Podcasting Conversations

The other day, I forwarded my thoughts on annotating podcasts over to Dave Winer and Adam Curry. The response I got from Dave was a little surprising – I think Dave thinks I don’t “get it” – but it did stir some other thoughts on the subject.

Dave had replied to myself, Adam and Wes Felter:

With all due respect, you’re thinking about it wrong. You’re trying to turn a podcast into something you use at a computer. Look at the first three letters in the name and think about where they came from. Annotation, if it’s going to happen, will be in voice, and implemented in the ipod. It’s easy if you just use it. Wes Felter says he won’t use something he can’t read on a computer. I wonder if Wes ever drives a car or rides a subway or takes a plane flight. And Wes if you don’t have an iPod yet, get one! It’ll change your life, in a nice way. ;-> Dave

Maybe I did a bad job explaining the way it would work (or I may just be totally wrong in my thinking).

I totally agree that podcasting should be maintained as an iPod-centric/portable-device centric user experience, something that you can listen to while you do something else (walk, work, drive, whatever). What I’m proposing is that there needs to be a way for someone to dock their iPod and not only download an audio file (a podcast) via an RSS feed, but also aggregate a number of annotations for that podcast from their usual RSS feeds in such a way that they can view them/listen to the corresponding excerpts of the podcast without having to listen to the whole recording. Dave did make a good point – maybe the annotations are voice/audio recordings rather than text comments. I’d argue both are useful – after all, audio is basically invisible to search engines, and linking to a source file isn’t really specific enough – we need an audio equivalent to the html anchor tag.

In a world of exploding content we still have a finite amount of time – I can’t spend all my time listening to every podcast, and then listening to commenters’ audio annotations separately; and commenters are unlikely to take the time to rip down a full audio post on which they wish to comment, remix it with their comments and repost it on their own site – that takes way too much effort. Commenters need an easy way to annotate podcasts. Listeners need an easy way to scan podcasts.

We need a podcast equivalent to what we have in the blogging world today. When someone posts a blog entry, someone can easily add value to the entry by linking to the entry from their own blog and providing additional information; or a reader can immediately post a comment on the entry itself. We need blog entries and hyperlinks for audio, but in a way that maps to the portable world and the audio world. Example: maybe Lessig only said one really new thing in his speech at Web 2.0 – a mechanism is required to help direct listeners to that segment of the recording (rather than have them listen to the whole thing) and add additional commentary.

It’s likely that to do this, you really would want the functionality of ipodder integrated into your regular RSS aggregator – after all, you don’t know who might annotate a given podcast, so you’d want all the RSS aggregation in one app, rather than maintaining two apps/feed lists. In an ideal world, this application would slice up the original source file to allow spicing of the original source file and the comments aggregated from other feeds, and generate a number of playlists to allow the listener to choose how to consume the source audio and the commentary:

  • Original source playlist: This playlist would play the original content, uninterrupted. (Remember, the application has to pre-slice audio in order to permit the other playlists I’m about to describe, so there needs to be a playlist to knit together all the original source bits into one continuous audio stream)
  • “Greatest Hits” playlist: This playlist would take the commentary audio from other feeds pointing to the source and splice together the commentary audio with the sections of the original source audio to which the annotation relates. Perhaps it would even make sense to allow the user to choose whether to play the comment audio before or after the section of the source podcast audio to which it relates (or perhaps the commentator could signal this in some way in their “link” to the podcast). This playlist would allow the user to simply hear about the sections of the podcast that other people judged to be most important, and skip the rest.
  • “Call-In Show” playlist: This playlist would take the original source audio and intersplice the aggregated commentary from other feeds at the appropriate point in the audio. With this playlist, the original podcast would be augmented with the ongoing commentary aggregated from other sites.

The idea here is to do for podcasting what blogging has done for newspapers – if blogging is a faster, better equivilant of “letters to the editor”, then podcasting should be a faster, better equivalent of the radio call-in show. It’s all about conversations – remember?