Podcasting – Let’s chat

I know that none of you actually live under rocks, so I’m not going to start this post by saying “Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks…”

Instead, I’m going to suggest something more realistic. For example, it’s possible that you’ve been living under a mound of junk food wrappers in your basement, or that you’ve been so drunk and wasted that you haven’t been able to read blogs or form coherent sentences.

With that in mind, then, unless you were abducted by aliens a few weeks ago and just got back from having your rear-end prodded by short almond-eyed freaks who were “testing” you for their human/alien hybrid program that’s currently taking place in Zeta-Reticuli, there’s been quite a bit of talk lately about “Podcasting.”

The source of this chatter is an employment of technology that’s being championed, big time, by Dave Winer and Adam of the Biggest Hair.

I want to talk about this stuff a little. Carl and I are getting into it with .NET Rocks, and I’ve been working to “get” what’s going on.

Before continuing, you might want to take a look at the following:

– “What is Podcasting?” – A brief by Winer that is exactly as it sounds – this is a good place to start if you just want a high-level “user’s” point of view

– “How to support enclosures in aggregators” – This explains what makes Podcasting possible, and is a good (short) read for technology implementors and enthusiasts

Did you read those? Good.

Let’s get on with it.

Podcasting – The Good

– For the Content Producer: Bye-bye, Tyranny –

Quick show of hands – How many of you have ever seen a real record contract?

OK – that was pointless. I can’t see your hands, but I can guess, and my guess is: Not many of you.

For those of you who haven’t ever seen a real record contract (I’m talking about something from big media), allow me to summarize exactly what you should expect to see as a Rising Star in the world of popular music:

Oh, dang. We’re all out of lube. This is going to chafe – are you a bleeder?

Yeah. Crude, I know, but that’s about the size of it.

You completely lose artistic freedom, you get very little support, and you make less money than an elementary school teacher in Uruguay.

There’s a trade-off, of course, but it’s only useful if your one and only goal is money. Provided some fat bastard higher up at the label thinks you have enough commercial appeal to sell Pepsi, you could wind up making some serious dough. Otherwise, you’re in for years of intense record-label-having-its-way-with-your-buttockal-orifice type action.

I decided several years ago that what I cared about was getting my music out to people. I make decent money as a geek, so I can do whatever in the hell I want to with music. If that means releasing a song with all the commercial appeal of a steaming pile of doggy-doo, then I can do that, which is the best place in the universe to be as a musician.

The one thing I don’t have that a big label could provide me is a good distribution model. Right now, a song goes up, I link to it, and then it gets lost. I get craploads of email asking me where the music is.

Wouldn’t it be nice if I had an easy way to get my music to the people who want it? And a way that’s consistent with how they’re getting music elsewhere so that they don’t need to bookmark some weird page that they’ll have to return to every few months to manually check for updates?

You bet your steamy buns, hotpants.

You bet your steamy buns.

Podcasting makes this sort of thing possible.

What blogging did for my writing, Podcasting can do for my music.

I love to write, but I have no interest in seeing the book publishing industry’s equivalent to a record contract (note to publishers reading my blog: that is, unless the deal kicks sweet ass). With this stupid blog, I can write whatever I want, and people can get to it through their aggregators. Syndication formats free the user from having to worry about how to get to the content.

– For the User: Convenience –

Podcasting, then, is convenience. If you don’t understand this simple thing, then you might have some problems “getting” Podcasting. This realization is what put my feet firmly in the Podcasting camp.

As a user interested in content, I’ve decided that browsers are just as wonderful as they are utter pains in the ass.

I’m pressed for time, and I don’t want to learn every single content producer’s messed up idea of what web page navigation should be. I hate bookmarking pages. I hate not knowing if new content is available.

The reason I don’t keep up on a lot of the cool audio/video productions going on around the web is that I simply don’t have the time or the patience to go check up on them. It’s the net equivalent of sitting on the couch with the channel changer and scanning through ninety-five different crap channels, looking for the one good thing that’s on. To get to the interesting travel show on Vietnam, I might have to spend five seconds on every Spanish evangelical Christian channel on the way. That sucks, and it might have something to do with why I don’t have a television.

I like the idea of the content I want coming to me.

One interesting point brought up during the XML DevCon this year was “Make it easy for your customers to pay you.”

We could easily rephrase this to say “Make it easy for your fans to get your content.”

We live in a world that’s so jam packed with content, most of which is horrifically bad, that if you want to be heard, you need a better way of getting your message out than inconveniencing people, which is the weakness with television and traditional web browsing.

