October 16, 2004


So the big thing this month is podcasting. If you haven’t heard of it, don’t worry. I think they just made it up a couple of weeks ago. Everybody’s talking about it and how it’s something new, but it’s not totally new, but it’s new enough, and in any case it really seems to be taking off. I’ve also been re-listening to the digital lifestyle panel from Gnomedex. So here’s some jumbled thoughts on all of it, run through the Crank-O-Meter and thrown into the ring.

It’s not the pieces of podcasting that are new, it’s the glue that brings it all together, the automation behind it all, that people are so excited about. So what is it? Basically, podcasting is when you have a downloadable audio show that you’re interested in, something with new material on a regular basis. Adam Curry, of MTV fame, has started doing what he calls the “Daily Source Code”, which he records and edits and makes available for download. It used to be that you would go to the website and find out there was a new download available, and you’d manually grab the MP3 and listen to it. But now publishers are putting together RSS feeds that announce when the file is available. And with the right kind of feedreader, you can have the file automatically downloaded as soon as it’s announced. So there’s one step, automatic downloading. The next step is the software that takes this fresh download and shoves it into your digital music player (usually an iPod, hence the name podcasting) for you. So the idea is you can go to bed with nothing, and when you wake up the audio will already be waiting for you on your iPod, with no work on your own part. Cool stuff.

Here’s the rub: I don’t own an iPod. Or any digital music player. I don’t have daily MP3 shows that I listen to. I don’t go for walks around town. So podcasting is useless to me. I know there are thousands of people out there that do it and love it and that’s great for them, but they seem to think this will change the world for everybody. And I want to go on record as a geek that knows about it, that understands it and gets it, but that still won’t use it.

And why won’t I? Well, the discussions at Gnomedex brought this one up: it takes a lot of time to listen to these shows. You have somebody like Dave Winer, who when he writes on his website posts an average of fifteen words. But you put a mic in front of him, and half an hour later he’s still going. I don’t have half an hour to listen to these things; I have twenty minutes driving in to work, and twenty minutes driving home. I could maybe listen at work, but then I couldn’t read or write anything else simultaneously. I don’t go for walks, and when I do it’s with my wife. I’m not going to stick headphones in my ears then. Dave Winer goes for a walk every day, but he’s single and he lives in Seattle. Walking in Seattle is invigorating. Walking in Nevada is depressing and soul-crushing, because all you see is brown. So that gives me 40 minutes per day when I can listen to these things.

The next thing is that they’re audio. I’ve railed against audioblogs before, and I just don’t get why they’re so great. I don’t want to listen to audio, I want to read. If you’ve got that much stuff to say, put it in your blog. So few people seem to do long form blog posts, and I always figured it’s because they didn’t have time or don’t have anything to say. But here they are, going on and on for an hour in these audio posts. I don’t want audio! I want to be able to skim over some parts, and reread other parts, and stop on some parts to just let it all sink in. I can do that with text, but it’s tedious to do it with audio. I’ve heard how podcasting is “timeshifting ideas”, but having a block of text I can dice up how I want shifts things even more, puts me in more control. So I don’t like podcasts because I don’t want to listen to these things, I want to read them. And to make it worse, the audio I do want to listen to, like the Dr. Demento show, isn’t downloadable anywhere. Or it’s only streamable, like all of NPR’s stuff. When everything’s locked up in audio, what’s a poor boy with a reading fetish to do?

Then there’s the fact that I don’t have a portable MP3 player. Those things are a huge investment, especially when you’re lower middle class and paying off ten years worth of credit cards. So I don’t want one unless it does everything I need. Most of them only do one thing: play back MP3 files. Well, super. But what about the rest of my wish list?

  • Be able to listen to FM and AM radio.
  • Be able to record FM and AM radio to MP3, so I can play it back later or transfer it to my PC.
  • Be able to timeshift radio broadcasts – tell the device to record 105.7 on Sunday nights from 10pm to midnight, so I can actually hear Dr. Demento for once.
  • Have a microphone to make good quality live recordings, of a concert, or a lecture, or a telephone call.

Give me all that, and then we can talk about getting me interested in portable audio. We could be getting close with things like this. Right now the only portable audio I have is the CD player in my car. Will iPodder automatically burn a CD for you in the middle of the night? Will it ever? Didn’t think so.

This isn’t meant to be a rant against podcasting, even though it may sound like it. It works for a lot of people, and that’s great. This is just a reminder that there are people out here, yes, even geeks, for whom it’s just not ideal. The technology is one thing, but you’ve got to be interested in the audio that’s being put out there. And so far, it’s not grabbing me.

What would be great, gadget-wise, is an in-dash digital music system for my car (and not one of those that needs a PC in the trunk, but a one-piece system in the dash) with Wi-Fi that I could send audio to while it’s parked in the driveway, and listen to through my stereo while I’m driving. Give me that and I’ll be happy.

Until then keep on podcasting, but don’t act like it’s changing the whole world.

Filed under The Computer Vet Weblog