Podcasters: act now to stop anti-podcasting treaty!

Post ImageSometimes people or organizations do things that just seem beyond comprehension. You just sit there, dumbfounded, shaking your head and asking “why?”. One example of this is what the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization is proposing:

The Broadcast Treaty is an attempt to force the world’s governments to give a new right to broadcasters, a right to control the use of works they don’t own. The Broadcast Right will allow broadcasters to stop you from copying or re-using the programs they transmit, even if those programs are in the public domain, Creative Commons licensed or composed of uncopyrightable facts.

It gets worse though, as Boing Boing explains. They want to create a “webcasting right” at the same time:

This is deadly to podcasters. The webcasting right will break podcasters’ ability to quote and re-use each others’ work (even CC-licensed works), and other video found on the net. It will allow podcast-hosting companies like Yahoo to tell people how they can use your podcasts, even if you want to permit retransmissions.

I guess a few letters have already been put together by EFF, signed by people like Mark Cuban, and sent to WIPO. Now they have put together another letter, and this one can be signed by podcasters everywhere:

If you are a podcaster — or better yet, a podcasting organization — sign onto this letter now! It will be presented Monday morning to the WIPO committee that’s creating the Broadcast Treaty in Geneva. This is your best-ever chance to be heard.

You can check out the letter and indicate that you want to sign it here.

Read: Boing Boing

Podcasting University Lectures

Post ImageBlogMatrix has a post up today about podcasting university lectures – particularly appropriate since I start classes again for the Fall semester bright and early tomorrow morning. While I fully intend to go to at least the first week of classes, all bets are off after that. And no, it’s not because I am lazy, or going shopping or anything like that, I simply have a business to run. Sometimes business and school conflict, and you need to make a decision – which is more important, this meeting, or a lecture? Most times, for better or for worse, I choose the meeting.

I wouldn’t miss anything though if the lecture was being recorded and made available as a podcast.

While the BlogMatrix post is more a point-form plan for how to implement such a thing, and how it would work, it touches on a few important points that deserve to be highlighted.

Podcasting a lecture is for the students in attendance too!
Of course there will be people like me who skip the lecture to do something else and simply want to listen to the podcast later. More importantly though, podcasting a lecture is useful for the students in attendance, as BlogMatrix points out: “students, instead of taking notes (or only notes), would record the time of a particular interesting or salient comment”. That would be incredibly useful. This point needs to be made very clear to the decision makers in a University, as they will most certainly protest the idea initially, citing fears that no one will go to class. I think such fears are baseless – there is value in attending the lecture, such as being able to participate in the conversation.

(As an aside, if the lecture contains no interaction and is just the professor standing at the front talking, then I’d be GLAD if podcasting it made attendance drop to zero. It’s ridiculous that students pay $500 for something like that, because you know most of the fees go to paying the professor anyway. It’s examples like this that show just how antiquated and bureaucratic the university system can be.)

The Wisdom of Crowds
Or in this case, the wisdom of students in the class. Let’s assume students can bookmark parts of the lecture – perhaps the most important or interesting parts. As noted in the BlogMatrix post, this is powerful stuff: “Collecting all these bookmarks across all students (and potentially across time) will provide collective intelligence/data mining/insight into what is really import in the lecture”. The ability to tag lectures and specific segments would further this collective wisdom.

Is security really an issue?
I don’t think so. The University doesn’t want people getting the lectures for free – I understand that. But how is making an MP3 file available any different than having some random person walk in off the street, sit in the class for an hour with a recorder, and put it online later? Especially in a lecture with 400+ students, I am surprised this doesn’t happen more actually. As long as sensitive or personal information is not included in the podcast, I don’t see security being much of an issue. I do agree with BlogMatrix though: “I don’t believe it’s the place of the vendor (i.e. me) to dictate requirements to a client”. If a university really wanted to integrate security, it shouldn’t be that difficult, as all universities have pretty extensive systems in place already.

Now, let’s look at this from the perspective of Podcast Spot (if you want a test account, email me). Could our technology support such a thing? With a few tweaks here and there, I believe so. We’ve got all the basics covered (like tags and comments), as well as a few of the more interesting requirements (such as random access). And there’s a bunch more features on the way too (such as improved methods of working with segments). It’s not going to happen (because I better graduate in April) but it sure would be cool to see Podcast Spot being used in my school. Maybe I’ll see it as an alumni 😉

I think podcasting will catch on in schools and other similar institutions, but it will take time. People inside the education world need to grok the benefits of podcasting, and still more have to lose their fear of the technology. When that happens, I think everyone will benefit.

