by Ron Lichty
Podcasting was the topic of back-to-back presentations at BayCHI's September meeting, and not only were the presentations highly enlightening regarding podcasts and how to do them, but so was the coverage by Liesel Mendoza that came out last last week in BayCHI's newsletter. Liesel's excellent writeup is not online yet, but is provided under the Creative Commons license, so I am reprinting it here in its entirety.
BayCHI is the Bay Area chapter of the Computer Human Interface SIG of ACM, the software professionals organization. The writeup should be posted to the event's page later this month or early in November.
------- keep reading for Liesel Mendoza's coverage of the Podcasting presentations at BayCHI --------
September Meeting Report
by Liesel Mendoza, email@example.com
Insights on Podcasting: Podcast Solutions and Podcast Problems
Dan Klass, The Bitterest Pill
Podcasting: Media Evolution or Revolution?
Doug Kaye, IT Conversations
Audio and Slides: http://www.baychi.org/calendar/20050913/
Insights on Podcasting: Podcast Solutions and Podcast Problems
Dan Klass, The Bitterest Pill
Dan Klass asked what the audience wanted to know about podcasting and
said he would be happy to share what he knows.
Dan introduced himself as a stay-at-home dad. He is often fetching
milk, fetching juice, turning the channel, changing diapers, making play
date phone calls, and driving kids to and from pre-school and play
dates. He expected his BayCHI presentation would be the longest he has
spoken without interruption in years.
Before becoming a stay-at-home dad, he was a failing actor in Los
Angeles. He was failing in the sense that the hook has been in his
mouth and fallen out, again and again. He was also a comedian.
Performing became less attractive once he had children. He said he no
longer feels the sick and psychotic need to be loved by an audience now
he has kids. However, the need to express oneself and be creative in
some way does not die.
Dan's venture into podcasting started when his wife gave him an iPod for
his birthday. To him, the iPod is the technological equivalent of a
Faberge egg. Once you take it out of the box, you have to immediately
guard it so as not to be scratched or marred. He surfed the internet to
look for that glow-in-the-dark scuba suit that people put on their
iPods. Instead, he found an iPod icon on a video of a couple of folks
talking about Adam Curry and podcasting, Adam Curry being a long-haired
MTV VJ he admired from the '80s. This triggered his interest in doing
his own podcast. He dragged his children to Radio Shack, got a
microphone, hooked it up to his computer, and started recording his
He started podcasting about stay-at-home dads on the fringes of the
Dan tackled questions from the audience:
Q: What is a podcast?
A: To generalize, a podcast is a sound file (an MP3) on the internet.
You can subscribe to a series of podcasts. Software is available to
subscribe and automatically download podcasts through RSS (Really Simple
There are probably over 10,000 podcasts today. If you have a specific
topic in mind and don't find a podcast on it, you may want to do a
podcast on that topic. Someone just like you is sitting somewhere
looking for a podcast on the same subject.
Q: How did you come from wanting to have a podcast to actually doing
one? What were the challenges you had to face?
A: The biggest challenge is that Dan is not a technological person. His
background is entertainment, laziness, and fatherhood. To read about
RSS on the internet was not simple. But he did it.
He started recording his show, turned it into an MP3 file, and then
published to his blog. He used RSS, which he figured out by stealing
some code and looking for the part where it has ".mp3," hoping that
replacing it with his file would work.
Dan says, to start with, you must have something to say. Content
creation is the big deal! If you have something to say, you should do
it. His book contains a section talking about the importance of content
As a comedian, he made fun of other people, society, or anything other
than himself. When he started podcasting, he decided that he will only
talk about himself, about being a stay-at-home dad. He had faith in
narrowcasting. He was not alone. True enough, he received a lot of
emails identifying with him, such as, "I am a dad and I don't like to be
a dad like my dad was. I want to be the dad that you seem to be trying
to be." He started building a community about being a dad. That was
when he knew he was on to something.
Q: How is building the community taking place?
A: Initially, people emailed asking him to check it their own podcasts.
After a while, that faded out, and the emails were from active listeners
of his podcast.
