Wednesday, July 02, 2008

This is Probably My 15 Minutes of Fame

Well kids, let this be a reminder that when you put something out there on the internets, it is really out there. So this is going to be an attempt to defend myself, an awkward apology, and I'll probably wind up just digging a bigger hole. And I guess I'll just kill the idea for the "podcasts that suck" post I was planning next.

But I'm ahead of myself. Let's back up. Two days ago I made a post regarding podcasts. As I type this, that post has received 2 comments. This is noteworthy because it sets a record for number of comments received. At quick glance, less than half of my posts get comments, so I'm of course left with a couple of assumptions: 1) Hardly anybody is reading, and/or 2) what I say isn't worth responding to. I've been leaning towards #1, but I could be wrong.

I get emails whenever comments are posted (so, not a lot of emails), so it was with interest I noted that I got a comment. But then I noticed the author of the comment: Adam Christianson. An interesting range of emotions occurred as I registered the name. Oh wow, Adam Christianson read my blog! He's famous, and he read my blog! And then, holy crap, Adam actually read my blog. Uh oh. I didn't have very nice things to say about Adam's podcast. Gosh, this is awkward. Panic sets in. I've probably hurt somebody's feelings, I hate doing that if that person has never done anything to me, what should I do about this?

As I ponder what to do about this, I get notified of a second comment to the blog post. Wow! And then I get notified that Adam is following me on Twitter. Awkward... Hoo boy. Dig dig dig, chomp chomp chomp, dig dig dig *crash* holy moly, I did it again...

Just out of morbid curiosity, I decided to see if I could figure out how I landed on the map of somebody noteworthy. I think I traced it back to a tweet by Liana Lehua. If you don't know who that is, yup, you guessed it: someone else famous on a podcast that I didn't speak too highly of. Oh boy. No idea how she found the blog post, or why she bothered reading once she did, but I should probably thank her for linking to it, as she doubled my previous record of comments. Wasn't my intention really, not like I have advertisers I'm trying to feed with hits. I'm guessing Adam read her tweet, and the rest is unfolding as I type this. I'm guessing I have a couple more angry messages in my future. Oh well, I can take it.

Let me jump to the second comment first, and in responding to it, maybe it will help to frame the previous post. "Maggie" mostly just states the blindingly obvious, but there may be an actual point or two in there.

So what you've just described and are asking for... is radio shows on your MP3 player. This is backed up by you pointing to two of your top 2 being actual radio shows.

Yeah, pretty much. I'm not certain why you say it like I'm trying to hide it.

That's incredibly short-sighted and (vis-a-vis all the the 'radio voice' remarks) a trifle snobbish.

I don't understand these sentiments at all. I listen to the radio, I listen to what is on my iPhone. It's the same action. Why shouldn't it be of the same quality? Radio stations exist to make money. They do that by providing content, whether music or talk, that they hope will attract enough listeners so they can make a business case to earn advertiser dollars. So radio stations pick a genre and a target demographic, and then try to provide the content that they feel will best bring in the listeners. They don't always succeed. Or, they feel there is more money in a different demographic, so they change format. If they don't bring in listeners, they die.

One key advantage of podcasting is being able to reach people who otherwise would not be a large enough market to support a radio show. I'm a Mac-using, Subaru (Saab)-driving engineer, so I've been in a very, very small demographic for a long time. What are the chances of someone putting on a Mac/Subaru/Engineer radio show - at all - and much less getting it to succeed? Zero. The very nature of radio excludes such subsets, generally speaking, and thus rules out, say, the hobbyist. Pick any podcast that you listen to that isn't already a radio show, and ask yourself if it would survive on the radio in your area. Chances are the answer is no (but if you know of one, pass along a link, I'd like to take a listen). Podcasts, and I suppose to a similar degree satellite radio stations, don't care where you are. The model is based on total subscribers, regardless of location, not what percentage of the local listening population you think is tuning in. So if a show topic, radio or podcast, needs 25,000 listeners to survive, who is going to win? Obviously the podcast, because there is a far greater chance of finding 25,000 listeners anywhere in the world than within local radio range. So this allows the subset demographic, the hobbyist, etc., to find a market.

