Friday, December 30, 2005

Show Me The Data

I'm growing tired of arguing about podcast usage without having any data to back up any claims. I'm using Bridgeratings' November forecast of 6m individuals having downloaded a podcast in 2005. Other than that I'm at a loss, and it's not for a lack of looking. It's making it damn hard to move the ball forward on a few fronts.

The biggest ongoing debate we have is about who is listening to podcasts and where they get them. I continue to argue that iTunes is responsible for about 40% of all podcast downloads, based on some data that Rob came up with. But for every weakly substantiated point there's a weak counterpoint. And we have folks in the company who have to be right so they can't just accept that the data, as flawed as it is, might just be good enough.

What I need is for the reputable analysts - Gartner, Giga, IDC, Juniper, Jupiter, etc - to do some hardcore research around podcast usage. Who listens, how often, what sources, what percentage is on a PC v. a portable device. It's surprising that none of these guys have jumped on the bandwagon yet. Time to try to fix that.

Tags Gartner IDC

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Simplicity Rules

Read two interesting articles today, both dealing in some way with simplicity. One was from November's Fast Company called The Beauty of Simplicity. Theme was how there are lots of people out there trying to make the products we use less complex.

The other was Walt Mossberg's column for today, Computer Makers Cater to Big Business, Slight the Rest of Us. Walt's theme isn't simplicity per se, but he does make the point that PC makers have made PCs more difficult to use by optimizing for companies that have IT staffs as opposed to consumers or small businesses which don't.

Today I spent some time with Mobilcast and our competitors' products, thinking about simplicity. I think we've done a good job keeping our stuff simple, but there's a lot more we can do. Our competitors' stuff varies in simplicity. I don't want to comment much more on that other than to say they can greatly improve as well.

The one area where each of us is challenged is getting the application onto the phone itself. The processes are good. The phones and the carriers have made it harder than it should be to deliver an easy solution. Let's break that down:

In terms of phones, our stuff runs on higher end phones. These phones are designed for more than phone calls, and thus have more advanced features. At the same time they are phones, which means they have limited screen real estate and few keys. These phones are designed for experienced users. Never mind what application you're trying to run. The phone manufacturer assumes that if you own one of these phones you are more savvy and can deal with complexity. A buddy of mine was extolling the virtures of his Treo yesterday, saying "once I got it figured out, which included a 1 hour support call, it's great." The point is that he shouldn't have to go through a lengthy figuring it out stage. But that's just what the phone manufacturer has forced. The worst offender is Motorola, who can't seem to design any two phones the same way. Nokia is probably has the shortest learning curve, but even they are starting to fall into the complexity trap.

When you talk about the carriers it gets worse. I've had to configure and reconfigure half dozen phones to run on Cingular's MEdiaNet network. It's hard. T-Mobile isn't much better. Granted if you buy a phone directly from one of the carriers there's a higher likelihood it'll work just fine out of the box. Assuming you purchased the data plan at the same time. If you add the plan later the chances are you will need to do some manual configuration. That's not something the average user can easily do. Again, it seems the carriers assume only experienced users who are OK with some pain will have data plans so they aren't worried about making it easy to configure the phones for web access.

So what's the point? The point is that this need to simplify permeats more than just traditional software and hardware companies, which is the focus of the articles above. The cell phone manufacturers and carriers need to take a hard look at themselves and follow suite. Particularly considering the growth of cell phones each year.

I promise you we're doing all we can to keep Mobilcast simple.

Tags Mobilcast Wall Street Journal Nokia Motorola

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Alaska Airlines Flight #536

Turns out one of the guys on Alaska Airlines flight #536 was Blogebrity's own Jeremy Hermanns. Read his account of the incident.

What I find interesting about this isn't so much who was on the flight as the fact that details of the incident have hit the blogasphere so quickly. And that major news organizations have picked up the details from the blog. The immediacy of coverage is impressive.

