Ups and Downs for Podcast Hosting in 2008

podcasting Back in October, Dickson and I announced that we were shutting down our hosting service Podcast Spot. At the end of November, we disabled uploading and are now in the final transition phase for downloads and RSS feeds. In February 2009, the site will be taken offline completely.

We’re not the only podcast hosting service that shutdown in 2008 – at least two other services also called it quits recently:

The most visible of these services was Podango, so news of its demise created some discussion over the holidays. From Podcasting News:

While Smith attributes Podango’s state to the effects of the financial market, Podango and other podcast hosting services have not demonstrated that there’s much of a need for podcast-specific Web hosting services.

Podcango’s situation raises the question: Is there a real need for podcast-specific hosting services?

It’s a good question, and one I have thought about quite a bit in the latter half of 2008. For the vast majority of people, YouTube, Flickr, and similar tools are good enough. If they want to share some audio or (more likely) video, these services make it easy to do so. Increasingly, video cameras come with built-in support for YouTube, so the user doesn’t really have to do anything but record. This was the curve we attempted to get ahead of with Podcast Spot.

For a smaller number of people, something more advanced is required. Maybe they want to sell advertising, or have more control over production quality, or gain access to better statistics. I think this group can be split into two – the DIY crowd, and the use-a-hosting-service crowd. So yes, there is a need for podcast-specific hosting services, but perhaps the market is a lot smaller than everyone thought.

It wasn’t all bad news for podcast hosting in 2008 though. Some familiar services still appear to be going strong: Libsyn, Podbean, and Podkive to name just a few. Back in July, RawVoice announced they were entering the market with Blubrry. In August, Wizzard Software announced increased revenues and decreased expenses and losses. And on October 21st, Blip.tv announced they had raised another round of investment.

I’d expect 2009 to be similar – a mix of ups and downs for podcast hosting services.

It’s important to realize that we’re talking about podcast hosting here. I don’t think the demise of Podango or any other service should be taken to mean that podcasting itself is in trouble. As Paul Colligan said:

Podango’s problems say as little about the future of Podcasting as GM’s problems say about the future of cars.

Podcasting is all about communication, and the need for that hasn’t gone away. Podcasting itself is doing just fine.

Pingdom Website Monitoring

pingdom logo Pingdom is a service that monitors your websites and/or servers and can let you know when something goes wrong. Despite your best efforts, something will go wrong, so it’s important to know right away when it does so that you can take action. That’s exactly what Pingdom helps you do.

I should have written this a long time ago – I’m a very happy Pingdom customer! I’ve used dozens of different monitoring tools and services over the years, and without a doubt, Pingdom is my favorite. I first got an account in August 2007, when I took advantage of a free offer for Mashable readers (if I remember correctly). I didn’t use it right away, but when I did, I was impressed. So much so that I bought Pingdom Basic account ($9.95/mo or $119.40/year).

The two Pingdom terms you need to know are checks and notifications. A check is basically a website, mail server, or DNS server (there are HTTP/HTTPS, Ping, TCP, UDP, DNS, and POP3/IMAP/SMTP checks). A notification is an email address or cell phone number (for SMS). Pingdom Basic gives you 5 checks, unlimited email notifications, and 20 SMS notifications. Additionally, you get included uptime reports.

The best thing about Pingdom is that it’s fast and reliable. I receive notifications generally within about a minute of something going down. That’s much faster than anything else I’ve tried. I feel confident relying on Pingdom to let me know if something is wrong with my servers.

Another thing I love about Pingdom is their blog, called Royal Pingdom. They occasionally post about Pingdom-related things, but more often than not they post about the industry in general. They obviously put some time and effort into it though, because their posts are original, in-depth, and very interesting. For instance, earlier this week they posted about 12 great iPhone applications for sysadmins and webmasters. It’s the kind of thing that keeps me subscribed.

If you’re looking for a website monitoring solution, I’d strongly recommend Pingdom.

Experimenting with Evernote

evernote For the last week or so I’ve been using a new application called Evernote. Actually, the term application may be misleading – Evernote is more of a service with the lofty goal of helping you remember everything. From the about page:

Evernote allows you to easily capture information in any environment using whatever device or platform you find most convenient, and makes this information accessible and searchable at any time, from anywhere.

So far there’s a web interface, and clients for Windows, Mac OS X, Windows Mobile, and iPhone/iPod touch. I’ve been using the Windows, web, and iPod touch clients.

My initial reaction was to compare Evernote to Microsoft OneNote, and while there are some similarities, I think the comparison is unfair. OneNote is far better than Evernote at taking notes – the interface is more fully featured, ink is properly supported, and it feels more like traditional pen and paper. Evernote on the other hand is better at organizing information and making it accessible no matter where I am. Both have their strengths and weaknesses.

