Rally the Podcast Community

One of the reasons that I love podcasting so much is the fact that behind all the productions is a community of great people. This is a group of people united by a common purpose and usually are only too happy to help fellow podcasters.

Despite the range of topics that we cover as podcasters, our styles and personalities or whatever we are all working towards the same thing. That is to have our say, be a voice, further the industry and get the word out to those that don’t know about the great medium called podcasting. Podcasters are in it for podcasting. Plus it is a hoot.

The Internet is a funny beast. I have made an observation. Some bit of news happens, sure those at the front line see it first and blog about it or notice it in searches. This is the first wave, this can still take a few days to happen. Then over about the next three to five days, depending on how big the story is; it reaches “critical mass” within the blogosphere. What’s that I hear you ask. It is that point at which you start to see trackbacks, the information gets disseminated and talked about. Whatever it is becomes more “news worthy” (whatever that is!). This happens on a smaller scale as well.

So I posted my plea for a new co-host on the 5th of September. At first I got nothing, no links no replies to the story. I publicised it a bit more on forums and kind people have linked to the story at my request. Now yesterday and today I am starting to see the effect of that. Incidentally, four days have passed. So the take home message there is; don’t loose heart if you are breaking a big story or have written an exceptional post or advertising something you want to sell, wait for critical mass.

So today I have recieved a response from a forum, the comments in The Global Geek Podcast Blog. In addition I got a pleasant surprise this morning when I checked the blogs and I noticed that there were two trackbacks to my post for a co-host.

So thank you to PodcastNYC.net for carrying the story. This is a pure example of a fellow podcaster seeing a comrade in need and helping out. Here it does not matter that we are from different networks or production style or whatever else might separate us. It is this sense of community that is evident, that which is important. This is the essence of community network that the Internet both facilitates and engineers as time goes on. It is one of the best aspects of what the Internet can do for you. I can see no other reason for the proliferation of engineered social networks on the net.

The other trackback I found this morning was from Podcasting Jobs Podcast. I have touched on the issues that Jon Watson raises before and indeed during this effort to find a new co-host:

“To date, nobody has put together a real concerted effort to provide a “podcasting classifieds” type thing. Some podcasting sites have job sections, but they’re generally pretty sparse.”

This is a niche that is yet to be filled. I will add that if it is filled, would it be done right? It will only work if it is supported by the community and the services that are offered are slick, inexpensive (or free). A social network for podcasters? We certainly need a space that offers:

  • Connections
  • Sources of information
  • How to’s
  • Potential Advertisers
  • Support
  • I need… [a new co-host]
  • Where to find podcasting resources like music

To name but a few examples that I can think of. However Jon goes on to say:

“The lack of podcasting job sites isn’t a reflection on the services, rather it’s a reflection of the space right now.”

I fully agree, until podcasting is more accessible to the masses and “trusted” by advertisers, the potential marketing value will be limited to a few.

So thanks guys for the vote of confidence and the support, keep it up and remember to let me know of anyone that might be interested in the “job” as long as they don’t mind they are doing it for nothing! Don’t worry I do it for free as well.

What Bit Rate for Podcasts?

I really, honestly do not know the answer to this question. What is the best bit rate to encode a podcast at? Also does that answer depend upon the fact that you are a listener or a podcaster or hosting service?

I do the post production work for the Global Geek Podcast. Before moving to TPN I always encoded the podcast at 44khz and 96kbps. That works out at about 35 – 40MB per show (depending on length between 40 minutes to an hour). We have what I think is great audio quality, but am I spoiling ourselves and our listeners and potentially excluding others?

We have never had a complaint about the file size of the show. No-one has ever said it was too big. People have commented on the quality and said it is great and we have worked hard to get it that way. But I now question if that is over kill. So I tried to figure out what bit rate is the most common. I did a very small survey of the podcasts I have on the computer. I only have nine on it at the moment – most of them are on the MP3 Player (where they should be).

Anyway I got the following breakdown:

Total of 9 Podcasts:

  • 2 encoded at 96kbps
  • 4 encoded at 64kbps
  • 3 encoded at 48kbps

A conclusive survey that does not make. But maybe I am aiming too high. What quality do listeners expect of a podcast? Do they want a small file and lower quality so that they get the content without the bandwidth. Or do they want great quality and a larger file size? With the size of MP3 players now the storage is not an issue I don’t think. But I know in Australia the cost of bandwidth might be. The cost of faster connections is expensive and so many users are on a maximum of 256/64 or 512/128. So does a larger file size deter them from listening to our show? Could we have a bigger audience if we made it smaller and if that is the case what size is acceptable?

