What I Don't Like About Podcasts

I love content. I collect books, music, DVDs, and I have a massive list of RSS feeds I look at on a semi-regular basis in my reader. However, I don't have a big pile of podcasts. Podcasts are like blogs, they put out real-time interesting information from a giant variety of diverse sources. However, podcasts are not like web pages, RSS feeds, CDs or books. It's hard to jump to the parts you like or branch out to the parts that you want to dig into. Instead you are stuck to your headphones or listening position to work through the 'cast.

For example, there's a podcast called The Cubicle Escape Pod that I enjoy, but in every episode there are parts I'd like to skip, like the explanation of what the Podcast is, “earbud worthy music” and various other things Tufte would call noise. I work my way through it, but I suspect the episodes don't need to be a half hour or more long. Sure, there's a minor amount of advertisements—I'm willing to suffer through that for good content—but there's other noise that can be trimmed away. Also, I'd sure like to be able to click somewhere and visit a link they're talking about while they're talking about it.

There are other problems with podcasts that are designed poorly. For example, Harvard Business Review puts audio files that are over an hour long. There's less “noise” but there's no way to easily jump to an article you would like to hear, unlike when you read the magazine. I listen to audio books because I have an evil commute, but I only listen to books I like. Why should I have to read all of the articles in HBR? It's impossible to search an audio file for the start of an article you like with an iPod, by the way.

Both of these problems could be mitigated by breaking up the podcasts, I suppose, but sooner or later you have an audio file management problem. Sure, you can arrange multiple things into a playlist, or an album, but multiple files don't download and get integrated into iTunes very well. Heck, I often need to tweak the information associated with files because one week the genre will be “Speech” and another they'll be “Podcast”.

So, Podcasts are young. I hope they clean it up soon. For now they are not as nice as books, magazines, and the web. What I think I'd like is web-based random-access presentations that I can download as a single package and play back on my iPod, my computer, or whatever. Imagine, now, that talk radio gets involved in this so you have real-time, but replay-capable, content-enhanced podcasts, with indexes and time codes so you can tell when it went out over the air. That would be a lot more like blogging and would be a lot more enjoyable for me.

Amazon.com links:

Josh Poulson

Posted Sunday, Aug 28 2005 08:53 AM

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There are 6 comments on this entry.

First off are you downloading your podcasts? If you've downloaded the cast and are playing it in a .mp3 player like iTunes you would be able to skip around using the timeline on top, also some casts will open in a new browser window with quicktime and you should be able to zip along there as well, but if you just click a podcast it's a stream which would be just like listening to the radio. Give that a shot, and while you're at you can check out my podcast!
Good Luck.


Posted Sunday, Aug 28 2005 07:32 PM

I am downloading my podcasts, but there's no map for a particular timecode and particular subject matter that I can really make use of. If, for example, there was a map (not all podcasts publish one), it's still not clickable so I can jump to that time, nor is it downloaded to my iPod so I can see it when all I have is my player. I'm aware that software developers have it in their capability to solve this problem. What's missing is the standards body that wants to take it on, and no one really wants to strive to solve it all by themselves.

The MPEG3 format is somewhat ignorant of the structure of the content, other than some text fields tacked on. That is not solving the problem that I describe in my posting. It's time we moved past the flat page and into the hypertext generation with our audio files.

Josh Poulson

Posted Sunday, Aug 28 2005 07:44 PM

I don't think that's a problem with podcasts, I think it is a problem of podcasts being in their infancy. I mean, when the web was beginning, most webpages were ugly and terrible to navigate. It's taken us ten years to get to the point we're at.

Christopher Trottier

Posted Wednesday, Aug 31 2005 02:09 PM

My input is being given in the spirit of improving emerging standards. People google for ideas these days, after all…

Josh Poulson

Posted Wednesday, Aug 31 2005 02:19 PM

Speaking of the whole concept of podcasting:

Could there easily be the potential for such being used in certain quarters as a "new and innovative" marketing tool of the weirdest sort?

(Especially so among tobacco companies who may try using podcasting to get around certain advertising/marketing restrictions.)

the daily phosdex

Posted Thursday, Sep 1 2005 11:25 AM

Basically my argument against podcasts as well, aside from a general preference for visual vs. audio content consumption. It's simply more time consuming to listen through an audio output. Plus, no way to search for keywords, no hyperlinks to related/pertinent other content, etc. It's a lot of noise for nothing, in my opinion.


Posted Thursday, Sep 8 2005 06:36 AM

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