I've been reading a lot about how bloggers have changed the face of reporting - coverage is more candid, and more immediate. Reminds me a lot about how online reporting changed the game a few years ago when I was doing a lot more press for MSFT. Jeremy's post takes this to a whole new level, more of a "and you were there" type of thing.

Tags Alaska Airines blogging blogs

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Personal Connection

I've been re-reading Rob's post from Friday. Two important things come out here. First, personal connection. Second, podcasters make up the majority of podcast listeners.

At the risk of sounding pessimistic for a moment, there is no pent up demand for podcasts out there. Yes it's growing, and sure it's the buzzword of 2005. But we're not at the peak of the hype curve yet. Only 6 million people will have downloaded a podcast by the end of 2005. That's 2% of PC users. Not an overwhelming number. But the forecasts are encouraging. The number of podcast listeners should more than triple in 2006.

Content will drive the growth. But to make this happen it needs to be relevant, and there needs to be the connection Rob talks about. This is true on both the PC and the cell phone, but perhaps moreso on the phone because it's the newer device for listening to podcasts.

Rob's taken on the responsibility for driving Mobilcast content partnerships, and thus far is doing a great job - we'll have some cool announcements in early 2006. One of his challenges, th0ugh, is finding content that is well suited to the phone and how people use it. He's making great progress, but we have more to do. He has the right priorities.

Tags podcast podcasting Mobilcast mobile podcasting cell phone mobile phone

Friday, December 23, 2005

Mobile Internet Access Enables Personal Mobilcast Connections

I got a Nokia N90 review phone from Nokia a few weeks ago and I have been pondering the realities of accessing the Internet on my cell phone. I signed up for Cingular service and had them add their MEdia Net unlimited Internet access plan for $19.95 per month to the phone. This seems to be rather expensive, but considering how much you might spend on data to the phone with a per KB transfer plan it is cheap. The 1 to 3 cents per KB plans cost much more if you listen to Podcasts.

I have been actually using the Nokia N90 to visit websites and have been using the Mobilcast software to listen to great Podcasts; CNN Hourly Updates, ABC News Nightline and NBC’s Meet the Press. I also feel myself compelled to find and listen to Podcasts about my profession of Marketing and Podcasts done by my friends. These friends Podcasts range from Todd Cochrane of the Geek News Central podcast, Andy McCaskey of Slashdot Review to my wife Dana Greenlee’s CBS.com Netcast Podcasts. The thing that is interesting is that I have a deep level of personal connection to this content. I am compelled and want to listen to these programs on a regular basis. I want to keep up with what they are doing and at the same time learn a lot from the content that they produce. I think this is a key distinction about podcasts in general and what motivates people to listen to independently produced podcasts.

What is important to me is both major media Podcast content and other Podcast content that I have a personal connection. This personal connection to the people who voice the content goes back to the basics of broadcasting, the host that pulls a big audience has the ability to connect at a personal level with the audience or the numbers will never develop. Just look at Howard Stern as he is the classic example.

The bottom line for me is that mobile Internet connected cell phones are today able to extend our ability to communicate with each other and that Mobilcasting can be a great way to stay up to date with friends who may be experimenting with making Podcasts. The number of people and companies making audio Podcasts is growing fast and thus the listeners to Podcasts are also growing fast. I am a firm believer that podcasters listen to Podcasts and maybe the largest group of Podcast listeners. I think the growth in Podcasting is more about creation and personal connection.

I have been producing a weekly podcast called WebTalk Radio for over a year now and to me it is about learning, meeting great people when I do interviews for the show and sharing my knowledge. I am at Mobilcast to help the company extend this personal connection between the listener and the content creator who is also the listener. Doesn’t this sound more like a personal conversation? Interesting question. Hope you and your family have a great holiday.