Read: BlogMatrix

BlogosphereRadio Archives

Post ImageLong time readers of my blog will know that BlogosphereRadio was my first foray into podcasting, created way back in September of 2004. In my initial post about the site, I said it would probably always be a work in progress. I guess that was sort of correct – the site has been dormant since roughly March 2005. The idea has lived on though, as BlogosphereRadio was definitely the inspiration for Podcast Spot (at least in the beginning).

I have been doing some cleanup work on some our servers lately, and I realized that I hadn’t touched BlogosphereRadio in a very long time. Things were broken, etc, so I made some changes. The forums are now unavailable, and the “play” links don’t work. I fixed the download links however, so you can now download any of the shows in both WMA and MP3 format. I also stuck a little “dormant” message at the top of most of the pages.

I can’t see a revival of BlogosphereRadio being likely, but never say never. My intent for now is to leave the site up for archival purposes and nothing more. I won’t be adding to it, so don’t bother subscribing to the feeds.

If this is the first time you’ve heard of BlogosphereRadio, download my favorite episode.

Libsyn Pro?

Post ImageI just went to take a look at Libsyn’s site tonight, and came across Libsyn Pro. Oddly there is nothing about the service at their blog or in the forums yet. Here’s the brief description:

Built from the ground up, we took the best features of our very popular Libsyn personal system and added the elements businesses demand: World class distribution network, 99.99% Service Level Guarantee, Turnkey, ultra-simple workflow .

Sounds interesting. Judging from the website, I am guessing that it also will not be cheap. I am really curious to know what the pricing is like. Two of their current clients include NPR and National Geographic. The website looks nice, but it’s hard to tell what the service is like simply from the screenshots. It does appear, however, to be focused on businesses only. It also appears to be strictly a storage service, like the regular Libsyn, meaning they don’t create a website for the podcast.

I find the timing a little strange. Just days after they had some major problems with file distribution, they launch a service for businesses with a “world class distribution network”? Either it’s a completely separate system, or that copy was written a long time ago (though Libsyn has had problems for quite a while). And if it is the former, I can see their existing user base being pretty upset. I know I would be.

I’ll be watching this one with interest.

On a slightly related note, we’re going to start testing Podcast Spot next week. Over the next month or so, I’ll be posting little tidbits about the service here and on the Paramagnus blog, so stay tuned.

Read: Libsyn Pro

Odeo giving up on podcasting?

Post ImageMaybe it’s time everyone stopped calling Odeo a podcasting company. I’ve been critical of Google’s apparent lack of focus and direction many times in the past, but they’ve got nothing on Odeo. I mean here’s a company with some very smart people working for them, some substantial venture capital behind them, and yet very little to show for it. Perhaps the last notable thing Odeo did with regards to the core offering was redesign the website – and that was in December 2005. I have to agree with what Alex Williams said – “These dudes must have some pretty mellow investors.”

That’s not to say they are standing still. Odeo recently launched two new products, Hellodeo and Twttr. The former is somewhat related to podcasting, while the latter appears to have absolutely no connection whatsoever. Hellodeo lets you record a video message from your webcam to embed on other websites, and Twttr allows you to stay up to date with your friends using text messaging. Notice a trend? Yep, moving further and further away from podcasting.

I think it’s fair to say that LibSyn has done far more in terms of getting people into podcasting than Odeo has, and somehow I doubt that Evan Williams and crew have any tricks up their sleeve. Odeo, quite simply, seems lost. It’s a shame too, because they had the opportunity to do something great with podcasting. Maybe they should just purchase LibSyn?

You might recall that in May of last year, Fortune magazine named Odeo one of their 25 Breakout Companies for 2005. I wonder what they would say about the company today? I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t make the list again.

Maybe Odeo will come out with something amazing and I’ll be forced to eat my words, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. I do however, think Odeo would be wise to read Dead 2.0 Skeptic’s 11 Suggestions for Not Being a Dot-Bomb 2.0.

