I feel pretty much late to the dance with podcasting. It is a technology phenomnma that seems like it happened more or less while I was out of the country 3 weeks in November. My colleagues D’Arcy and Brian are all over it, and I have give high credence to things my trusted colleagues get excited about.

But I’m not quite ready to join in yet– maybe it’s because I do not have an iPod ;-) Before I gripe, let me say what I like about the podcasting and its buzz:

* It’s a wild spreading net meme- it is grass roots. It did not originate from Microsoft or some MIT lab, it happened in the user space of the web.
* It rolls together small pieces of existing and available technology, is enabled by ever evolving open source software, distributes with RSS.
* It offers ordinary folks a creative space, a broadcasting platform, much like blogging opened up the web publshing platform.
* It is personal- there is something very human about hearing a real person’s voice (not a velvet voiced announcer).

I’ve tapped into a few podcasts recently to sample the waters…. the MP3 I recently listened to this morning was an interview, and there was at least 3 minutes of banter about weather, cities, chit chat, what kind of microphones were being used, coughing, phone call interrupts all very nice for the people ion the conversation (all 2 of them), but even as the conversation moved into the topic I had selected via a feed, the level of information density (in the Tuftian sense) can be really low. In fact, the audio faded to the level of background noise as I focused on more relevant tasks (trying to wrap presents… I cannot tie a bow if my life depended on it).

I feel the same way about downloading fat PowerPoints from presentations I missed- there is really not much there without the speaker. And when I tap into some of the audio versions of presentations, it seems also drawn out, rambling, and low on information density. Now it is not to see that everything needs to be bursting with reams of info, but if it is not intriguing, compelling, provocative, challenging, well, it is as much fascination as listening in on people’s cell phone calls in the market as shopping lists are recited (“lettuce… musturd… Cheerios… toliet paper, yes the soft stuff…”). What makes compelling audio? Either great personalities or great content.

I don’t have a long bus ride, or even a commute, or heck even enough constipation to sit and listen to people talking. Or maybe its because I do not have an iPod.

No, I am not jumping over poor quality recordings or amateur production. It’s just that I lack time to sift through a linear media to find the beef. And that is my whinge- that the form of the information can be unbundled, broken into smaller bits, re-mixed, or internally linked. How would I direct my students to a pertinent 2 minute section of a 19 minute audio cast? I liked a few months back how John Udell had touched on that with a demo of a way to provide URL links to a segment of a .mp3– see Prime Time Multimedia.

You cannot really interact with a podcast, or comment on it, or participate in any way beyond listening. It is just there, a glut to listen to, ignore, or just store.

I am all for generating some excitement about podcasts, and thinking more broadly about RSS enclosures (how about wrapping in a reference to a learning object??)– but at the same time think we ought to think about the kind of content works well in that media form. People talking about things I can read and skim in an RSS reader, well…. Yawn. Chit chat and drabble that mean more to the talker than the listener… yawn.

But using it for interviews, debates, student audio reflections or reports, bringing external experts, mixing in languages and voices of other cultures… that could add value. If I am absorbing content by audio form, it should be because it presents it in a way that extends the information in fresh ways.

Maybe I need an iPod.

It’s all too early to be making firm decisions in a moving, evolving technology. Despite the words above, there is more about the phenomenon I like than dislike, and heck, it is a technology just out of the womb, dripping with amniotic fluid. I am listening more and reading what others are doing… and maybe I’ll be joining the dance soon…

… as soon as I get an iPod?

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. Perhaps sometimes there’s more to eating a burger than just diving directly into the all-meat patty. Almost despite myself I find that I enjoy listening to a number of podcasts despite the fact that I could absorb the same amount of information much more quickly in written form.

    In fact, one can get information from the dictionary but as you so aptly quoted from Jon Udell’s post on blogs and telephones, sometimes the context is important. Or at least entertaining… it isn’t necessarily all about information density. Sometimes it’s just about having some fun, or letting the important bits soak in while being entertained in the background. I don’t own an iPod either– I do most of my listening at work while busy with other tasks.

    That being said, I think you are spot-on when it comes to refinements being needed to do deep-linking into audio and the fact that this is just one of many potential applications for RSS enclosures.

  2. One interim solution might be the pacemaker addon to winamp that enables one to increase the pace of the audio without changing the tone. There is some data from Kevin Harrigan that listerners can listen at up to twice the speed that people talk so by compressing the information density in time it might be more “interesting” and effective use of time. I believe that this form of speech processing has a good potential in many areas of education including learning foreigh language where the listener can slow the pace down without changiing the tone. My personal develoopment target is to enable some way to do variable speed review (rehear) when the user has something analogous to a gas peddle to dynamically smooth out the information density to match the listerner’s internal processing pace. — BL (PS there are other uses for a pacemaker to extend the accessiblity of audio material to a broader range of users)

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