Tags podcast podcasting nokia N90 mobilcasting rob greenlee cingular mobile internet access

Happy Holidays

From all of us at Melodeo and the Mobilcast Network have a happy holiday. We'll be talking again after December 26.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Google, AOL, Microsoft and Buying Share

Had lunch today with a buddy who used to work in MSN Search. He told me that his contacts said that the Microsoft/AOL deal fell apart because of money. He went on to say that he coudn't believe that a company that is a distant #3 in search, with more cash than most small countries and no debt allowed money to be an object.

I played devil's advocate by saying that Microsoft probably set a valuation for AOL and a top price they'd pay and they stuck to their principles.

He went on to remind me that Microsoft at one point valued Overature at $90m, but Yahoo paid $0.5b for it. Sure Yahoo may have over-valued Overature. And we were both sure that Google over-valued AOL. But his point is sound - if you're lagging in a market and can buy your way out of the hole, why wouldn't you?

Tags Google AOL Microsoft

Apple Podcasting Server

Apple has a podcasting server integrated into Mac Server OS X 10.4. Appears on their education page. According to this it supports blogs and podcasts. Wonder when they'll make it available more broadly through iTunes.

Tags Apple podcast podcasting blogging

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Community

Yesterday we were debating the value of community, podcasting, and mobilcasting. I argue that we need and want to build community because that's what the podcasting world is today - a big and growing community. We're tapping that. Our ever growing affiliate list is evidence of that. And it's just going to keep going. Which is one of the things I love about this business.

I was looking at my bloglines this morning and ran across a post on Miss Rogue's blog about a new site, Can I Crash. Talk about community.

Technorati tags blog community community blogging

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

AOL Valuation

Been reading some quotes about the AOL/Google deal. This one, cut from the Seattle Times today really jumped out at me.

"This will require all of us on the sell side to revalue the AOL piece of Time Warner," said Laura Martin, an analyst at Soleil Securities, in Pasadena, Calif., who has a "buy" rating on Time Warner and values AOL at $14 billion.

Um, did it ever occur to anyone that maybe Google overpaid?

Technorati tags Google AOL Google and AOL

The Great Ad Debate

First, a little dirty laundry. One of our developers told me yesterday that the only way he finds out about what's going on at the company is by reading the blog. Um, we're a 40 person company. And I know this developer and he's here every day, talking to people and such. File this under "things that make you go hmmm."

On to business.

Yesterday's great advertising debate was around whether and to what extent advertisers want and need demographic information. I maintain that potential podcast advertisers need and want demographic information. They don't get it today in most online podcasts so we mobilcast guys can add additional value, and in turn we can get higher value per click.

The other side of the table argued that Google doesn't provide any demographic info, and in fact doesn't know its users at all. Yet they make a bunch of money on advertising.

So the question is whether podcast and mobilcast advertising is more like Google. If so then it's not necessary for us to gather any demographic info.

I argue that podcast and mobilcast advertising is like radio and other broadcast media. As such it is imperative to have good customer data to help advertisers target their ads, which in turn allows the podcaster/mobilcaster and the aggregator to place a higher value on each click.

I say this because I believe the usage model is different. When someone uses Google they are searching for specific information. The key word here is search. The ads are simply part of the result set. They are targetted of course, but the user has the option to follow the link.

Contrast with podcasting, which is a subscribe model. True one often searches for a specific podcast to get started, but once the podcast is found and subscribed to the listener generally stops searching. Subscription assumes the listener comes back regularly. In this model the ad is inserted into the podcast (audio or graphically) on a somewhat targetted basis. And if the advertiser is smart they will purchase insertion into multiple episodes to maximize exposure.

And what makes an advertiser select a given podcast? Demographic information. Someone selling Geritol is not going to advertise on Dawn and Drew. It's not the right target.

Advertisers will pay more for better targetting. Better targetting leads to better follow through and more qualified leads, which in turn means better chances of making a sale. Which brings it all back to demographics.

The beauty of this is that it's all new ground. We as a distributer of mobilcasts have an opportunity to create the model that works. To work it needs to be high value for the advertiser, and relevant to the listener. By relevant I mean fit their interests and integrate with the way they manage and listen to podcasts on the phone. If we try to force the wrong things on them they will vote with their feet.