Paramagnus in AlbertaVenture

Post ImageIf you pick up a copy of the July/August issue of AlbertaVenture magazine, you’ll find an article titled Entrepreneurial Idol, which is all about VenturePrize. While I think that title is better suited to the upcoming Dragon’s Den on CBC, the article is still really good. Indeed one of my favorite memories from the entire VenturePrize experience was talking with Marina. She has a knack for asking the right questions.

Here are a few notable quotes related to Paramagnus from the article:

“Sitting in the front row of Steier’s class are Mack Male and Dickson Wong, 22-year-olds who look like they’ve walked into the wrong classroom. But looks are deceiving; these whiz-kid computer undergrads at the U of A have already raised a hundred grand to fund their baby, Paramagnus Developments.”

“Last to go is Paramagnus which, because of Male and Wong’s youth, is the judges’ sentimental favourite.”

Marina ends the article with a quote from yours truly:

“I can’t believe how far we, and our business model, have evolved since day one of this competition. We’re going to go all the way.”

That sentiment is still true, even today. The story isn’t over yet though, not by a long shot. We’re inching closer and closer with each passing day to releasing Podcast Spot. And when that happens, we’ll really have something to be proud of!

Podcasting is not more popular than blogging

Post ImageI want podcasting to be as popular as anyone else does (hey, my business depends on it) but at the same time, I am not naive enough to think that podcasting is more popular than blogging. That’s precisely how Podcasting News interpreted some recent Nielsen/NetRatings data however:

Nielsen//NetRatings announced today that 6.6 percent of the U.S. adult online population, or 9.2 million Web users, have recently downloaded an audio podcast. 4.0 percent, or 5.6 million Web users, have recently downloaded a video podcast. These figures put the podcasting population on a par with those who publish blogs, 4.8 percent, and online daters, 3.9 percent.

The key word there is “publish” – not people who have read a blog, but people who actually create one. You can’t compare listeners for podcasting to creators for blogs and call it a fair comparison! When the number of people creating podcasts gets to be the same as for blogs, there might be a story.

You’ve really got to think about what you’re reading these days.

Read: Podcasting News

Giving credit where credit is due

Post ImageIf there is one thing that was drilled into my head in the last 8 years of my education, first in high school and then University, it is to always cite your sources. No matter if they are actually quoted from or not, if you used a source while researching something, cite it. Like so much of what I have learned at University however, that’s simply not the way it works in the real world. Case in point, a recent article on podcasting titled “Podcasting at a business near you”. It was written by Alex Dobrota, and published in the Globe and Mail on July 6th. Here’s an excerpt from the beginning:

Podcasting, which involves the distribution of personalized audio or video clips over the Internet to computers, laptops or digital audio players such as iPods, is becoming a new medium of communication in the corporate world. It’s being used to replace internal memos, blogs, e-mails and even trade shows. The up-and-coming technology is cost-efficient — in some cases, it requires little more than a microphone and a computer. And, as a marketing tool, it holds the potential of reaching a young and savvy audience, experts say.

Maybe the problem is that a journalist can simply put “experts say” and get away with it. In any case, I do believe I should be cited as a source for that entire paragraph. You see, Mr. Dobrota called me at around 1:30 PM on June 22nd to ask me some questions about podcasting (I remember this exactly because it was just moments after I got back to the office after the Oilers Tribute Event). He made it seem like I was being interviewed, which isn’t all that unsual given the publicity Paramagnus has received in the last few months. Evidently I was wrong. He started out asking what podcasting was, and the follow-up questions he asked made it seem as though he really didn’t have any idea what was so special about it, or why it was different than streaming audio.

After about ten minutes of covering the basics, he started asking questions about why businesses would get into podcasting, or if they already were. I mentioned the well-known case of IBM. I also said that basically, podcasting is great for businesses because they get an excellent return on investment – it costs very little to get going, and you can reach a huge audience fairly easily. I also mentioned that it was a great way for old stodgy businesses to seem hip and cool with the younger iPod carrying generation. Sounds kind of like the excerpt I mentioned above doesn’t it? Yep I thought so too.

I actually emailed Mr. Dobrota on July 1st, to ask if he had written the article. I never did get a reply from him, which makes this all the more aggravating.

