cover the mechanics of podcasting, both in a basic way (“here’s how a podcast is created, delivered, consumed”) and in a more explorative way (“how can we deliver podcasts differently?”).

But I see podcasting as much more — or at least, potentially so. Podcasting has, for me, entirely changed my pattern of media consumption. Podcasts are probably close to 80% of my media intake on any given day. (That’s a rough guesstimate; I’ll try to actually work out a proper number later.)

Have I answered my own question? Probably not. 😉 You may find that my inquisitive nature tends to raise more questions than it answers…

“Understanding Podcasting”, the presentation

I had the opportunity to give my class/presentation on podcasting this past Saturday. I think it went over well, although I ran out of time — there’s a lot of information I’d like to share, and I probably choose too much to include.

I’m going to start podcasting over the next month, but until then I hope to write down some of my initial thoughts and observations most days. I’ve got a small trip to take soon which will busy up this week, but I’ll try to get 2-3 posts up anyway.

In the meantime, here are the slides I used for that presentation. There’s no audio (it’s just a PDF), but I think I might record an audio track and make the original presentation into a video episode — we shall see.

Understanding Podcasts (2010-03-27)

What is this?

Hi there!

This is a blog dedicated to understanding the media of podcasting. (Ok, that was the obvious part..)

I am interested in getting beyond the mere mechanics of podcasting and into the deeper meaning behind this emerging medium. I want to explore what makes the medium unique, what makes it the same, what it does well and what it does badly. I want to raise and attempt to answer questions like “What is so important about this podcasting thing, anyway?” and “What should the future of podcasting look like?” and “Is podcasting dying?”.

The inspiration for this site is two-fold: first, it’s simply one of my fascinations that I keep talking about and wondering about, so I figured I’d try to do something about. Second, I’ve been taking a course on teaching, and it mandates that we teach a 20 minute session about something we’re passionate about. I’ve always found that when you combine your strong interests, you tend to perform better and get something more satisfying as a result, so here we go!

I have been a podcaster for a few years now (go see my main solo show, The WEIRD Show, or my occasional show and blog, Encaffeinated!; I’m also elsewhere) and have been a massive podcast consumer as well. I have been known to subscribe to over 300 shows, and podcasts are my main media to consume.

I have been in volunteer radio for over a dozen years as well, which gives me another perspective to throw in..

I am planning to produce occasional audio podcasts on this topic, which will be found here. I don’t know exactly what those are going to be on, just yet, so suggestions about topics to cover are welcome.

Oh.. and yeah, the base design has got to go.. Suggestions about that are welcome as well! 😉

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