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The RoBlog
Saturday, January 22, 2005
 
Podcasting and the Challenge of Content
On a podcast/post I did in response to a podcast I heard on Openpodcast.org, I received a comment from kinrowan. I thought I'd post my response in a new thread so the discussion didn't get buried.

Hi Kinrowan,

I definitely believe that review sites like yours (why did you choose not to make a podcast of your reviews?) will be a valuable resource in the early stage of podcasting, but I think that podcast reviewing is going to face some non-trivial challenges as podcasting becomes more pervasive.

Challenges for Podcast Reviewers
Acting on Review Podcasts
Part of the allure of listening to podcasts, I would argue, has to do with their portability and on-demand nature. So the challenge with a podcast review podcast is how I, as a listener, am going to be able to act upon your advice while I'm away from my computer. If you say I should listen to a particular podcast, or even several podcasts, how do I remember that long enough to add it to my list of feeds (of course I have a suggestion about that ;).

For non-podcast podcast review sites (such as podcastreviews.net), this is less of a problem, however they may suffer from a lack of listener penetration given that they don't take advantage of a few of the benefits that makes podcast listening particularly alluring (portability, and not having to look at the content to consume it being the most obvious).


The Explosion of Content
It seems extremely likely that the amount of podcast content will explode to a size akin to where blogging is now. This means millions of podcast sources.

I'd guess that there are something like 200 major movies produced each year. Probably about the same number of new TV shows. There are probably a few thousand CDs released with reasonably wide distribution, and maybe double that in books (I'm sure these are all wrong, but hopefully the orders of magnitude are at least in the ballpark).

Right now, there are, what, 2000 podcast feeds? Next year at this time, we can expect something like 50,000 or more. How does one stay in front of that number? Obviously, there will be room for many sources of podcast reviews, but if there are tens of thousands of podcasts, and dozens of podcast review podcasts, and maybe even several podcast review review podcasts, how does one navigate through this space? Certainly we can rely on those we come into contact with to help filter what we listen to, but what concerns me is that this will lead us back to a version of the broadcast model where only those podcasts with enough mass appeal will spread virally, and podcasts that would be of the most interest to you as an individual may never find you.

How do you choose which podcasts to review? I suspect you probably can't listen to every podcast that springs up these days already, especially if you base your reviews on more than one post in a podcast. Perhaps you choose them based on the ones that sound interesting in their descriptions. Perhaps based on ones you have heard referenced in other podcasts. Perhaps ones that have been referred to you by friends, family, and your listener base. Probably some combination of all of these. But as the amount of content continues to explode, these methods would seem to become less and less useful as the content that arrives at you through these filters becomes overwhelming again.

Even now, I've noticed that your queue of podcasts to review contains podcasts I haven't heard any activity on for at least a month.


An Individual Podcast May Change Over Time
How do you handle the fact that pretty much any aspect of a particular podcast might change qualitatively as the podcast matures, or even from post to post? TV critics revisit shows they have previously reviewed (assuming, of course, that the show survives long enough), to see if it is still up to snuff (or as bad as it once was). If you intend to do this, your workload would increase even more, especially since, unlike in the TV industry, podcasters who create bad content don't have any financial pressures to quit producing content, meaning that the volume of surviving podcasts won't necessarily be culled over time like bad TV shows are.


Reviews May Have a Niche Audience
To remain relevant, it would seem that review sites might soon have to become an ecosystem of very specialized participants. This probably more closely matches the reviewing community of music or books than it does TV or movies. A reviewer might have to pick an especially small genre of podcasts to review (e.g. Southwest Missouri Agriculture News) and foster a loyal listenership, while other reviewers will have to become metareviewers at various levels, choosing to review only the best (and/or worst) podcasts reviewed by a niche reviewer for a wider audience and cover more subjects (e.g. Midwest Agriculture News).


Subscriptions as a Reflection of Me
Podcasting (and microcasting in general) is about getting you the content that YOU are most interested in. Much like movie reviewers, people who want to hear podcast reviews will want to find someone whose tastes match theirs, which, of course, brings up the question of how to find the right review podcast.


