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I've been online since 1971 and I like to smoothe the way for everyone else. Among other things I co-founded Sympatico, the world's first easy-to-use Internet service (and Canada's largest).

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Friday, September 29, 2006

Podcasts: What Are They Good For?

Apple is apparently getting nasty with some people who use the term “podcast”, claiming infringement on their iPod trademark. I’m not surprised by this: unless a trademark is actively protected the courts may strike it down, e.g. Aspirin lost its trademark status in the USA, though not in Canada. I’m happy about Apple’s activity, because the term “podcast” helps reinforce the dominance of the iPod, a closed-architecture and DRM-ridden music player. I hope the term gets replaced by, for instance, “audiocast” and “videocast”, as promoted by Robert Scoble among others. One particular advantage of these terms is that they distinguish between audio and video (duh), an important distinction when it comes to the experience of the listener/viewer (see?—we don’t even have a term that covers both, unless you want to stoop to something like “consumer”).

When do audiocasts get listened to? Usually when people play them on their digital music players while travelling. This includes all those commuters who want to get something out of a commute that they’d rather not have to put up with. I haven’t been a commuter for a while, so I listen to audiocasts only rarely, on my computer, usually trying to do something else at the same time but not succeeding. Audiocasts are primarily for people in situations where they can focus on listening without giving up anything significant, like sitting on a bus, driving or cycling in traffic that doesn’t require much attention, walking, or sitting in a waiting room. Those of us who don’t do that much of the above have little use for audiocasts. I can read much faster than I can listen to people talking. If you’re going to create an audiocast, fine, but please also supply a transcript. (Clearly I’m referring here to spoken audiocasts, not music audiocasts — but music audiocasts are generally just playlists.)

Videocasts don’t have the same set of use cases as audiocasts: you’d better not be watching video while driving, although it’s fine if you’re on the bus. The other big difference is that your portable video player probably has a small screen and you’d prefer to watch on something bigger. Putting these two factors together, video is much less attractive than audio for a portable device. But on a computer with a decently-sized screen (or a TV set that’s connected), it’s the opposite: video is much more attractive. I can watch videocasts “efficiently”, making good use of both my eyes and ears. (I’m fond of The Show with Ze Frank and Rocketboom, both of which appear every weekday, as well as one-offs such as Pancakes!.)

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