With the uptake of broadband technology there is a step towards encoding at a larger bit rate but what should it be? Perhaps 64kbps is a good place. I listen to quite a few podcasts that are recorded at 64kbps and they sound good. A one hour podcast encoded at 64kbps is about 28MB (voice only). Is this a big difference to 96kbps? Well it is between 10 and 15 MB. Will that mean the difference between more listeners and a balance between keeping your existing ones because of what they expect? Will you loose listeners by lowering the bit rate dramatically and will it matter because of the number you pick up. To me it does anyway, I care that we keep the listeners we have.

The other big consideration here is the hosting cost. I know that I had to go to the plan one up from the basic plan in order to have the podcast encoded at such a high bit rate. So that privilege cost me $10US/month instead of $5US/month. That was a cost that I thought was worth it. Also what if your podcast is being hosted by a network, what file size is reasonable for them to host? Is it acceptable that you have a higher bit rate than the other shows that are hosted there and is it necessary? Personally, I would like to find a happy medium between file size, bit rate and quality. I want the best quality at a reasonable file size. I don’t want my hosting provider to get pissed off that the show is too large. In addition to that fact; the network wants as many people to listen to as many shows as possible. If it is possible that people are “turned off” by a large file size, then that is not for the benefit of the network and I would not do it. In that instance the file size should be smaller at the sacrifice of quality for the benefit of the network and I need to accept that.

As a listener I do not care what size a file is. I have a fast Internet connection and it really does not bother me. I like high quality podcasts but I listen to some that are not of a high quality as far as bit rate because the content is good. So is good quality a cover for shit content? If it is; it is not sustainable long term. So as a listener of podcasts I don’t search for podcasts based on audio quality or file size, and maybe I have just answered my question in part.

Having made these points I will say that some basic editing will improve quality out of sight. I have turned off podcasts because they have not bothered to do this basic editing. They were unlistenable and total shit and they should have thought the same! I wonder if some podcasters even listen to it after they have recorded it. So what do I mean by “basic editing?”

Basic editing in my opinion is:

  • Setting levels before you start, especially if you are recording Skype using a software application. This means setting your levels with enough “headroom” to get loud during a podcast so that you don’t “clip” the recording. And not so soft that you have to amplify it dramatically to get something to work with.
  • Don’t edit the podcast as an MP3, MP3 is a “lossy” format and gets worse and worse in quality every time you re-encode it or open it and save it.
  • Run a compressor on the audio to “smooth” the audio. That is take out the high’s and bring up the lows.
  • Run the compressor a few more times.
  • Normalise” the audio, basically set the zero level. Makes the podcast the same volume and means that the listener isn’t constantly turning their volume up and down.
  • You may need to “amplify” the whole audio after using the compressor and normalising the audio. You don’t want the listener running out of volume because it is too soft!
  • Any added or imported audio needs the above steps.

Believe it or not the above takes the least amount of time in my editing but makes the biggest difference. I do go a step further and edit the actual audio and take out the umms and errs and we always stuff things up and say well we will edit that out. The time is also in the transitions and the mixing of the imported audio, making it all work together (the best that I can). So maybe you can see why as a podcaster I want it to sound as good as I can, I put a lot of effort into both the pre and post production. But is that at the neglect of other issues? Is this basic and advanced editing enough to make it a “quality” podcast?

Please leave a comment and tell me what you think. Tell me if you are a listener or a podcaster. Podcasters, tell me what you encode your podcast at and why. Listeners please answer my questions for me. As I said at the start of this post I really do not know what the right answer is, that’s why I have posed lots of questions. It would be great to get some answers, although I am not sure there is one.

Skype Heartbeat

Skype Heartbeat screenshotWe were going to include this news in the podcast but due to the huge show that we had it was omitted or forgotten. At the end of last month Skype introduced Heartbeat. Up to the minute information on the current state of health of the Skype network. Great idea in my opinion.

Many people are now relying on Skype for daily communications. In my own humble on-line existence I use it everyday. I use it to keep in touch with family and friends. Without Skype there would be no Global Geek Podcast, as we use Skype to do it. This new addition to Skype means that we can now see what the network is doing, any problems and where they are. It covers both the premium services that Skype offers like Voicemail, and SkypeOut as well as things like Signing in, web servers and central contact list to name a few.

While this service does nothing as far as fixing the problems that you may see it does communicate to the users of Skype if things are working properly or not. This goes a lot further than most phone companies! Part of maintaining a competitive business is being transparent to your user base and communicating with your customers. Skype does this well with a nice interface and up-to-date information.

For an individual using Skype there are many variables that influence how well it works. Skype usually works well and does not have major problems. But if you are having problems with Skype this is a great place to just check and make sure that the network is running smoothly, it rules out one variable and might solve you problem in that it might not be you. Good move Skype.

Another nice feature of the page is that you can subscribe to an RSS feed for the latest information, outages or problems and get notified when they fixed.

In time it is going to be difficult for the Telcos to keep up not only with dirt cheap pricing but also service, we are on the verge of revolution as more and more people start to wise-up to this great technology. It only gets better!