A Podcast as a Series of Shows?
Because anyone who wants to can produce a podcast an virtually no cost (beyond owning a computer, of course) it may not be fair to characterize podcasts as entertaining (as you mentioned), per se, in ways that blogs are not. Certainly some podcasts are entertainment oriented (such as the Radio adventures of Dr. Floyd), but others are not (e.g. Texas A&M System Agriculture Program News). We are so early in the medium that it may not be fair to characterize podcasts generally as "shows". For example, there seem to be a large number of people podcasting their music, one track per post, with no talking. Does this really qualify as entertainment as we are used to experiencing it through other mediums?

An interesting questions about the life of different podcasts come to mind. For example, if I put out an album's worth of my music in a podcast and then stop, is that worthy of a review?

I can envision certain kinds of podcasts where it would make sense to review individual postings and not the entire podcast itself. How do you stay on top of that?

None of this is to say that there won't be a place for review sites, but it would seem that they are unlikely to become they way that most people come into contact with a podcast (or specific post)


How Do We Prevent Individual Podcasts From Being Lost in the Shuffle?

Text searching is fairly useless on podcasts as it currently stands, and even if it was not, text searching assumes you know what it is you are looking for. The podcasts that you might find the most interesting might be things you never think to go looking for.

It's probably true that not all podcasts will NEED to be reviewed by someone, but it should be the case that all podcasts can have the hope of reaching interested people even without an enormous marketing effort.

I see podcasting's future as being (among other things) analogous to creating your own radio station that has exactly the kinds of content you want in it in exactly the way you want to listen to it [more detail]. Ideally, then, there should be a way for you to find exactly the content you want, and I'm guessing that review podcasts are going to be a sweet spot for only a minority of podcast listeners (though at this point I see them as terribly valuable).

Imagine an RSS feed that you subscribe to through a service. As you listen to individual posts on your iPod, you rate how much you like the content using the 1 to 5 star system supported by the iPod and iTunes. A plug in for iTunes looks for new ratings (perhaps only on specific playlists) and reports any ratings you have provided back to the service. Based on your ratings, and the ratings of others, the service adds and removes content from your RSS feed. This content may be complete feeds of certain podcasts, and only selected posts of others. It might even delete posts from your hard drive automatically if you gave the post a low rating.

In this way, your iPod becomes a radio station geared towards you specifically (or, more probably, towards a small group of people who share very similar interests to you).

If this service had your ratings in it, then it might allow you to browse categories of podcasts on the service's web site and as you looked at different available feeds it could give you the odds that you are going to like the feed.

Granted this is an Apple-technology-based solution. I don't know if other MP3 players have rating systems, and I feel fairly confident that ratings are not part of the standard MP3 ID3 tags (pity), but it wouldn't necessarily be difficult to modify existing software and firmware to allow for ratings, and the iPod/iTunes combo would probably account for a large percentage of the listening audience anyway.

If podcasting really does become custom content, then Adam Curry's penchant for short podcasts will probably be reinforced in the market as people steer away from long shows with a variety of content, to collections of shorter shows that match a listener's tastes more accurately. I expect, frankly, that this will be a relatively minor trend as people will still enjoy shows architected by a specific individual (e.g. Howard Stern).

Anyway, enough of my rambling for the moment.

Thoughts?

Comments:
--------
hi.

My name is eric, and I am one of the hosts of Vox Monitor - the Podcast Review Podcast.

So naturally, this post is of interest to me.

The short answer to the issues that you raised early in the text is actually kind of simple.

While we hope that we give our listeners a valuable resource regarding other shows, our primary job, really, is to make a good, tight, super entertaining podcast. The show is much more valuable to the casters we review - both in terms of advice and of exposure - than to listeners, from a purely utilitarian perspective.

But we do hope that we use the grain of sand of "podcast review" to generate a proverbial oyster ball.

Anyhow, you've lots of good insight on the subject. I enjoyed reading it a great deal.

eric
www.voxmonitor.com
 
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