The community building starts with podcasters doing their show. This
becomes the first dialogue with the audience. The users download the
podcast and listen to it at their own time, whether on the train or
while driving. Most podcasters have a blog. There is a blog entry for
each podcast. People who had listened to the podcast start posting
comments on the blog, sending email, leaving a voicemail, or emailing a
sound file. As time goes by and people become more sophisticated, they
may start using Skype. The podcaster then talks back to these people
through more podcasts. The dialogue is phenomenal.
Q: How do you promote your podcast? How do you use the web or your blog
to promote your podcasts? How do people find you?
A: A podcaster needs to get into directories by submitting the podcast's
name and feed URL to iTunes, Podcast Alley, and Podcast Pickle. Dan
even designed his own podcast logo, a funny little head. Never
underestimate the value of a good logo. His logo is worth thousands of
listeners! Never underestimate the power of your own blog. Never
underestimate the value of a good title for your podcast. For example,
he would use a title like "George Clooney and Diapers and Jesus What a
Podcast?" Someone has to stumble into this title somehow.
- Google will crawl your blog.
- Send out press releases.
- Submit to podcast directories.
- Use mailing lists and forums.
- Be active in the community of podcasting.
- Use word of mouth.
- Spread the word through friends.
These are ways to promote your podcast. The podcasting community is an
incredibly supportive and incestuous community. When new people show
up, it's all about getting them started. Money and competition have not
turned podcasting into something evil. It is still a very warm and
nurturing atmosphere as opposed to a commercialized one.
Q: Will this change with more and more large corporations getting into
A: Yes, it will change. Dave Winer, one of the creators of podcasting,
wants podcasting to be kept pure. Not going to happen.
Human nature gravitates towards what is familiar. When someone looks
for a podcast, will he look for some guys working in a small room or for
a well-known network? However, Dan's optimistic side tells him that
there will always be an audience for the underdog. There will always an
audience who rejects the establishment, the corporate-fed and nurtured
product. Will it be harder to get noticed? Yes, maybe. iTunes has
always left a space for the small guy. Can the little guy survive?
Sure hope so. Not everybody likes Britney Spears. Not everybody loves
Raymond. Those who don't will look down on the other part of the tail.
There will always be a need for the narrow part of the tail that is
wagging furiously today.
Q: Have you ever been contacted by any organization to advertise for
A: No. Dan jokingly says had been waiting for Pampers or Juice Box to
contact him. There are sponsored podcasts. Dan would consider doing a
sponsored one. However, some people believe that once you start
accepting money, then it turns into something other than honest content.
If Disney is paying you, you can't make fun of Disney!
Q: Do you have Google ads?
A: No. Dan recommends using Google ads in his book, but hasn't used it
Q: Is vidcasting emerging?
A: In producing a podcast, you create an RSS feed with enclosures. The
enclosure points to a file, usually an audio file, but it can be a video
file. Yes, they are coming. Video files are much larger, unless
they're shorter. But they are coming. One vidcast example is Tiki Bar
TV (http://tikibartv.blogspot.com/). The guy is funny. The girl is
cute. The show teaches you how to mix a drink in the end. It is just
about four minutes.
Q: What are the copyright issues in podcasting?
A: In radio, you can play any song. When you create a podcast, you
cannot put just any song on your podcast. The difference is that radio
does broadcasting; when you create a podcast, you are distributing
peer-to-peer. You can not include a song in a podcast without explicit
permission from the recording companies. The solution is to find music
that you have permission to use. There's the Podsafe Music Network
(http://music.podshow.com/). Go to garageband.com or magnatune.com.
You can find over a million pieces of music from any genre that you can
download in two seconds.
Q: What do you think of standalone player living on a computer vs.
A: It doesn't matter, just listen to the show. What matters is that
you can listen to the show when you have the time using any media.
Q: What do you recommend for people who can't afford an iPod?
A: For people who can not afford an iPod, Dan's podcast is broadcast on
1550 AM KYCY in San Francisco, Wednesdays 8:00-8:45 a.m. Not everybody
can afford an iPod. He is thrilled to be able to do broadcast in his
Podcasting: Media Evolution or Revolution?
Doug Kaye, IT Conversations
Doug Kaye is the founder of IT Conversations, recently recognized by
Business Week Online as the best podcast provider. He is also the
author of Loosely Coupled: The Missing Pieces of Web Services (2003, RDS
IT Conversations is a podcast channel that disseminates exciting
content, rated by listeners.
Doug was a recording engineer and sound editor in the film business. In
the '70s, he started a computer business and ran it for eighteen years
before selling it. He got involved with four dot-coms. In 2000, he
left his last IT gig. He became a consultant and started writing a
book. The first book, Strategies for Web Hosting and Managed Services
(2001, Wiley) was a success. He had fun writing it.
In the process of writing the second book on web services, he
interviewed folks about what web services are. He recorded his
interviews. It occurred to him that the people he interviewed would
always know much more than he did on web services. As an author, he was
getting in the way of sharing what they know. He was not a good
vehicle. So he went back to some of the folks he interviewed and asked
them if they would mind redoing the interview for the purpose of putting
it out on the internet as audio. They agreed. That was in May, 2003,
which pre-dates the term "podcasting." A year after the first audio
posting, podcasting caught up with IT Conversations.
The prerequisite to podcasting is to have something to say. The most
successful podcasts come from a podcaster's passion for something. The
passion translates and transcends whatever technical challenge they may
encounter to do a podcast.
Podcasting was a curiosity, but it has taken over Doug's life and the
lives of the volunteers working with him. They have produced 720
programs, publishing them at a rate of two per day. He now has a team
of volunteers doing post production work. The team is nearly 50 people
all over the world.
A bit more story about Doug's initial venture into IT Conversations:
- Started with interviews.
- Produced a couple of third-party interviews with bloggers.
- Did a live stream of eTech in San Diego with about 220 simultaneous
listeners at peak and recorded the audio.
- Put the eTech recordings up as MP3 files, which turned out to be
more popular than the original stream, with about 20,000 listeners.
- Repeated the process with more conferences and recordings.
- The top show so far has about 180,000 listeners.
From the beginning, listeners have contacted Doug, wanting to send him
money, but he wasn't set up to take money. People insisted, so he set
up a "tip jar." People started sending him audio files that they
recorded for publishing, but the audio quality and content was awful.
Instead, he gave them advice on how do better. Some did improve, and
now he publishes them.
The biggest gratification for Doug is when people tell him he has
changed their lives. To hear that is addictive. He started thinking
what he can do so he can wake up every morning to more emails from
people saying he had changed their lives.
Today, IT Conversations has 90 shows in the queue for post-production
work. July was the biggest month yet: They delivered eleven terabytes
of MP3 files!
Some UI pointers from Doug:
- People hate audio, because one can't scan audio. People who read
fast would like to consume 30 minutes of audio in five minutes.
- Listening time: Most listening habits are the same as radio: during
drive time, in flight, and while exercising.
- Show length: The most popular shows are 20-30 minutes. The curve
falls off pretty quickly for shows over 40 minutes.
- Shelf life: Almost all programs have long shelf life. Some
programs, like Dan Klass's, are sequential: Some new listeners might
go back to previous editions, but most start with the current show
and subscribe to future shows. By working on conferences, IT
Conversations strives for programs that have long shelf life. IT
Conversations stays away from news.
- Player compatibility: It's important to use a sample rate that's a
multiple of 11.025 KHz (22.05 or 44.1 KHz), because Flash players only
play those rates. IT Conversations has standardized on a bit rates
of 64 kilobits per second, a nice compromise between quality and
file size. In the future, the standard may go up to 128kbps.
- Method of download: Provide manual downloads as well as subscription.
Some questions Doug answered during his talk:
Q: How do you work your way through 720 files?
A: Find content, mark it, put it into your personal queue much like
Netflix. You can either get it manually or set an RSS reader to
download it automatically, so new shows arrive like email.
Q: How do people handle long shows?
A: It's important to break up shows that go over 80 minutes, because
some listeners want to burn it to CD and listen to it while driving.
Q: How do people find audio?
A: A huge percentage of people find podcasts through Google, because
Doug and his team invest a great deal in metadata and descriptive text.
Every program they produce has its own page with a description, a
biography of the speaker, links to associated references, and, in some
instances, a photo of the speaker. They have not done any outbound
advertising, but they achieve high search engine ranking because of the
good quality of their content. Half of Doug's team are engineers and
half are writers.