Technorati tags advertising advertisers podcast advertising podcast marketing

Monday, December 19, 2005

Video on a Cell Phone

Our CEO is a TV guy by trade. So this weekend he purchased a Samsung A900 on the Sprint service so he could run Mobilcast. And because he's a TV guy he starts playing with video. And you know, it's pretty darn good.

The UI to get there is confusing. And even though he has an all you can eat plan every download pops up with a payment requirement (says it'll be waived when the bill comes due).

Vidcasting on the phone is not far behind.

Mobilcast.com, Again

www.mobilcast.com now points to the right place. It's soooo nice to finally have that URL. So much easier than the alternative.

We're also cleaning up some of the stuff on the site so it'll be a little simpler to navigate. A new look will come along in January.

Content Just Keeps Getting Better

Our content just keeps getting better and better. I just finished listening to The Ricky Gervais Show. On my cell phone. What could be better.

Technorati tags: Ricky Gervais The Office

Friday, December 16, 2005

2005 - Year of the Podcast

Law.com has declared 2005 Year of the Podcast.

Not quite sure how I feel about podcasting as a tool for training lawyers. On the one had, gotta love the intersection between podcasting and education. On the other, do we really need more lawyers (love ya, Noel :>).

www.mobilcast.com

We FINALLY have www.mobilcast.com as our URL. We're redirecting to mobilcastnetwork right now. How great to have a simple, descriptive URL.

And it only took, oh, 6 weeks of negotiation and sabre rattling with a Korean squatter to get it.

I Love Competition

Back when I was with Microsoft I was in a meeting with a guy named Jim Allchin. When the meeting broke up he and I were talking and I made some reference to Netscape. Jim slapped the table and said, "I love those guys. I love having competition. It keeps us focused." That's always stuck with me.

I love competition.

We're part of a nascent market. We have a couple guys starting to come into the space. One of them has some very cool features they are just talking about. We've looked at them and found some gaps that we need to fill to stay ahead. And one of our guys went out yesterday and built a widget that'll allow us to do just that.

So you're reading this thinking "yeah, so? what wouldn't he do that?" It's a long story best told over beers, but the summary is that it's not necessarily part of our culture for a business guy to program a widget and pass it to development. But having a competitor stir things up changes your attitude.

That's not to say you plan products and make business decisions around or in response to your competitor's moves. But you do need to think hard about the smart things they are doing for customers and work like hell to leapfrog them. Honestly we've built a damn good product. But we were getting a little complacent because we had nobody pushing us for the hearts and minds of the customer. Now we do. That'll lead to more fire. Which will lead to more cool stuff happening like this widget being developed. And that in turn will be how we win.

It's an encouraging sign.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

All I Want for Christmas

I'm violating one of the rules I learned in college, which is always site your sources. But I can't remember where I picked up this tidbit of knowledge nor who initially said it. Which of course won't stop me from repeating it....Anway, read that the hot must have gifts this Christmas are portable media devices. iPods, PSPs, etc.

That must be why my 5 year old son, a trendsetter if ever I've met one, wants to ask Santa for a Shuffle.

So how many of those devices will be cell phones I wonder?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Macrovision and Melodeo

Another announcement that has nothing to do with podcasting, at least not today.

Melodeo and Macrovision have teamed up to form an alliance that offers mobile DRM and IP protection to service providers who want to offer mobile content services. Things like music downloads, games, etc. Considering the state of play in mobile DRM today this is an important thing.

The press release is on Mobilcast Network.

Technorati tags: mobile drm DRM mobile content

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Who Listens to Podcasts?

Today's discussion topic - who listens to podcasts? Some of us say it's mostly other podcasters and bloggers, early adopter types. A couple said "everyone" (hmmm...).

Important question because it drives content decisions, product decisions, marketing decisions....The one thing I know is that the data pretty much sucks, and if you try to base the answer on what shows up in the top lists you'll be even more confused.

Monday, December 12, 2005

A Podcaster Taxonomy

OK, I'm a product marketing guy. My job is to define products and drive marketing. In order to do that I have to have things like a target audience, maybe a user or customer taxonomy. These are kinds of tools of the trade. Not glamorous or sexy, but at some point necessary for the job.

I've been working on a taxonomy for podcasters. At some level I don't like categorizing podcasters because the space is moving too fast and I don't know anyone who really likes to be labled. But again, it's a necessary thing for the job so I'm doing it. I'm the first to admit that the taxonomy isn't perfect - in some ways it's too broad, in others it forces a categorization that some may find uncomfortable. We'll consider it work in progress. Here goes...

Using broad strokes I'm thinking of the universe of podcasters as having 3 groups:

1. Major Media, which is the group of major media companies who are doing podcasts. Guys like CNN, NPR, ESPN, etc. These are guys who have multiple other media types under their umbrella and use podcasts as a way to extend their reach. My back of the envelope math says that this group comprises about 25% of all podcasts, and accounts for maybe 1/3 of all downloads.

2. Grass Roots Professionals, who I count as being individuals or small media companies who use podcast as their primary, or only, media property. What this group has in common is a professional quality and a regular schedule, making them closer to major media than not. I don't think you can categorize them into any single genre as they span technology to comedy, social commentary to general interest entertainment. My estimate is that this group makes up 65% of total podcasts, and accounts for close to 2/3 of downloads.

3. Individual Hobbyists, who are exactly what the name implies. Hobbyists are the long tail - folks who have something to say and are going to use a podcast to say it. They don't get into podcasting to build a brand or anything like that, though sometimes that happens. They don't always put out high quality, and they don't really have a regular schedule. It's a fast growing segment, though right now it only makes up somewhere around 10% of the podcasts out there.

So by now you're asking what any of this has to do with anything. We build cool software to help people get podcasts directly to their cell phones, as you know. To build a successful company we need to focus. We have to know what, really who, to focus on. That's why I spent time with some of the smart guys I work with developing a taxonomy.

And it'd be great to hear what you think about this. It's work in progress, and definitely needs some vetting.

Friday, December 09, 2005

BlogsnDogs

Eric Rice posts about BlogsnDogs today. Love the last line:

"I'm going to put out a challenge to my fellow experts, A-listers, and visionaries. Get your butts out of your ivory towers, get off your high horses of entitlement, and think about the Long Tail. Truly, truly engage the Long Tail. Some folks out there do a great job of this; others don't. Some debate, quarrel, and otherwise spin the tires upon deaf and perhaps, bored ears. Find your inner fire and share it with someone else. Someone new. It might be the single biggest difference you make, and not for yourself, but for someone else."

It's not just the A listers, visionaries, etc. who need to do this. It's any small, scrappy startup trying to make a go in this new world. You have to engage customers directly. Ask them what they think and what they want, and really listen to the answer.

On a somewhat related topic, earlier this week I posted on a related topic, asking if people would mind getting a call from us to ask about their experiences using the product. I had convinced myself that customers would hate that so we shouldn't try it. Call me a flip-flopper but I'm changing my view. Call 'em. If they don't get pissed call more. And so on. What better way to connect.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Mind Block

Today I have mindblock so I'm afraid I don't have anything really meaningful to write about. Guess I'll just give a short update on things:

Expect a revision on our web site end of next week. Mostly content tweaks.

Next week we will make it possible for anyone to download Mobilcast to their phone, even if we haven't tested that particular phone. Essentially it's a real beta program.

Still on track for a new release of Mobilcast at the start of the new year, sticking to our goal of releasing a new version every 6 weeks.

Still adding fresh content. Be sure to "Look for Updates" when you start the client. There's some really cool new stuff in there. Check it out.