That doesn't mean there is no competition for listening time for podcasts, and correspondingly advertiser dollars. I don't understand why being held up to the standard of radio shows is a bad thing, but the fact of the matter is, radio is competing in the podcast realm. Amateur podcasters are bringing a knife to a gun fight; the radio shows are bringing cannons. Podcasters can get by on topic alone for a while, but eventually you have to provide something more. Even if you are the only source for your topic, if I'm finding greater entertainment and/or useful value elsewhere, that's where I'm going to go.

Maybe the short-sighted comment was a reference to video podcasts. Obviously this would not be a realm that radio could directly compete in. It also isn't the point I was making, and I have already said that there are far more activities that I can do while listening to something than I can while watching something.

Here's something that radio tends not to do, that I've been seeing an increasing amount of lately with podcasts: stop the show. Now I'm not counting format changes for a radio station, where people probably lose their jobs and obviously the show is no more. But in the last couple of months I've had two podcasters just decide that they want to do other things. No more show (well, in one case, a new/temp host was found). So I would say that on average, radio has the edge in terms of content longevity, because it has more in the way of professionals and less in the way of hobbyists with other jobs.

I don't understand the snobbish comment at all. But if being snobbish means that I want to enjoy what I'm listening to, so be it; I'm a huge snob.

Andy, for instance, god love him, is a great asset to any podcast...

Ok, so you agree with me...

but Andy is shithouse at spitting out what he wants to say in less than 2 minutes and he'll freely admit that.

I consider that part of his charm. Is your point that he talks too much? I can see that argument, but that doesn't make him boring. Personally, I'm fascinated by the way his mind works, and have been since reading his columns way back in MacUser.

But he gets a free pass merely because he's informative AND you don't find his voice annoying?

Why does he need a free pass? He's informative and doesn't annoy me. Is that supposed to be bad?

Informative isn't enough, it seems, or you wouldn't can Girls Gone Geek or MacCast.

I want you to reread the four main points I made, and then point out where I said that "informative is enough." In fact, I specifically said that the MacCast is very informative, but I still don't enjoy it that much. So you seem to be arguing about a point I never made.

This post would be pretty spot on as far as basics go, for the most part, if it weren't for all your personal baggage/whinging brought along with it. That's just going to piss people off for no good reason.

Pissing people off was not my intent, and certainly doing so for no good reason was not my intent. If I did piss people off, so be it, but I take issue with the notion that there is no good reason here. I've got a couple dozen podcasts and many dozen hours of new content each week competing for my listening time, and I'm describing the process I'm going through to decide what to listen to. Anyone who wants me to be a listener would do well to pay attention.

Or to condense it down:
1. Involve a good moderator.
2. Involve multiple people.
3. In the absence of other elements, be brief.

That's a reasonable offering. I will disagree with the notion of replacing the radio guy with a good moderator, simply because I've listened to podcasts with good moderators but without radio guys, and they were lacking. If the radio guy isn't the moderator, then I would say the addition of a good moderator would be a prudent choice to make.

Ok, enough of Maggie. Since this brouhaha started with Liana, let's turn to her. Here is her tweet:

Funny how ppl on the web r experts at junk they know nothing about. GGG "isn't all that good" so not "successful" HA!

First of all, I don't know where I claimed to be an expert. I'm a consumer, and I think I pretty plainly stated that these were my opinions, and these are the elements I have personally found to be convincing reasons to consume their content. Having said that, if Liana should happen to come back to my humble blog (and in doing so, personally doubling my readership), I invite her to point out any inaccuracies in anything I've said. I'm a reasonable person. Prove me wrong.

"Isn't all that good" is subjective, not to mention being an opinion. I didn't really say all that much about Girls Gone Geek, so she has no idea what my reasons are. Maybe they are good ones. Maybe my opinion, if listened to, would result in a better show. Their most recent episode featured a listener letter from someone who wasn't too happy with how some aspects of the show were going. So obviously I'm not alone in thinking that it could be better.

