Sunday, November 13, 2005

When is a Podcast a Podcast?

Dave Winer has blogged on whether proprietary audio formats, such as those Apple and Audible push, constitute podcasts. Interesting read. Dave suggests that a) if it's not MP3 it's not podcasting, and b) MP3 was chosen to keep spurious corp types from co-opting the medium.

Two comments. First, saying a podcast must be MP3 to be, by definition, a podcast is a little restrictive. Yes, MP3 is a great, well understood format. But it's not an all purpose format. MP3 is terrible for over the air downloads to mobile phones, for example. Which is why we use AMR, which is much more mobile-friendly and is on nearly every cell phone sold today.

I'd offer up, then, a slight tweak to Dave's thesis and suggest that by definition a podcast must be recorded and played back in an open medium.

Second comment: I don't think we as a community should spend to much time worrying about companies co-opting podcasting. Companies will try like crazy to co-opt podcasting just as they tried like crazy to co-opt the web. Eventually models shook out that are today generally accepted. Those models are mostly based on standards that promote interoperability. The guys who focused on proprietary technology are mostly gone. I predict a similar thing happening with podcasting.

More to that point I read Audible's announcement with some interest. Audible is trying to do just what Dave is worried about (and what I think prompted his blog entry), create a proprietary thing to do something businesses want and thus corner the market as it develops. Feels like it's fighting an uphill battle. Yes, corps want an ad model and that requires fine tuned tracking. But building a method of doing that which requires redoing the way you use technology today? C'mon. I'm Dave on this one.

It doesn't hurt either that we can offer a similar service to companies using Mobilcast without forcing them to do anything different. Remember, our consumers are mobile phone users and they give us their phone numbers before they download the client. We know when a podcast is downloaded and we can even give fine grained location data (NOTE: We DO NOT provide names or phone numbers of consumers and we NEVER WILL). And we can provide this without asking the podcaster to do anything differently than they do today.

I'd be interested in hearing from Dave whether he'd agree with the standards-based modification to his point.


  1. Two points here:

    First, MP3 is hardly an "open" standard. If it was chosen for its "openness" it was a bad choice. It was, more likely, chosen for its prevalence.

    Second if Audible offers a method that allows them to do everything they want to do without changing the way podcasting happens (lets say, for example, that the communication back and forth is done by itunes/ipods inherently) can it be a podcast THEN? Or is it only a podcast if money can't be made off of it in any convenient way?

  2. True, and Ogg Vorbis would be the primary example of an open standard audio format. Yet I'm sure Stan and Dave are aware of this; they're just making their point without getting too technical about it.

    I think the answer to all this is simple; it's a podcast if it can (currently) be transferred to an iPod using existing RSS methods. Yet if it's an .aa ( file, is it a podcast? Probably; but it's an Audible podcast, not an open podcast. Perhaps we need to define podcasts as only that which uses MP3s. Then there would be iTunes podcasts for Apple's format, and Audible podcasts for Audible's format, and Windows podcasts for...well, you get the idea.

  3. "When is a Podcast a Podcast?"

    I would suggest that the file format itself doesn't matter, but rather the content. If it's audio, its a podcast...if its video, then its a video podcast (or whatever), and if it is something else, then its RSS distribution of files.

    I am not concerned so much about companies co-opting podcasting... Apple's done a pretty good job of that and I have not heard any real complaints.

    What does bug me is when companies provide an audio-delivery solution that in no way involves RSS, requires a proprietary client, and still calls it podcasting. Case in point: Taldia.

    Taldia was right there on the Expo floor, showing off what was really a novel and unique approach to news delivery... but it didnt use RSS. And I didn't hear a single podcaster even comment about that at the show. Of course, that might have something to do with the fact that their sales rep was so cute.