Friday, April 17, 2009

Thoughts on Podcasts

I attended a neat BOF at PyCon, where production of podcasts were discussed. Really, I went to find out what podcasts were being made by Pythonistas, and to see if there were any lessons learned that I could take to NASA. I came away with a few realizations.

An hour? Really?

Even when we are at our most lovey-dovey, in general, we do not want to listen to one person speak for an hour. Even two people are hard to listen to. This is why radio shows have guests. After the first fifteen minutes, the mind starts to wander, especially if there's no visual stimuli. The only people who make their livings talking for an hour straight end up getting an HBO Special.

Are you that good?

My favorite podcasts that are done casually are done in no more than fifteen minutes. They're fast, focused... like popcorn. Filling in small amounts. Check out Writing Excuses or Grammar Girl for examples.

What's your focus?

Don't say 'programming.' You are not writing a text book that you're hoping will be adopted by some level one undergrad course. You are trying to pick up a geek hottie in a bar. "Hey baby, want to come to my server farm and see if my Python scales?"

C'mon. Be bold.

Archive or toss?

There's some podcasts that are always relevant. RadioLab is one of them. You can listen to any show in the last few seasons, and it will still be interesting and relevant. Others are shows that are old if you listen to them the next day. Don't mix the two.

What's your take?

You have to have an angle. What's your hook? Are you super funny? Have unique experience in the field? Have an extremely narrow focus that's of interest to a surprising number of people? Do you have a super sexy voice?

We will listen to Guido ramble off his recipe for biscuits, hoping to decode the mysteries within ("He uses a pinch of cornmeal? Maybe he's talking about C encoders. Quick! To the compiler!"). You? You'd better have something off the bat to keep me there. And no, cunning background music isn't it.

Cunning background music

Oh dear lord. Are there no depths that we will not dork to?

Is your name Jerry Holkins or Mike Krahulik?

Then you'd better put your stuff out on a regular schedule. The Penny Arcade guys are awesome enough that, if they only put out a show a few times a year, I'll stay subscribed anyway. Some guy jabbering on about his favorite framework that can't seem to stick to a regular schedule? The first time I start cleaning up podcasts, out you go.

I don't post this to keep anyone from doing a podcast. I want more people to do podcasts! I just don't want any more that make me want to take an ice pick to my poor iPod.


Keddren said...

If anything, take an icepick to MY ipod and I'll take yours.

Better still, icepick to both and we get iPhones instead. Everybody wins!

LonerVamp said...

Amen to Penny-Arcade!

kcunning said...

@keddren - Your devious plot is weak, sir.

lifewithryan said...

riddle me this:
(first off I don't podcast -- yet)
Hell, I don't even blog much. I only do so when I feel I have something of value to say -- or at least some interest -- that hasn't already been said.

So, concerning the whole "schedule" thing. If I have something interesting to say on a random basis, would I just stick to a regular schedule of "filler" and risk boring my listeners to death or just stay random?

(I do have an idea for a podcast, but I know me and sticking to a schedule with a wife, two kids, a full time job and some moonlighting would be difficult for me...)

So what is one to do?

kcunning said...


I know quite a few people like you, and there are some options:

Team up. In general, if you get enough people together, you're going to be able to put interesting stuff out on a regular basis, even if you're all producing on a random schedule.

Another option is to team up with someone who's extremely regular as a guest blogger/podcaster. That way, there's an audience laying in wait, but you don't have to put something out every week if wife/kids/lack of ideas get in the way.

lifewithryan said...


good ideas...hmmmm, now if I only had some friends ;)

patrick said...

lifewithryan: I was thinking the same thing (re. scheduling). One idea might be to establish a cycle long enough to impose on your randomness. E.G., you might have something every week at first, while it's new, then drop off for a few weeks, then do few more, then miss a month. If you stretch them out to fit your documented schedule (say every two weeks or the first Wednesday of each month or whatever), you could stay current through your lapses and avoid randomness.

Now if I could only avoid wordiness in my comments . . .