Success can be taken a couple of ways, too. I thought I had clearly defined what I meant by success - you earn my listening time - but perhaps I didn't. I assume Liana is looking at her subscriber numbers and laughing all the way to the bank. Good for her. Doesn't mean I'm going to continue to listen for too much longer. And on the subject of subscribers, at least Adam has built his show, personally, from the ground up. He didn't get the benefit of a talented producer, of being pimped each week on at least a couple of the most popular tech podcasts out there, and any number of other factors that make his popularity a whole heckuva lot more impressive than whatever numbers GGG pulls in.

Liana is also the last person who should feel bothered by my criticism of GGG, simply because she is the primary reason I even started listening. She's pretty much the only credible geek on the show, and without her it would probably be a train wreck. One of my biggest criticisms of the show is that the other girls really aren't on her level. But honestly, there's no point in listening to me about GGG anyway, because I'm clearly not in their target demographic.

Which at long last leads me to Adam and the MacCast. And I still don't know exactly what to say, so I'm going to stall by telling a brief story.

If you are not familiar with the Tom Leykis Show, Tom is a very polarizing person. Either you love him or hate him; there isn't a lot of middle ground. He opens up the phones every hour, and is not afraid to take calls from people who hate him. So periodically, he receives a phone call from someone just irate over something he has said. A shouting match typically ensues, with Tom running rings around the caller who will typically hang up in disgust. But Tom makes a very interesting point as these callers are foaming at the mouth. (paraphrasing) "You know what? If you hate me so much, if you find the things I say so offense, why do you continue to listen?" The caller will then start to backpedal, claim to never listen and just stumbled upon the show, and then throw something personally offensive like how a guy who has been divorced 4 times can give relationship advice. Tom will jump all over this, pointing out that it is clearly evidence that the caller has indeed been listening for quite some time. His point essentially boils down to this: love me or hate me, you're still tuning in. And that is really the only thing that matters to him.

Despite whatever criticisms I have about the MacCast, I'm still a subscriber.

I feel as though this is a situation where I should apologize, but I'll be real honest about feeling uncertain what to apologize for. That's partly because I don't want to be the guy who puts something out there just to irritate people and attract attention, then apologizes and runs and hides when called on it. I do feel bad about any hurt feelings. I would say that I didn't mean anything personal, but in this case I think it is hard to distinguish between the person and the product. So maybe as some sort of twisted apology (aka: digging the hole deeper), I will attempt to do a better job of articulating my issues in the spirit of constructive criticism, as well as give credit where credit is due regarding the aspects that are very good about the MacCast.

Let's get the ugly out of the way: I don't like his voice. That's not something I'm going to apologize for. I didn't choose to not like his voice, I just didn't like it. And I don't think he should feel bad about my saying that (if he even does). He didn't choose his voice. It is what it is.

There was a podcaster get-together earlier this year. I don't remember the details, but I remember there was a panel that Adam and Ken Ray and a couple of other people participated in on the subject of podcasting. Adam was making a point along the lines of explaining how you're not going to retain 100% of your listeners for various reasons. One of the reasons he mentioned was voice. I did find it rather amusing that he was the one to make that point.

If I went overboard, I think it was in pointing out some corny ways he has of saying certain things. Corny is hardly the end of the world. But, it didn't need to be said.

This is where it is hard to distinguish between the person and the product. In this case, Adam is the product, and his product takes the form of something to listen to. So it is very challenging to be genuinely critical of the product without being critical of the person. I guess I look at it this way: if I claimed for example that the things Adam said were stupid, that would be personal. I don't feel that way. I honestly did not mean to be personally critical of Adam, though I can certainly understand how it would sound that way.

I also made reference to the length of the show, and how, because I don't like his voice, I felt the show was too long. I find it amusing when he starts to wrap up for the week, and I note that there are still 15 minutes remaining in the track, of which about 5 will be the new music. It really wasn't a big deal when I was only subscribed to a handful of podcasts. I'm subscribed to 40 podcasts now, so time is becoming much more of a precious commodity. At some point, I've got to scale back some of these subscriptions, and numerous factors will be considered, including my enjoyment of a particular podcast. The longer a podcast (or any show, really) is going to be, then the better it needs to be.

So ask yourself what the conditions are under which you would willingly and voluntarily listen to anything you don't like hearing for an extended period of time. If you just tune in and don't like what you hear, you tune right back out again. If you tune in and give it a chance, you may find value in other ways. I don't believe I in any way suggested that the MacCast is worthless, but if I inadvertently did, I certainly do not feel that way.

You don't have to listen to the MacCast for very long to figure out that Adam loves what he is doing. He never sounds like he is bored, or podcasting is a chore; he always displays a very genuine enthusiasm. It is also very clear that he does monumental amounts of show preparation. In addition to reading news headlines, he tries to dig a little deeper into the stories to provide additional information. In response to listener questions, by golly he is going to find an answer. Sometimes he has to punt and repeat the question to the subscriber base in hopes of finding an answer, and you can always tell he's frustrated when he has to do so. And he is relentless about following up the next week. I can't imagine how many hours of pre- and post-recording work he does, but I bet the ratio to 1 hour of on-air time is significant. And the bottom line, Adam is a nice guy. You can tell in the way he very deftly handles semi-stupid listener questions. He goes out of his way not to offend. His comment to my post, although understandably a little snarky, is much classier than I would have been in his place. Indeed, it says a lot about him that he bothered to post at all. He's got probably thousands of listeners; he doesn't need to worry about me. But he chose to do so.

Podcasts can be categorized any number of ways, but for this purpose let's define 2 categories: entertaining, and useful. The podcasts that I give preference to tend to fall on the side of entertaining, or do a good job of being entertaining and useful. The MacCast, for me, falls squarely in the useful category. I coined the phrase "podcast guilt" precisely because of this. I find myself feeling very guilty for not really enjoying it that much. It's compounded even more because I know that Adam is putting a lot of effort into it, and delivering it for free. I want to like it more, I just don't.

I'm not sure that I succeeded in being constructively critical. I'm really not sure what else to say, and this is already a really long post. So I'll just return to my relatively obscure corner of the Internet, and go back to complaining about software and software companies. Dig dig dig...


Adam Christianson said...

Thanks for this post. Your right, my comment on the last post was "snarky", but I was a bit hurt. I know your intent was not to be "personal", but (as you note) my voice is my voice. It is a part of me, so by it's very nature it is personal. You obviously see I have worked very hard to create a quality show, but let me give you a few more details about what I do. I don't have any background in radio or audio production. I do have a passion for the subject matter and content I produce. I have also worked hard to improve my production skills and I think I have achieved a sound (minus my non-radio trained voice ;) ) that is as close to radio quality as possible. I do value the opinions of all of my audience and believe me, you are not the first to take issue with my voice, my presentation style, or my occasional corniness. The one difference is I typically get feedback directly via email and this time it was a blog post. That means it is aired out in an open forum. I think that's actually a good thing, so please don't feel bad about that. As for some of the other comments you have received... I think what set Liana and others in the podcast community off about your last post was the title, "Formula for Success". Now in the the content of the post it gets clearer that it means the formula for a podcast to be successful for you, but some could interpret it to mean you are suggesting what key elements are needed to just have a successful podcast. In that context I think you can see how that comes off as a bit arrogant. In closing, you are entitled to your opinion and please continue to express it on your blog, in email, in forums, or in any other way you see fit. Just be sure to temper your comments knowing that, despite what you may think, people are going to read it. Thank you for listening to the show and seeing the value in my hard work and content. For me, THAT is what makes a "successful" podcast.

Adam Christianson said...

Oh... BTW, I forgot to mention that I also drive a Subaru if that helps my case any. ;)