So far I’ve been using Evernote as a collection of digital post-it notes. Instead of jotting something down on paper, I create a new note inside Evernote. The advantage, of course, is that I can access it on any computer or on my iPod touch when I’m on the go.

There are other ways to use Evernote too. The desktop client contains a “clipper” feature which makes it easy to take a screenshot or copy text from an application. There’s a “web clipper” for your browser, which makes it easy to save items you find on the web. And there’s integration with Outlook, which makes it easy to save email messages.

Evernote is fairly impressive already, but I think there’s lots of room for improvement. I’d like to see richer note editing, better support for importing from Word and other applications, and improved Tablet PC support. Coming at it from another angle, I think it could be interesting to add some social networking aspects to the site, to make it easy for me to share things with other Evernote users.

If you’d like to give it a shot, head on over to the Evernote website. You can also check out their blog, their FriendFeed page, and their Twitter account.

Microsoft's Live Mesh

live mesh One of the big tech stories today was the launch of Live Mesh, Microsoft’s new platform for synchronizing files, applications, and other stuff across different devices. I read quite a few articles about Live Mesh, and I have to admit I find it daunting to comprehend. Here’s the definition from Mary Jo Foley:

“Live Mesh is a ’software-plus-services’ platform and experience from Microsoft that enables PCs and other devices to ‘come alive’ by making them aware of each other through the Internet, enabling individuals and organizations to manage, access, and share their files and applications seamlessly on the Web and across their world of devices.” If I were in charge of defining Live Mesh, I think I’d go with “a Software + Services platform for synchronization and collaboration.”

Complex, exciting, and confusing all at once. Scoble says synchronization is just the beginning too.

Here’s what Live Mesh means to me: Microsoft is serious about cloud computing, and they’re prepared to be an important player in the space.

That’s really all I care about at this point. I’m sure Live Mesh will look vastly different in two years than it does today. I’m just glad Ray Ozzie is behind it. I absolutely love Groove and expect that Live Mesh will be like Groove on major steroids!

Some observations:

Developers, you can get started here. It’s not live yet, but they’ll have a technology preview program soon. For everyone else, check out the pretty pictures here.

Read: Ten things to know about Microsoft’s Live Mesh

I Love TripIt (And You Will Too!)

Late last year I came across TripIt, a free Web 2.0 travel organization service. TripIt helps you automatically build an itinerary, access it from multiple locations and devices, share it with others, and more. It also automatically includes maps and weather forecasts, among other information.

I’ve used TripIt four times now. The first was my trip to New York over Christmas. I managed to convince Sharon to join, and we built our entire itinerary using TripIt. I also used it for my trip to Yellowknife, for Northern Voice 2008, and for my recent weekend trip to Calgary. TripIt is dead simple to use, and once you get used to using it you sort of get addicted!

The way it works is you book your flights, hotels, car rentals, and restaurant reservations as you would normally. Then, forward your confirmation emails to plans@tripit.com. TripIt will automatically recognize the information, and insert it into your new itinerary. The only time this hasn’t worked for me was when we made our reservation at Bar Americain in New York (which supports OpenTable). I have to think that was a temporary glitch, because it has been flawless ever since (including our OpenTable reservation at Blink in Calgary). Megan booked the flights to Vancouver for Northern Voice, so I didn’t have a confirmation email to forward. I entered the information manually, and TripIt even made that easier – it knew the departure and arrival times and other information based only on the airline and flight number. Pretty cool.

tripit

That’s why I love TripIt – it’s just so deliciously simple! Forward the confirmation email and you’re done.

Sure you can add extra information and custom items to the itinerary, but TripIt does the heavy lifting and that’s what is most important. You can print your itinerary of course, and the formatting that TripIt provides is really clean and simple. If you forget to do that however, no worries – TripIt can send you your itinerary via email! You can send the command “get trip” to plans@tripit.com, and it’ll respond with your information. Or you can send something more specific, such as “get flight”. It’s really quite neat! You can learn more about the TripIt To Me feature here.

Some other handy features that TripIt includes:

  • The ability to share your trips with others. They can be either viewers or collaborators, meaning they can add items to the itinerary.
  • A travel guide for your destination. TripIt will load information from Wikipedia, Flickr, Eventful, and more.
  • See Who’s Close is a new feature that shows you when your connections (friends) are going to be near you at any given time.
  • iCal support, meaning you can load your itinerary up in Outlook, Google Calendar, and more.

As much as I love TripIt, it’s not perfect. Here are the top three features I’d like to see them add:

  1. Twitter and SMS support! Most other apps that I use on a regular basis (such as Remember The Milk) have this. Email is great, but Twitter and text messaging are better.
  2. Facebook widget. What I’d really like is for TripIt to do what dopplr does – show upcoming trips, and post an item to my news feed when traveling. If TripIt had this feature, I probably wouldn’t use dopplr anymore.
  3. Library of locations. When we went to NY, we added items like “Greenwich Village” and “Statue of Liberty” ourselves. It would have been really awesome if TripIt could have recognized those locations and automatically included relevant information (such as directions from/to our previous/next locations, pricing information, etc). This feature would make TripIt absolutely incredible!

