The podcasts I listen to and how BusinessWeek got it wrong

Is Podcasting revolution over before it began? BusinessWeek seems to think so and quotes Pew Internet & American Life Project’s statistics. The topic is also generating some buzz in the blogosphere, with BusinessWeek’s interpretation being gleefully accepted by some and thoughtfully rejected by others.

I believe into podcasting‘s future because it is here already for me. I have a 40 minute walk to work each day, so I have over six hours of content a week I can consume. And being quite busy during days, nights and weekends, I try to use that walk time constructively as well. I have been listening to the podcasts from before they were called that and, so, had some time to get my bearings. And they are basically aligned with what the concept of Long Tail teaches us.

Strangely enough, BusinessWeek did not even mention any of the concepts that are important for me and my podcast consumption. That’s how I know the article is missing many points. It is not really unexpected, as it takes a while to get past the beginner’s understanding and actually see the real depth of the concept.

My current collection is at 25 podcasts and I have discarded over time probably twice that number. Less than a third of the podcasts on the list would be considered even vaguely popular by normal measures, the rest are plainly hyper-specialized to my needs and interests.

Over time, I had dutifully sampled and eventually discarded Adam Curry, Dave Winer and Gillmor Gang podcasts. They sporadically have some interesting content, but so infrequently that I find myself frustrated with all the filler. Gillmor Gang specifically I have given 3 or 4 tries over years, but I think they were most interesting during their ITConversations’ days.

I also don’t have any popular radio podcasts. I find the latest news to be easiest to consume in an aggregated or RSS format on my computer. That way if a news item is interesting, I can follow up on its references or setup keywords alert for the future notifications. Podcasts, in my mind, are much more suitable for content that has already undergone some thought process by its producer. I know that for some people, the reasoning is different but just as valid (for them).

I break my subscriptions into roughly 5 categories:

  • Technical News – In my industry (IT) it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. Without these podcasts I feel that I would not notice what is coming down the line until it would be too late and I would be stuck maintaining Cobol-equivalent systems forevermore.
  • Trend watching – Many interesting things are happening in the world if one just happens to be in the right place at the right time. These podcasts put me into that place and do it very early in the ideas’ lifecycles: somewhere between a cutting edge and an early adoption stage. I may not have time to participate, but sometimes the knowledge I get allows me to leapfrog the conventional process. For example, I have been on a cheap Voice-over-IP service (Lingo) for nearly two years and saved myself money and hustle of dealing with Verizon and its ilk.
  • Learning new skills in a background – I may not have time to allocate several active hours a week on a useful, but not currently essential skill, but podcasts in these category allow me to learn something through osmosis over time. Later, when I would need those skills, I would have already absorbed enough to be a very quick learner.
  • Language learning – I am studying Spanish now and before that I was learning French and Esperanto and there is always some improvement I could do to my English. These podcasts provide additional learning (or meta-learning) material. Some of them are also good edutainment.
  • Entertainment – Some podcasts are just funny or interesting or have my friends in them. They round up the collection nicely.

My full list is available publically, but here is the breakdown by the categories as I see it:

Are there more podcasts I would have liked to listen to? Certainly. I would love a podcast on computational linguistics. At the moment, even the bloggers on the topics are extremely rare.

I would also love a podcast on Scottish Country Dancing. There is just so much one could do with that. I know that at least one person have thought of it and given up as unsustainable, which is a real pity. I am tempted to start one myself just to prove her wrong.

Finally, I think there is a way to make a better language-learning podcast/video cast than the ones I found so far. I have mentioned some of the ideas to at least one person in a position to do that. Nothing happened yet, but such things take time. I will wait a while and, if nothing happens, will blog it here instead. I don’t mind prividing competitive advantage to a company that deserves it through good service, but will not sit on the ideas forever either.

To summarise the long post, I think that podcasting has legs and will succeed in the content niches that appeal to people based on their individual interests and needs. There is a lot of fluff and junk podcasts on the web at the moment, but it is getting better and, as with blogging, the absolute number of interesting podcasts is growing fast. It takes some time to find good content, but it really pays off in a long run.

5 comments to The podcasts I listen to and how BusinessWeek got it wrong

  • Wow, nice collection. I added quiet a few from your list to my own subscriptions!

    P.S. Long live podcasts! :)

  • Alex

    Ilya,

    Glad you like the list. Hope you will enjoy the podcasts themselves as well.

  • I love podcasts! I listen to a fair few on writing and one of my favourites is Mur Lafferty’s I Should Be Writing. She has been podcasting since 2005 and I have been listening since the beginning.

    I occasionally listen to a bit of podcast fiction – I don’t go out of my way to find this stuff but it will occasionally be linked to from the writing podcasts.

    I listen to weekly discussion podcasts in my industry such as Guardian Unlimited’s media podcast or on topics I’m interested in, such as arts. I am subscribed to a fair few news and current affairs podcasts but I don’t listen to all of them.

    I have subscribed to some language learning podcasts (German, Italian, Spanish) but haven’t done anything with them yet. Which ones do you find to be the best?

    I have also subscribed to a London Walks podcast, which I think is a brilliant idea but I’m yet to go on one of the walks! It’s like having a guided walk but at your own schedule and without the other tourists. Unfortunately it hasn’t been updated for six months so I’m not sure it’s still going. There should be more travel podcasts I reckon.

    I have written features about how media owners (as opposed to individuals who do it as a hobby or can survive on the podcast equivalent of Ad Words revenue) are going to make money out of this, and also how marketers are using at as a branded content medium. There’s no doubt in my mind that podcasting has a strong future as a commercial proposition. And if it doesn’t, who cares? There are enough talented individuals out there doing it to make it compelling for consumers.

  • Alex

    Caitlin: I have fixed your article link as it was pointing to a dead space for some reason. I really liked your grasping the nettle metaphor.

    I did listen to Mur for a while, but since I am not really a writer, eventually I unsubscribed.

    I have heard about London Walks as well and I think it is a great idea. I don’t think anybody made one for New York yet; that would be nice. Especially, if one connects it to the GPS device and builds them on a fly (hmm, a cool business idea in the making).

    With language podcasts, I am not really sure. They are good as supplementary material, but not (yet) as an actual primary study one.

    With Spanish specifically, I like the NHK daily news, because it gets me used to the sounds and chunking of Spanish, not because I understand too many words out of it yet. I do think that any language learning audio podcast with the transcript is worth more than double of the one without. I haven’t paid for any transcripts yet, but I like knowing that the option exists.

  • There are also fitness podcasts (I guess running music, workouts, motivational stuff) which is a good idea but I haven’t tried them yet. There’s all sorts of wonderful stuff out there!

    Thanks for fixing the link.