Capitalism in the Face of Content

I have often thought about this issue and I think it has even come up on Global Geek Podcast. How are all these lovely looking “Web2.0” websites going to make money? At this present time most of these sites look great, they have minimal advertising; if any. They look a million dollars due to the sleek web design and neat Ajax applications that they are employing. Or to use what has become a social term: these sites look very “Web2.0”. But today I see that this is changing.

Shoutwire is what people would term a “Web2.0” site. It is an on-line community that works a little like Digg in that news stories are submitted by the community and are “shouted” or “liked” by the users. In this way articles get X number of “shouts” which promotes that story up the ladder. I guess that you could say it a form of voting. Users can submit comments and have discussions about the stories as well. Great idea, news that the community decides is important gets promoted and read by more visitors to the site. There is also an RSS feed that you can subscribe to for the front, page much like Digg. The site when I joined was slick, pleasing to the eye and easy to use and it was fun. Although being a new site at the time the community was small. I don’t know how big it is now but if they continue wrecking their “look” they are going to scare people off in droves.

I had not visited Shoutwire for a while and I had some time free so I decided to swing on over to their site. To say that I was appauled is an understament. Sure there were some sort of syndicated adverts along the top, making up part of the header. Fine, a lot of sites have that or something similar. But the wart on the face of beauty was an overly large, flashing, obnoxious, irritating, badly placed advert right in the middle of the submitted article pane, right at the top. Absolutely disgusting.

Shoutwire Screen Shot[Click thumbnail for bigger image] Not only does this make the once slick site look cheap; it was also probably one of the most badly placed ads I have ever seen, but yes, I noticed it. I hated it, I am not even sure that I want to go back and I most probably will not. In addition to that is the fact that the type of advert that the editors (or whoever decides this stuff) have used; just does not look like it belongs on the site. It looks like they were desperate for money so they stuck up whatever they were offered. I don’t care if this type of advertising works, if it was me making these decisions it just would not have happened. It would be like a flashy magazine like Vanity Fair placing ads that you might see in Picture Magazine (Australian soft porn magazine) in the featured story. I am not sure if they realise that is how the selection and placement of advertising comes across or not but I would be interested to find out what other people think. There is another “choice” advert along the right side of the main page but at least it is not in your face. But it is one that I would not have expected to see, it just does not fit with the “flavour” of the site.

That said I have always maintained that these flash sites that we are being spoilt with are going to change and some like Shoutwire for the worse. The services and the nice looking sites, to say nothing of the bandwidth do not come for free. Something has to give here for them to be able to continue to operate and maintain the services that they offer.

We are going to see some things happen. These sites that promote traffic are going to have to decide how they tackle the revenue problem. Decide to fall on their sword and die a dignified death. Or they advertise. The only other alternatives is to charge a subscription to be able to contribute to the site or perhaps to even enter it. They would have to be pretty confident of their product for that to occur. But I can see the advertising thing happening. But please do it with class and good taste, Shoutwire is a great example of what not to do.

One nasty trick that some companies might be considering is that of building a user base that is highly involved and somewhat reliant on what they offer, like Odeo for example, then start to charge people to use it. I am not saying that I have heard that Odeo is considering doing this but I must say that if I would suspect a site for maybe doing it, it would be Odeo. You ask why I hear. Well; what Odeo are doing is transferring heaps of data in the form of podcasts and sent odeo messages to their user base and anyone else that wants to just listen to podcasts. That aspect alone would be costing them a lot of cold hard cash. Up until this point in time I have seen no advertising, except for themselves. But then again they might get their funding from somewhere else I don’t know.

Another site that comes to mind is YouTube, again huge bandwidth, big dollars, huge active user base and to top it off they are as popular as you might be able to get. Are they loosing money? I know they were for a while but they might not be now.

I would pay for both access and use of a site if a few conditions were meet. One is that I would have to rely on the service that they were offering and it would have to be good and reliable. Or alternatively I would have to very much enjoy being a part of that community. Secondly, I would expect that a subscription was payed in lieu of having to put up with Odeo Logoobnoxious advertising. For example, if Odeo said to me that I would have to pay to be able to recieve Odeo messages into my inbox for the podcast, I would agree to it. The reason being is that the service is a great one, it works, it is reliable, it is of high quality. But I would expect this fee to be reasonable as well, I won’t pay through the nose either!

So it remains to be seen if companies and websites will maintain the look and feel of their websites while meeting the need to raise revenue in order for the site to exist. I can see the need for both. But what I do not see the need for is the example of Shoutwire. It will be interesting to see what route these companies take over time as the pressure increases with more competition. Given Shoutwire, I am sure some will opt for cash and capitalism over content. In the meantime I am going to Newsvine, they look like they are doing something right.