Before going to bed last night I listened to the most recent episode of Technometria discussing the new not-for-profit podcast aggregration site spokenword.org with Doug Kaye. I have to admit that based on the promotions for the site I've heard on IT Conversations podcasts I couldn't really figure out what a new site would be offering beyond iTunes to help me discover or manage podcasts. As Doug Kaye explained the concept had evolved from a podcast directory, helping people find good stuff, to encompass the additional scope of being a tool for managing podcast subscriptions; perhaps a better management tool than iTunes. This is what peaked my interest. I'm already pretty happy with the iTunes and didn't think I had an immediate need for another management system to be layered over the existing system but was curious to see what kind of features it offered.
Based on what Doug Kaye said the thing that makes spokenword.com a great (better?) way to manage podcasts is that you can create and subscribe to 'collections'. The collection could be comprised of individual episodes of podcasts (they call them 'individual programs' for some reason), a bunch of podcast feed subscriptions, and/or the collections created by other users on the site. This to me was a sales point (can you have a sales point for something free?). In the same way that YouTube allows me to subscribe to a channel of another user, spokenword.org would allow me to subscribe to the selection of another user who I think might be able to point me in the direction of something new, useful and interesting. This is appealing. If I'm trying to find out about requirements engineering, for example, it would be neat to be able to find a collection made by someone really experienced in that area that includes all their picks of most interesting and or useful podcasts he or she has listened to about the topic. This collection would have an RSS feed that I could easily add to my iTunes podcast subscriptions.
On spoken word you can either subscribe directly to the RSS feed for the podcast (which is the same as what I already do through iTunes) or I could add it to a collection of podcasts that I've created. So to try it out I created a collection on spokenword.org and added some past podcast episodes I like, some direct podcast feeds and then subscribed to the feed for the collection in iTunes.
This is the point where I had my first challenge with the spokenword.org approach; the way I do it now, in iTunes, my podcasts are organized by program. This means that on my iPod I can easily skim through the list of programs and see "Ahh... I feel like listening to 'In Our Times' while I'm doing the dishes", select it and then see a reasonably short list of episodes. Given that I subscribe to something like 40 podcasts and can easily have 90-100 episodes on my iPod at any time I really need some method of organizing them into manageable groups and 'by program' seems pretty intuitive.
In contrast, if I'd used Spokenword.org to subscribe to those 40 podcasts the only thing that would be organizing them is name of the collection. That means a list of 90 to 100 podcasts I have to scroll through on my iPod! That's not a better management system for me.
On this point alone it seems like I won't be using spokenword.org instead of iTunes to manage my current or future podcast subscriptions. This leaves the option of subscribing to other people's collections, which is still an attractive feature for me. Say John Smith is a great business analyst and he has a collection of business analysis related podcasts that I could subscribe to; I either click 'follow' to add his collection to my collection, or I simply subscribe directly to the RSS feed for his collection in iTunes.
Here's where it gets complicated. Chances are pretty high that John Smith is subscribed to some of the same podcasts as me. Or, if he isn't already, he may in the future. But iTunes doesn't know this (I haven't confirmed yet how potential duplication of feeds among collections are handled). What this is going to lead to is duplicate episodes of podcasts being downloaded and synced on my iPod. That's a waste of bandwidth, space and just generally annoying.
There's a way around this however (in iTunes at least, I'm not familiar with any other podcatching software). Select the spokenword.org feed on the podcast list and then click the 'Settings' button at the bottom of the window. Unclick 'Use Default Settings' and 'When new episodes are available' drop down list shall become enabled. Change the default from 'Download the most recent' to 'Do Nothing'. What this means is that new episodes won't be downloaded automatically but they will show up in the episode list when available. You'll have to check this feed reqularly to see if there is something that you'd be interested in downloading and then get the individual episodes manually. This removes the benefit of automatic updates, but avoids duplication of downloads (as long as you remember what you've listened to before!)
That's all I have to say about spokenword.org at the moment. I'm going to keep checking out the collections and see how that works, and may use it as a directory (but I rarely use Podcast Alley so I don't know if a directory alone is a big enough of a draw for me.) If anyone can fill me in on anything I'm missing about the functionality or over all vision of the site then I'd appreciate your comments.
Labels: website review podcasts