Travel this week has given me time to listen to a few hours of podcasts exercising, waiting, flying, etc. The edition I was listening to was from January 14 with guest Adam Bosworth of Google who is a database expert. I really like this series of “shows” by the Gillmor Gang.
During this one it hit me why: It’s done as a deep, serious show aimed at a professional in the area covered (in this case the IT world), it’s not dumbed down, it’s actually “smarted up”.
The Eric Kriss announcement saga (as I chronicled it in my post) showed that the news reports, and reports on them, were filtered, transformed, shortened, and simplified, losing a lot and evoking a different response in the listener than if they were exposed to the source. The reporting was by people who weren’t practitioners steeped in the fine points and history of the field. They were reporters trained to ask questions and distill out a “story” and put it “in context” outside of the source as an “observer”. That’s their “product”. On Groklaw, Pamela Jones and many of her readers strive to amass all the source documents and further ferret out and sift through as many related facts as possible. It is up to readers to figure out how to use it (who then often feed back that usage, proposing many “stories”).
What I like about the ITConversations type of podcasts is the depth, the aiming at a narrow audience who cares about the subject and wants to learn directly from people who know a lot about it. The Gillmor Gang is special in that the “regular” participants are all very knowledgeable in various parts of the field, and in what is going on in it at various companies. They ask probing questions and give opinions and anecdotes that draw out the conversation with the guest(s). Those guests are carefully chosen people who are involved at a high level in topics. They aren’t just spokespeople but often the thinkers who know the subject very deeply from experience and who appreciate the opportunity to speak seriously and at a professional level. I feel that I’m learning, and the long format, with rambling into topics through the probing, and the informal nature of it being a “conversation” among topic insiders unafraid to use jargon and others unafraid to ask for clarification, is very engaging.
I feel that if I were a devotee of almost any other topic, just about all of which have depth (from knitting machines to nuclear safety), this format (as podcasting) would work. Regular broadcast “radio” wouldn’t work for many reasons on many of these topics. The fact that I can back up my MP3 player and listen to a passage again, or stop for a few minutes or days and then start up again a minute or two before where I stopped to help remember context, lends itself to this sometimes information-dense material. The material is often very technical and you need to hear some things said more than once, the material is also thought provoking so my mind wanders, I listen in places that sometimes have distractions, and finally the shows are long and I sometimes need to break up my listening into chunks. Another thing: With podcasts, you know that almost everybody listens from the start, with no dropping in (unless someone else sent them directly to a section knowing it stood on its own). No need to always have something when they tune the dial to catch them, no fear that you’d lose an audience to another channel since they can fast-forward if a sub-topic is boring. These conditions are killers to a traditional radio program which just streams by without stop, and which by nature of the scarcity of available “airtime” can only go after topics with deep understanding to a wide audience, like sports or politics, or be presented in a way understandable to a more general population. Physical media, like CDs or tapes, are not timely enough and the distribution is too expensive for the wide range of topics and “shows” you’d need to get to that depth. Broadband and downloading don’t have those problems.