You know, it's pretty easy to look at what's wrong. Sometimes it's nice to take stock of what's going right.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Knightrider on my iPod

NBC is licensing a bunch of shows to iTunes. Now I can get all those Knightrider reruns on my iPod. That K.I.T was loaded with talent.

Is It SPAM to Call Customers for Product Feedback?

When you download Mobilcast you give us your cell phone number so we can send you an SMS with a link to the product files. We ask for permission to contact you with marketing and promo info, and if you say no we won't do it because we hate SPAM.

But is it SPAM to call you and ask for product feedback?

This is the debate we had yesterday. I won't bore you with the details. I'll just ask the question and see what people say.

Incidentally, the alternative was not to call but send an SMS and ask you to call us.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

DRM and Podcasts

Yesterday I said that the Verisign deal wasn't really about podcasting, and I maintain that's the case because it is specific to full track music downloads and subscription. But there has been some debate starting about wrapping podcasts with DRM. In many ways this is in direct opposition to the spirit of podcasting, where the content is free and accessible to anyone with a PC (or, in our case, a cell phone).

But what about podcasters who want to make subscription money off their podcasts? Lots of big media companies are creating podcasts, and the monetization plan today is advertising. I think it's within the realm of possibility for some media company to segment their content into free and paid, and if some content is paid you need a way to make sure only those who pay get it.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Google's Rules for Success

MSNBC posted Google's 10 golden rules for getting the most out of knowledge workers. Interesting read. Nothing really novel, though. Even with a thinly veiled shot at their friends in Redmond....Still makes for a good, quick read.

Christmas for Mobilcast

Check out the new Christmas channel in the Mobilcast directory. Letters from Santa, all kinds of great stuff.

Verisign Licenses Melodeo DRM

It's not really about Mobilcast or podcasting, but this is a significant announcement so I thought I'd mention it.

Verisign has licensed Melodeo MobilDRM to use in a full track music service they are developing via their Jamster unit. MobilDRM will allow Jamster to develop and roll out a service that does either download or subscription as a result of using our DRM. The subscription play is interesting - most carriers want to go that way because it's a better revenue opportunity, but there was no way to do it in truly mobile fashion until now because of a lack of DRM. We've fixed that.

The press release can be found on Mobilcast Network.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Shout Out to SDR

Want to give a shout out to Andy Mccaskey at Slashdot Review for giving a should out to Mobilcast in today's show.

Adam Curry Busted!

I've never met Adam Curry and have no opinion one way or the other about him personally. He did some smart stuff to create visibility around podcasting. And he was a fair VJ (though I was more a Martha Quinn/Nina Blackwell guy). So my bringing this up is in no way because I'm trying to trash anyone's reputation or take sides in an argument.

But this post from Workbenchcracked me up today. Forget about the acrimony and vitrol about what was supposed to have happened. It's the comments that just broke me up.

Slow News Day, But...

Slow news day today. Probably because it has been snowy in Seattle and, while nothing stuck in the city, it paralized the entire region. Fortunately the local news outlets were right there, showing every snowflake and warning us that if it doesn't let up we may well be buried under an inch of snow!

Anyway, some good stuff to report. The Wall Street Journal article from Wednesday is now live on Mobilcast Network. Have a read.

Our affliliates list is growing by leaps and bounds, we're adding new phones weekly, and we have some other cool stuff in the works that I'm looking forward to sharing later.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Microsoft Classified Ads Beta Barfs

We're always thinking about a) how to extend podcasting, particularly on a phone, and b) how to make the phone a more useful device for stuff other than phone calls. That's one of the guiding principles behind Mobilcast. So when I read about stuff like Google and Microsoft getting into areas like classified ads in the online world I have to check it out.

This morning I linked to Microsoft's test site for "Fremont", their classified ads beta. Got a runtime error. Thinking it's a Firefox thing I try in IE. Same error. Guess it's not ready for primetime. Yeah, I hear you saying "it's beta, what did you expect?" Maybe....