Radio programs have evolved over time. Their broadcasts have transformed from a strict, informative purpose into many different formats. However, one of the main changes of the radio programs has been a wide reach of an audience and more listener-friendly formats/mediums.
In contrast, podcasts are rather slow to catch up. Podcasts suffer from amateur-dominated issues. I listen to quite a few Podcasts while I’m working, driving, or in my spare time.
A few issues that I have with the podcast technologies have been:
- Tools for synchronization/downloading, there is no standard way to grab and listen to podcasts. I’m looking for a tool that is similar to the old Google Reader.
- I would love to have a replication system that would put the podcast on my phone/wifi-connected mp3 player/etc.
Those two issues aside, there have been other problems that I’ve found with many podcasts:
- Production quality is less than stellar: When the audience member listens to the episode, they have to imagine what the broadcasters are describing. The Java Posse conferences is a good example – there are a lot of non-audio actions occurring and it becomes distracting. Other problems are related to background noises (cars, animals, talking in the background,etc). If the broadcasters wish to improve their quality: get better quality mics/filters, storyboard/plan out the show, and cut irrelevant sections of the recording.
- Rambling: This becomes irritating as it is more difficult to skip over unrelated tangents. I’m not suggesting that all non-topic communication should be avoided, but there are sometimes where the rambling is endless. I see this issue in the Java Posse podcasts when there are arguments on topics such as patents, DRM, or other topics that would be better left on Slashdot, Hacker News, or Reddit.
- Uncomfortable conversations: I have been turned off to the Programming Throwdown. Often times the conversations don’t flow, or it feels like the speakers are fishing for conversation. Systm, with Kevin Rose, (if I recall correctly) use to start out with the two presenters having a conversation over a beer. There have been many episodes with the Java Posse that have been conversations over a glass of wine or beer. These episodes feel more informal and easier to listen to.
- Teaching rather than conversing: With Programming Throwdown, I get the sense that they are trying to teach something, where the listener would be better suited for learning by example and resources. To learn something from this show, it requires quite a bit of attention, and comprehension. If you’re going to teach something, do it in a way to trick the audience into learning about it explain why a technology is so amazing and then go into the details, rather than trying to inform and then engaging the listener.
- Not putting breaks or introductions: The podcasts Man Show (by Caleb Bacon) and the Art Of Charm (a dating podcast) do a very good job at this. Man Show has a quick introduction, which is one of the most interesting statements of the show. Both of the shows also put in breaks. Like advertisements on the radio and TV, this allows for the listeners to pause and contemplate what was said.
- Not producing show notes: I don’t have a direct example of individual podcasts that don’t do this, however having show notes helps the listener to research topics mentioned in the podcast, and to find podcasts via searching topics.
- Tone, interest, and presentation: Podcasts as a medium are all about telling a story or convincing someone to consider ideas. This American Life by Ira Glass captures the listener’s interest via the delivery of the content. There are a few episodes of the Hacker Podcast that are less than stellar. It irritates me quite a bit when a speaker doesn’t have interest in what they’re saying – it wastes everyone’s time. I would be more tolerant of this issue if the medium was a live broadcast, however it’s not.
- Video podcasts: This is a personal peeve of mine. I don’t like to be restricted to a video-cast. Audio allows for me to listen to them while work. Video has to compete with my focused attention, and with other videos on youtube and/or television production-quality programs. That being said, I do enjoy a lot of the InfoQA presentations, only when I get the time to watch them.
- Length: Each episode should be long enough to get into detail on the topic, but short enough to avoid overwhelming the listener. My friend Warren calls this “terse verbosity”.
- File names should reflect the topic of the episode, and the Podcast name: When you’re dealing with names like “hpr3234.mp3”, it becomes difficult to pick the podcast you want to hear. Man School does a great job with this by naming their files: MS-<Interviewee>.mp3.
- Metadata: Fill it in. If you have a decent stereo in your car, and it plays MP3s from storage, then it is very helpful to pick out the podcast by its metadata. I can understand that it’s a little irritating to put in the data after making the show and editing it. But it’s one of the little things that make listening to the podcast just a little easier.
I find Podcasts incredibly useful, if not more so than most magazines. They’re free, they can go into depth on interesting topics, they tend to be focused on the interviewee, and lastly they’re convenient.