The Emancipation of Broadcast

Broadcast? I suppose I meant Podcast…

Podcasting is nifty, in that it frees the production of radio-style shows from actual broadcast radio. The low barriers to entry have resulted in many great shows that you’d never get to hear on commercial radio. But this same ease of entry can also result in the occasional audio disaster…

On that theme, I’ll illustrate with examples of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly in podcasting. First, we have:

The Good:

Spacemusic is an ambient/chillout podcast show by a guy named TC in the Netherlands. Fun and funky, with good production values. The show has good music, and TC does a fine job of delivering the “text” of the show, including the occasional interview. Despite having a good time with it, TC keeps the show itself from getting in the way of the music. Most excellent.

The Bad: RadRails Release Podcast

The fine RadRails developers at RIT have put together an Eclipse plugin for Ruby on Rails development. I love their work, and as such I apologize up front for picking on them. Alas, they’ve also given me an archetypical example for The Bad; folks with a good idea to send to the world, but who need production polish — something I think will be a hallmark of a lot of smaller talk podcasts… Put another way, unscripted recording is tough. Many folks aren’t (yet) up for it.

In the world of broadcast radio, professionals encounter various hurdles (training, screening, etc.) before they get on the air. In the ‘casts I’ve heard, these guys use a relaxed, conversational style (good), but the discussion isn’t sufficiently focused for a remote listener, with pauses, reiteration, and non-words (“um”) that work in personal conversation but don’t work in broadcast/podcast. To their credit, their vocal delivery/projection for recording is generally pretty good — something that should serve well when they present at EclipseCon 2006. I also give the RadRails crew big props for doing another kind of newfangled broadcast-redux media very well; read on for the details.

The Ugly: Dec 5, 2005 MacNN Podcast

Holy crap (there’s that Scottish ‘r’ again)… when the content sucks, it’s far, FAR worse in a Podcast. In this case, we’ve got some talking heads from MacNN droning on about various bits of Apple speculation and software. On a web page, it’s possible to skim and quickly pick out interesting bits and leave the dross. Or decide it’s all dross and hit the back button. In a podcast, you’re stuck slogging through the dross — will something interesting surface? Or will the dross-slog just.. keep… going….

Show Me, Don’t Tell Me.

All that said, there’s another interesting phenomenon that’s becoming more common. As it’s become easier to produce and distribute video on the Internet, software tutorial videos are increasingly popular. Fortunately, the RadRails developers get to be the heroes at the end of our tale. Instead of the usual hard-to-grok documentation chapter rife with screenshots, a short video tells all about importing projects into RadRails. This picture’s worth far more than a thousand words — it saves time and energy.

All told, this is the same story of all disruptive publishing technologies. A social, technological event lowers some barriers to entry for publication. Some folks use the new medium to persist all manner of information, the rest of us figure out how to sort through it all, and everyone gradually learns how to further improve production and identification of Good Stuff. The story is the same whether we’re talking the advent of papyrus (all those scrolls!), or here at the advent of the Internet.