Podcasts

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So, I bet you were wondering to yourself, what ever happened to MTV Vee-Jay Adam Curry. What? No? You had not thought of him since RunDMC teamed up with Aerosmith? Well anyway, he seems to be one of the main people spearheading a relatively new movement. This leads me into what I want to share with the rest of the class.

Podcasting.
Podcasting as a technology and as a concept is not terribly new or exciting on the surface. The term has been around for about a year and it basically describes an aggregation of fairly boring and commonplace technology. These are things like: radio shows as MP3s, automatic news aggregators (like RSS), portable MP3 players, scheduled program execution (cron jobs), etc. It all sounded so boring and off-the-shelf I wondered what all the hype was and kept putting off the task of looking into the technology. Finally, I checked it out a few days ago and discovered that the whole is bigger than the sum of the very boring parts.

Podcasting is like Tivo for the radio… assuming everyone had time machines and their own personal TV stations. Seriously, you tell it what shows you want to listen to and you just plug in your MP3 player (iPod or otherwise) and wait. With something like Tivo, the device has to be plugged in to your cable and turned on at the time the show you want. It records it real-time like a VCR. With Podcasting, every possible show is stored on the internet and your Podcasting app grabs one or more episodes at the same time. This all happens automatically, so you always have the latest shows.

For me, the consumer, this is great. The practical upshot is that I subscribe to a few Podcasts and plug in my iPod at night. When I am ready to leave for work in the morning, I have new shows to listen to. I do not have to mess around with the Radio Shark I have, except for a few NPR shows that are not Podcasted (This American Life, for instance.) There are thousands of channels out there–from professionally produced shows to professional-sounding amateur shows, to “two guys with beers huddled around the computer microphone and introducing their favorite music.”

For content producers, there are also some major advantages. There is no mucking around with hard to set up streaming servers or the applications used to create files readable by those servers. You just produce an hour-long MP3. Bandwidth is generally cheaper, since you can put the file on any random hosting provider (for instance, .Mac)–you can shop around for good bandwidth prices. Transfer speeds are also not an issue. Instead of worrying about bitrates and simultaneous streams, your only concern is getting the MP3 to the end user before they wake up in the morning, which is easy. You can include commercials or leave them out. Tools are available such that anyone can set up a Podcast with minimal skill and effort. It is sort of like setting up your own pirate radio station, but without the electronics know-how, without the FCC breathing down your back, and with the whole world as an audience.

With that all said and done, I have been listening to a number of Podcasts recently. These include:
Daily Source Code – This is Adam Curry's own Podcast. It is interesting in places, but I am debating whether I should drop it soon. Some of the things are informative (news, politics, music) and some are fun and funny (trying to stump Adam by taking the lyrics to something like “Tainted Love” and Babelizing them), but a lot of it is bad music and hard to listen to.
Northwest Noise – A couple of guys based on Portland putting on a really amateur show; mostly inside jokes, childish humor, with some local bands thrown in.
Beercasting – Now this one is interesting. A guy goes around the country to cities with enough people that want a Beercast. They then take over a pub and set up a half-dozen tables of people, each with a microphone. The people at the tables are given topics (“traveller's tales,” “karaoke–do or die?,” “I have no idea what you just said (a.k.a. stupid geek words),” “the origin of swear words,” etc.) and timelines to keep to the topics. People at the table just talk and tell stories and Mr. Man records it all. The people just worry about the social side of things while Mr. Man worries about all of the technology, audio editing, and other less fun details. The whole thing ends up being like a less structured, amateur This American Life.
Coverville – A radio show devoted to music covers.
Inside Mac Radio – A professional radio station based out of the bay area produces this show weekly.

I am trying to find more Portland-based Podcasts. I just heard about Hello Cruel World and TinyPodCast, but have not had a chance to listen to them yet.

The really surprising thing I see is that more and more commonplace and cutting-edge technology is being brought into the Podcast world. For instance, listeners can record their comments as MP3 and email them in, creating the feel of phoned in comments. Similarly, the people running the station can use Skype to phone up others and perform phone interviews. Most people are using Audio Hijack on a Mac to capture high-quality sound for their feeds.

One of my major gripes at this time is that most of the Podcasters out there are way too full of themselves. They are constantly patting themselves on the back or promoting other Podcasts. Show X talks highly of Show Y, who talks highly of Show Z, who talks highly of Show X–so you have a big ol' circle-jerk of lame self promotion. The other is that the software (that I have tried, at least) is still pretty rough. iPodder gets the job done and is cross-platform, but the UI is craptastical. I just got iPodderX last night, but have not really had the time to evaluate it.

So, does anyone have suggestions for Podcasts to subscribe to or client software to try out? Is anyone still reading this after all the stuff I typed above? Is anyone who has not previously heard of or tried out Podcasts going to give it a shot?

Posted in: Dear Diary

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