The more you make your fans work, the more you screw your chances of connecting with them. It’s selfish to act as though your content is the only content they might be interested in. Best to put the ego aside and work with other content producers to come up with a way of getting everything out as easily as possible.

Your goal as a content producer is to get your content out. Period. And you should always be looking for the best way to do that.

By doing so, your fans win.

Podcasting – The Arguments

I love Scott Hanselman. He’s crazy smart, and I respect the hell out of his opinions.

However, he recently put up a post titled “Podcasting = Verbal Incontinence,” and while I see where he’s going, I think that he painted Podcasting in an unfair light. That’s fine, of course – Scott’s just saying what’s on his mind.

And now I’ll say what’s on my mind by responding a bit to Scott’s view, and also to the comments which were votes of agreement.

– Argument: “You can’t speak as fast as I can read” –

I think this argument is due to a fundamental misunderstanding of Podcasting.

Because of the popularity of RSS among bloggers, I can see how Scott might have wound up with the impression that Podcasting somehow equates to audio blogging.

While I’m sure that there will be those among us who will use Podcasting to tell everybody what they had for breakfast, I think that the people who are getting excited about Podcasting are the ones who have divorced the technology fr’m blogs.

Podcasting is a means of syndicating binary content – that’s all!

Whether that content is a movie, a song, a radio program, or an image is immaterial. When you truly take advantage of Podcasting, you will be delivering content that would not work as text.

A song isn’t just lyrics. It would be easy enough for me to post the lyrics to my songs, but without the context of the music, the lyrics are almost meaningless.

You can’t read music, movies, or talk shows.

A talk show can be transcribed, but think about all the successful ones you’ve ever enjoyed. If it were just about the information, then we could replace David Letterman with Tom Brokaw and expect it to work.

But it won’t work. Tom Brokaw’s hair is funny, but his delivery isn’t. And, I couldn’t take my news seriously if it were delivered through Letterman’s finger-width diastema.

– Argument: “It requires too much bandwidth” –

If you take a look at the “How to support enclosures in aggregators” article, you’ll see that there isn’t actually a bandwidth problem, provided the aggregators we use adapt to this new means of syndication.

At first, yes, I could see bandwidth being an issue, but as Podcasting catches on, aggregator developers are simply going to have to be intelligent about how to handle enclosures.

RSS has too much traction, and enclosures are starting to come into their own. Things will improve.

– Commentor argument: “The Podcasted shows I’ve heard sucked (except for .NET Rocks, of course)” –

Are things going to get better if we poo-poo Podcasting before it’s had a chance to strut its stuff?

Were the first radio and television programs the best examples we’ve seen for those mediums?

Was “Steamboat Willie” the best cartoon ever produced?

Hell, no! And let’s be thankful that the mediums weren’t judged by the initial content. If it weren’t for “Steamboat Willie,” we never would have had “Toy Story.”

When Podcasting catches on, I think we’re going to learn something about genius in the modern world. It’s extraordinarily tough to get noticed right now in any industry because of all the competition.

When the people who can’t get their faces on MTV or PBS for stupid reasons (i.e. their content is good, but something lame gets in the way) start producing their own content, shows will not suck.

In fact, when the brilliant types start pushing their brains out over RSS, and when they have a chance to do it without being censored by some near-sighted producer who’s worried about offending the sponsors, we’re going to be exposed to some seriously unique content.

– Commentor argument: “Podcasting just ain’t all that” –

From Lawrence Pina:

I don’t see anything exciting about scheduling mp3s to be downloaded and copied to my iPod. I’d rather get an email with a summary of the content and decide whether I want to stream it or download it.

Is waking up with new MP3s on your iPod really that groundbreaking?

Lawrence brings up an interesting point, but let’s rephrase it a little.

Try this, for example:

Let’s bypass big media, produce our own content, get it to fans easily, and tell the out-of-touch corporate Godfathers where they can stick it.

Is waking up with new MP3s on your iPod really that groundbreaking?


Holy crap, yes!

From a technological point of view, honestly, it’s only marginally interesting. The same, howeve’, could be said of radio, telephones, and television.

From the point of view of people are who into this for more than the ones and zeros, this is a way to avoid having to hear that Wal-Mart is going to drop you because your song or your show isn’t exactly what it should be, and it that would be nice if you moved everything to the right by a few inches.

It’s about much more than just a technical debate.

I gotta go

Today is “Grandma Day,” so I have to take off.

I’m not done talking about this stuff yet, but I think that this was a good introduction.

However, in the battle between blogging and grandma, grandma wins.

Just walk away with this: Podcasting is serious Power to the People technology, and we should be excited about that.