Maybe there’s lots of reasons why he and other journalists can simply put “experts say”. You know, word count, page layout, that sort of thing. I just can’t help but think though, that with all the fuss about the blogosphere being a place full of unsubstantiated rumors, we’re missing that our so-called “mainstream media” don’t follow the rules either. Perhaps we should force journalists to publish a blog, properly citing their references, linking where appropriate? I don’t think it’s a bad idea. It might even have saved Dan Rather his job.

At the very least, had Mr. Dobrota kept a blog with his sources and references properly detailed, I might still have some respect for him.

Read: Globe and Mail

Rocketboom without Amanda?

Post ImageWow, I’m as shocked as everyone else is that Amanda Congdon is leaving the incredibly popular Rocketboom. I am going to guess that a significant portion of Rocketboom’s audience will now leave, to follow Amanda wherever she goes. I certainly didn’t watch for the map! You can see her farewell video at Amanda UnBoomed.

Mathew Ingram posted a response from Rocketboom co-founder Andrew Baron this afternoon. Apparently Amanda wanted to move to Los Angeles, but Andrew wanted to figure out how it would affect the show first.

“We wanted her to get to L.A. to pursue her personal opportunities as soon as possible, but her demand to move this week without waiting any longer, without a justification, and without an adequate proposal for a plan for how the show itself would work, we were unable to uproot Rocketboom from NYC at this time.”

So the big task for Andrew and the rest of Rocketboom now is to find a suitable replacement to keep the show interesting. I don’t think Amanda will have any problems landing on her feet somewhere else. Actually, Scoble posted an informal offer on his blog, only to retract it later, saying he felt bad for taking advantage of the situation. Om Malik didn’t hold back though, saying PodTech should hire her right away!

Read: Amanda UnBoomed

Communication with Podcasting

Post ImageLots of the podcasting-related discussion taking place in the blogosphere over the last week or so has been about whether or not you can build a sustainable business around it (or even just whether podcasting is here to stay or not). No doubt Scoble’s move to PodTech has fueled some of the discussion, as have comments like Larry Borsato’s:

People talk about podcasting as if it is some amazing new technology, forgetting that we’ve had radio and books on tape for decades. The only difference is that we store the thing in a digital file now.

To say that podcasting is an “amazing new technology” is far too broad a statement to make, I agree. I would argue, however, that podcasting is a great new communications technology (or more accurately, the repackaging of existing technologies (MP3, RSS, the web) to create a great new communications technology). I touched on this idea in my National Post article in May, but I actually developed the theory much more completely back in March of this year. During that month, Paramagnus was heavily into our two business plan competitions, and one of the things I wrote was a introduction to podcasting, which explained how the technology fits into the overall communications picture:

Podcasting is, at its heart, a communications technology. The essence of podcasting is creating audio-visual content for an audience to listen to or watch when they want, where they want, and how they want.

Around the same time, I wrote an essay for a class at the University of Alberta, which explored the impact of the diagram above:

Communication can be broken down into four main methods: real-time text, real-time audio/video, time-shifted text, and time-shifted audio/video. Until very recently, only the first three of these methods had been made available to the masses in digital form by modern technology.

Podcasting fills a great void in communications technologies by enabling everyone to communicate digitally using time-shifted audio and video.

In the diagram above I chose videoconferencing (because of the ability to include both audio and video, and the ability to communicate with more than one person at a time), but you could just as easily stick the telephone in there as well. You might find the diagram simplifies communication, but that was kind of the point. When the average person is going to communicate with someone else, they’re either going to see them in person, call them, email them, maybe instant message them, perhaps post something to their blog, or something similar. Until podcasting came along, it was really hard to use audio and video to do any of this.

As for sustainable business models around podcasting, I think they exist, even if they are hard to see at the moment. Unfortunately, everyone seems to be focused on podcast directories and podcast advertising, the two models I don’t see as being very sustainable (at least not for the incredible number of companies each segment currently has). Advertising is for content companies, which might choose to use podcasting as a delivery medium. I don’t think to be a podcasting company you need to have a strategy to sell advertising. Like most communications technologies, I feel the bulk of the money in podcasting will be on the creation side.

Basically what I am saying here is that podcasting is all about communication, and that’s why it is relevant/important/going-to-stick-around. I don’t think we’ll ever have too many solutions to the problem of communication. And what I said in my last podcasting post still applies – you’ve got to choose the right tool for the job. Sometimes, you’re going to use email or blogging or instant messaging. Other times, you’re going to use podcasting.