If you’re just planning a quick road trip to see family or friends, TripIt may not be that useful for you. For all other kinds of trips however, I think you’ll find TripIt to be absolutely indispensable. I can honestly say I won’t travel without it anymore!

Amazon now offers an SLA for S3

Post ImageAmazon announced on Monday the launch of an SLA, or Service Level Agreement, for the S3 web service. The lack of an SLA has always been cited as a “shortcoming” of S3, but I don’t know exactly how many customers have requested it. Enough for them to offer it I guess:

Basically, we commit to 99.9% uptime, measured on a monthly basis. If an S3 call fails (by returning a ServiceUnavailable or InternalError result) this counts against the uptime. If the resulting uptime is less than 99%, you can apply for a service credit of 25% of your total S3 charges for the month. If the uptime is 99% but less than 99.9%, you can apply for a service credit of 10% of your S3 charges.

The SLA is effective as of October 1st, 2007. Jeff makes it sound like they had planned to have an SLA for a long time, but I’m not so sure that’s the case. Doesn’t matter now, they have one!

I think SmugMug’s Don MacAskill makes a good point:

Everything fails sometimes.

The SLA payment is rarely comparable to the pain and suffering your customers had to deal with.

Very true. From my perspective, the SLA isn’t a big deal. I hope it helps Amazon land some more customers though!

Read: Amazon

New Speed Test Service

Post ImageAnother tool gets Web 2.0-ified (well sort of, it’s just Flash, though it is marked beta). No longer are speed tests boring! Thanks to Speedtest.net, you get an interactive map and speedometer-like gauges to see how fast your Internet connection is. From Blog Esoterica:

The site allows you to select servers to ping from around the country on an interactive map and graphically displays connections as they travel with varying speeds along the way. It also lets you store results of tests for your computer and sort them by date, time, speed and distance.

I tried it out, and it seems pretty good. I wish there was something more to the service though. Basically it’s just a flash interface on the same speed tests that have been available for the better part of a decade. That said, if you like fancy graphics, Speedtest.net might be just what you’re looking for!

Read: Speedtest.net

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

OpenDNS

Post ImageI came across OpenDNS today via Geek News Central. I have been meaning to look for something like this for quite some time. Basically, it is a DNS service, used by your computer to look up the IP address of a domain name. Whenever you setup your Internet connection on your computer, or router, or other device, you have to enter DNS servers that it can use to “resolve” domain names (convert to an IP). Until finding OpenDNS, I had just used the ones I was given from Telus six years ago, because I had memorized them. I always knew there was something better though:

OpenDNS makes the Internet experience safer, faster and smarter for you and everyone using your network. OpenDNS service is free. OpenDNS makes money by serving clearly labeled advertisements on search results pages where we cannot resolve your intent (i.e., not a known typo).

They have a big cache, and geographically dispersed servers, which should speed up requests. OpenDNS will also identify phishing sites and display a warning message. And finally, they will automatically correct spelling mistakes (I want this feature, though it doesn’t seem to be working for me yet, maybe I have to restart – I already flushed the DNS and restarted the browser…).

I just started using it this evening, so I don’t have much to report yet. I don’t think they’ll make any money off me directly, as I won’t click the ads on their search page, but they might indirectly, as I’ll probably start using their servers when I setup computers and networks for people. Give it a shot if you want.

Read: OpenDNS

Microsoft Live – all about services

Post ImageTo truly understand what the new Windows Live and Office Live services are all about, you need not look any further than Microsoft itself. Thanks to the magic that is Robert Scoble, we get a very honest description:

Yesterday will be remembered not because of what we announced. But because of the direction we’re now headed in.

Microsoft is no longer an applications company. It is a services company.

Don’t get caught up in the badly-pulled-off demos yesterday. There is something a lot deeper happening inside Microsoft than that.

That’s important to understand. People do not remember the famous Bill Gates Internet Memo as the day Microsoft decided to integrate Internet Explorer into Windows (though that was certainly a result). Instead, that infamous memo is remembered as the day Gates and Co “got” the Internet. I expect yesterday’s announcement will be remembered in much the same way.

That said, they still launched a product yesterday, and at first glance, it sucked. How could they release a web-based service that doesn’t work in anything other than IE? Scoble has an answer for that too:

So, when you see Microsoft not supporting Firefox out of the gate, you are seeing that we don’t get the role of influentials in gathering audiences.

Just imagine if Microsoft both understood “the role of influentials” and had Robert Scoble on the payroll!