A new project Doug and his team are working on has to do with
narrowcasting. A lot of spoken word events evaporate every day. Doug's
team is developing a tool called events and venues database (EVD) that
people interested in producing podcasts can use. It's a bottom-up
approach, using grassroots, unmoderated content. They will also
continue to produce more seminars and continue recording what IT
Conversations does, which is top-down, curated content and
Q: Do you have recommended hardware configurations for little groups who
are into narrowcasting?
A: They provide information on hardware recommendations for small
groups. They are talking about setting up a Podcast Academy for this
Q: What are the problems working with volunteers?
A: Whenever you work with volunteers, one of the challenges is keeping
the quality up, both editorial and the audio. On the editing side, it
is about people not writing very well. You have to work with them.
They created a role called series producer. The series producer will
take all the work and decide which of them are worth posting based on
content and audio quality. Series producers also play the role of copy
editors. They improve the copy. They also created the role of mentors.
The mentors work with the volunteers to improve their work, but
recognize that some just won't make the cut.
All the shows need to be produced with the same loudness.
IT Conversations standardized on MP2 as an intermediate format, because
it's non-lossy, with MP3 being the final format for publication.
Q: For IT Conversations, how are shows being rated?
A: IT Conversations has a rating system. They send listeners an email
ballot asking them what they think about the show. They get about 20-30
ballots per show. They have three criteria: Each show must be
educational, inspirational, and entertaining. The most important
criterion is that it must be inspirational. One of the most popular
stories was about a guy who went to the North Pole!
Popularity can be measured by the number of people who listen to a show,
or by how the show is rated, and there is some correlation. When people
give a show high rating, they often blog about it, which brings in more
listeners. High value content does bring in traffic.
The most popular shows are solo presentations in conferences with
well-prepared and condensed content. The next most popular is
one-on-one interviews where the interviewer is really good. At the
bottom of the ratings is the panel discussion. People seem to have
trouble discriminating voices. Panel discussion is a cheap way out for
event producers, often sponsors of the event. The conversation tends to
be inwards, with the panelists talking among themselves rather than to
Q: Do you find that listeners ever excerpt shows? How do you link to
the middle of a show?
A: IT Conversations has a clip feature. You can specify start and end
time, and it will create a URL that will play the selected excerpt. On
an average day, they get less than ten clicks to the clip feature.
Q: How about synchronizing audio and slides?
A: It has been very time consuming to produce. They experimented with
Flash and Shockwave. The technology is not standard enough yet.
Q: Are you planning to have translators translate the shows?
A: If someone volunteers to translate a show, IT Conversations tries to
ensure that they have the legal processes and tools in place to do so.
But they are not planning on investing in translation. They are,
however, planning on bringing in foreign content.
Q: Any plans about talking to universities?
A: IT Conversations is talking to Stanford, Berkeley, MIT, and Harvard.
Many universities are recording programs, but they do not know what to
do with them. They are trying to get them out there. SJSU has whole
podcasting department. One of the problems of universities is about
rights and permissions--ownership of content.
Conference organizers are sometimes concerned that publishing audio will
reduce paid registration. To avoid that, IT Conversations releases
conference sessions one per week. If a conference has 25 sessions, the
listener won't complete the series until about six months after the
event. And IT Conversation vastly increases the conference's reach: The
conference itself may reaches 4,000 attendees, but the podcast will let
the organizers reach 40,000 more people.
However, in universities, departments and instructors consider their
materials proprietary. It continues to be a challenge to get these
materials out to the public for free, but Doug would like to work with
universities on this.
Q: Do you foresee any problems about getting rights to content from all
over the world?
A: Yes. IT Conversations has forms or contracts that curators must fill
out to indicate they have permissions. If anyone complains, they take
the show down.
Another of Doug's missions is to keep content free. This is something
pragmatic. Content that is free has more value. Imagine a blog with a
link to a newspaper story. If the link goes to a toll gate, people
can't read the story, so the blogger won't link to it. Charging a fee
for content decreases its value, because not everyone can get to it.
When content is free, it stays in the conversation. It can be remixed,
reused, and repurposed.
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