Podcast Cull

Today has been a pretty major day in my experiences with Podcasting to date. For the first time in four months I have had a pretty serious cull of the amount and type of podcasts that I listen to.

I have mentioned before that I am a bit of a podcast "junkie" and that I have a tendency to become obsessive not only in ensuring that I listen to all my podcast subscriptions pretty much as soon as they come in, but also that if I subscribe to a new podcast I want to catch up on all the backdated ones as quickly as possible.

Well today I had to kick that habit into touch in a pretty big way as I subscribed to five new podcasts, and although I downloaded all the backdated episodes there literally weren’t enough hours in the day to listen to them all – yes, I have just downloaded more than 24 hours of old news, views and thoughts!!! The cull wasn’t as tough as I thought it would be though. When I sat down and analyzed the existing podcasts, especially the Mac and other technical ones, I realized that too many of them duplicated news, and not enough of them added their own value, uniqueness, that "je ne sais quoi" that made we want to keep on subscribing. And that is the basis of this article, just what is it that makes a good Podcast?

Now of course I don’t have the answer to that, and I doubt very much that one exists to be honest, but I do have some thoughts I would like to share AND I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject. It is not my intention to be critical or damming. I am not going to "name and shame" although you can safely assume that if I name a podcast in the article it is one that I happily listen to on a regular basis and intend to carry on doing so.

So, with all these new subscriptions on top of my existing ones the question is when I will listen to them. I work from home so the commute from my bedroom to my study isn’t exactly long or stressful. BUT if I did want to listen to a podcast (or watch a videocast as I obviously don’t drive to work) what could I listen to out of my library? On the viewing side I could generally watch an episode of GeekBrief TV, French Maid TV, macTV Videocast or Tiki Bar TV. On the listening side I have less choice. If I walk really slowly I could catch up on most episodes of Inside Mac Radio. I guess if I had a really heavy night I could crawl to work and listen to the BBC Today, iTunes New Music Tuesday, or the New York Times book, film and music reviews. Do you see my dilemma? The majority of the "short" options are video, which is actually something I find easier to sit down and watch for a period of time, whilst most of the audio options are longer, which I find hard to fit in in one listen, so I am left trying to remember what was said in the section I listened too next time I tune in. Of course I listen to podcasts all the time when I am outdoors, and even walk around the apartment listening to them from time to time. I play them on my PowerBook and PC, and listen to them through my Airport Express linked to my speakers as well as through the computer(s) speakers. BUT, and this is pretty stressful to me at times – I always seem to be trying to juggle when I can listen to certain podcasts.

I have been trying to work out what the optimum length is for a Podcast? I have come up with a very general "rule of thumb",

– if you want me to listen daily 15 mins,
– if you want me to listen bi-weekly 30 mins,
– if you want me to listen weekly 45 mins.

BUT, and this comes back to the cull I mentioned, the content is King! Before I get (potentially) negative I must say that I have total respect for anyone that does a Podcast. Personally I HATE the sound of my own voice. I always have and always will. I have done enough media work in my business life to know that it isn’t something that I am at all comfortable with. I am prepared to listen to pretty much any podcast out there, and I confess that I have listened to some on a regular basis that I didn’t necessarily think I would, the Daily Breakfast is a great example. The issue of the voice though is actually a pretty serious thing for me, if I don’t like listening to your voice I am not going to listen to what you have to say, especially with so many other options to chose. The same goes for style – it is really hard to be funny, and to "try and fail" really is worse than "not to try at all" in my experience. I have switched off podcasts after a few minutes if the humor doesn’t work. Same goes for trying to be "cool". I listened to a podcast today that had been "off air" for a month or so, and one of the presenters was trying this laid back, couldn’t really be bothered to be there type of style so I decided that I didn’t want to be there either and unsubscribed. I thought that as they hadn’t been publishing for a while AND sounded like they couldn’t be bothered they really didn’t warrant my attention.  My point been that as with initial human impressions and presentations, the first 10 seconds are the most important. Of course this leads to another point. If you want me to be around as a subscriber for a while you need to convince me that you will be around too. Of course we all set out with the best intentions and nobody is going to say "hey this is a new podcast, hope you enjoy, next one will be along when I can be bothered to do one" but i think that by now podcasts have been around long enough for the regular listener to get a feel for the potential frequency of new and existing podcast. Let’s be honest if all you do is re-generate existing news and very little else your chances are slim for survival in my library. My basic rule is that if 50% of what you have to say I can get from an existing subscription then forget it. I struggle enough to fit in the "new" stuff without having to listen to the same old news. Exceptions exist of course – if your style or approach is unique enough I will stay loyal. The same applies to content and production – if it seems too complicated my view is going to be that it will be hard to maintain and I am less likely to come back. My advice – treat it as a long distance race not a sprint!

Why am I writing about this? Partly to share my thought process with you, partly because I would be interested in your experiences and thoughts, but mainly because I can’t believe the impact podcasting is having on my life. I am a pretty rationale, unemotional type of guy. I make decisions and move on with life. Apart it seems when it comes to podcasting. I seem capable of tying myself up in many knots, unravelling them all and then redoing them again – all to make a decision as to whether I should keep subscribing to something that is not only free, but also isn’t compulsory! I tried to base my decision around the points I make above:

– sound; if I don’t like the sound of you I am not going to listen to you,
– length; 2 short ones are better than 1 long one,
– content; how much of it have I heard before,
– style; do I find you acceptable,
– longevity; do I think you will be around for a while, and
– originality; what is so special about you?

Finally, to put my money where my mouth is so to speak, there are a number of Podcasts that I really like, so here are my top five. At least one wont be a surprise to anybody reading this article, and I hazard a guess that a second one will hardly raise an eyebrow. In no particular order here they are:

1. The Maccast. OK so this is an "original" from way back when, but there is usually a reason why originals become classics and this podcast is a good example. The news isn’t particularly new, but rather than just tell it, Adam puts his considerable experience behind it. The mix is pretty much perfect split between News, Discussion, Feedback and a nice new bit of music each episode. Sort of a signature event if you like.

2. The Mac ReviewCast. Yep, an obvious inclusion but a genuinely deserved one. This podcast fulfills a very specific need. It saves me a LOT of time digging around to see what is new, what it does, and why I would like it. A great example of consistent and sustainable added value.

3. The Daily Breakfast. This has to make the list because it manages to make me do something different on a regular basis – sit back and think about things that I wouldn’t normally consider. Whilst the content is always different, it isn’t always to my liking BUT "the voice", I can listen to Father Roderick for hours (which often is a good thing!)

4. Diggnation. Boys will be boys! Fun to watch, pretty interesting content, but the real clincher for me is that way that they manage to convey the rational behind digg so convincingly and consistently.

5. The Daily Telegraph. Perfect summary of the days news, with a few detailed articles. I have always liked the content of The Daily Telegraph paper, but it is too expensive to buy every day in Spain. I get the News Update email and log into their site every day so it isn’t as if I can’t get the content. What works for me is the ability to get a quick overview every morning that helps me prioritize if I want to read anything straight away or wait until later.

NB – For those of you that use iTunes all of the above are available in the Music Store.

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