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July 22, 2005

The Podcast Disruption

[22 July 2005] I love radio. Here in Australia, I listen to Radio National while in Australia, and PBS when in the USA. Radio stimulates and informs in a way that leaves other media in the dust (for me, at least). And when, in 2003, Doug Kaye started IT Conversations, to provide audio conference sessions and interviews for download via the 'net, I quickly became addicted.

Doug somehow managed to get permission to record/distribute a terrific mix of speakers, which were totally within my "demographic". I was like the proverbial "pig in sh*t". Not only did he unearth old heroes (like Engelbart and Wozniak), he also introduced me to new ones like Clay Christensen and Bruce Schneier. Downloading MP3's was easy, it gave me something to listen to in the car, train and plane. And it was like having a radio station with programmes especially made for me. Meanwhile I continued to listen to the ABC or PBS, live or via their streaming services.

Innovator's Solution book cover
I don't read a lot of "business" books, but there are a few that I treasure, such as "The Cluetrain Manifesto", mentioned last week and Geoffrey Moore's books. Apart from introducing me to their authors "live", Doug and IT Conversations introduced me to "The Innovator's Solution" by Clay Christensen, a follow-up to his earlier bestseller "The Innovator's Dilemma". Clay's books (and conference speeches) are about the challenge faced by established companies when an innovation occurs, such as when Digital (Equipment Corp) lost its position when confronted by the rise of the desktop computer. Clay draws a clear distinction between disrupting and sustaining innovations, though. An example of a sustaining innovation is the effect of the Internet on banking. Existing banks achieved substantial efficiencies by agressively adopting online banking and so prevented internet startups from getting a foothold.

About twelve months ago, someone put two and two together and called it podcasting. And got everyone's attention. As is typical with this kind of thing, somehow we were all expected to start recording our thoughts and interviewing our friends... And of course the carpetbaggers moved in, pitching it to all and sundry.

So... is podcasting disruptive to existing radio broadcasters by allowing new players to start up or is it a sustaining innovation which will bring the incumbents further reach and reduced costs?

The real expense in broadcasting is in talent, editing and overall production value. Broadcasting (distribution) is the easy piece. For most of us, even if you have something interesting to say, it is deceptively hard to turn it into an attractive recording.

Doug Kaye's recording gear - lots of knobs!

Much harder than concisely writing down your thoughts (which is hard enough...), whatever some of the budding 'casters might think. Podcasting has made a marginal difference to me (I can now download my favourite ABC "shows" directly into iTunes). But sadly, IT Conversations lost my favorite weekly show, "The Gillmor Gang". Steve Gillmor probably thought there was nothing to it and decided he could produce it himself.... Just listen (if you can find it and if you can bear it) to his self-produced shows. And I'm not the only one totally turned off by their woeful production value.

Doug Kaye of course only made it look easy. He had years of experience in broadcasting and film. Guys like him can now build their own "broadcasting corporations". But will he? No, I think Doug realises that the Podcasting innovation is sustaining rather than disruptive to existing broadcasters. You can see our local ABC and the BBC already doing it with enthusiasm, it broadens their reach for little or no cost and they have lots of content which been paid for already. They have the talent and production values and (unlike record companies and music MP3) have little to lose and everything to gain.

Mind you, Doug has a vision for IT Conversation which is exciting and maybe even viable, at least for someone with his experience and reputation.

And Steve Gillmor needs to find a producer or go back to writing...

Posted by Marius at 03:12 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 14, 2005

Blog Storms

Front cover of the Cluetrain Manifesto
[14 July 2005] I've been following a few storms in the blogging world. The latest, around Dell, is not surprisingly pointed to by Doc Searls. Doc has been talking for years about changes in the way companies need to view their customers. Read his book, "The Cluetrain Manifesto" and you'll find a lot of provoking material on client communications.

Dell appears to have thought that, by shutting down their customer forums, they could stop people from voicing their corncerns about Dell's service, doh... The other example in the past week was around Apple's poor job of defining an extension of the RSS format without consulting an important section of their customers, their developer/creative partners.

The Internet has changed customer communications. My 82 year old Dad sends emails, even though it is still mainly early adopters who use weblogs, RSS and tagging. But the blogging juggernaut has been moving for long enough to convince not just the early adopters that customer communications has changed forever. Customers have found and are taking advantage of the ability to communicate without the traditional gatekeepers. Online publishing is free (as in money as well as freedom) and everyone knows!

CEO's and Marketing Managers need to breath-in deeply, it isn't hard. Listen to your customers, make sure they feel heard, be reasonable. Do it out in the open where others can see the way you handle tricky situations (whichever side screwed up).

Someone should tell Michael Dell and Steve Jobs.

Posted by Marius at 09:55 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 07, 2005

Apple's standard

[7 July 2005] Microsoft recently suggested an extension to an important emerging standard, RSS. They used a grass roots industry conference to discuss their extension before shipping any product which used it and quickly received comprehensive, constructive feedback from a range of smart people. To Microsoft's credit, they have come to understand that by opening themselves up to (sometimes painful) scrutiny, they end up creating better products.

In contrast, Apple's recent Podcasting extension to the same RSS standard was shipped in the latest version of iTunes without consultation. And it looks like a rush job,  getting a lot of criticism from those who care about these things.

Standards in software are important. I want my email to be read by anyone without worrying what software or hardware they have. Standards used to be created either because acompany became dominant in a particular market (for example Microsoft Word) or were derived by a standards body (as in telecommunications). By contrast, standards on the Internet are more likely to evolve through community consultation. Someone suggests a standard or an extension to one and invites comments. While the process of getting concensus may sometimes be painful, it also makes for better, universal standards. And respect for those who engage in the process.

Posted by Marius at 06:08 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack