Thursday, 27 September 2007

Arjan Zuidhof, a .NET software engineer in the Netherlands comments briefly on his linkblog regarding our recent podcast show and interview about being a DBA:

"When was the last time *you* listened to a podcast? Honestly? One of the things I know I should do more, but, ahh, the lack of time is standing in the way. Still, learning how to be a better DBA is definitely a healthy career path if you don't know where to go..."

That got me thinking. Arjan's point seems to be consistent with those of many others, and truthfully I have to include myself in that list of people who have found podcast consumption to be too hard from time to time. I have found myself wondering aloud and to myself how in the world anyone can possibly  get the technology to work seamlessly, find and organize podcasts, have them in a place where they can be consumed, and still find the time to actually listen to them.

And then there's the whole (somewhat true) problem I refer to as the "most-podcasts-suck" phenomenon. It can be painful and a bit of work to find a good show, let alone stick with it.

But some of the best learning I have done over the past year or two has been from podcasts, so I can tell you there is a tangible benefit. I listen to a total of maybe 6 or 7 podcasts, and I listen whenever I find I have the time. I don't listen to every episode in its entirety, either - it has to keep my interest. I also don't plan it all out or have a podcast listening schedule. And I have found that's important for me if I am going to be part of the podcast "listernership."

The first thing I had to do was to have a set of tools that make it possible to listen without having to think about it. Here are the tools that I have found actually make it possible, in my real world:

  1. iTunes - Love it or hate it, the fact of the matter is, iTunes makes subscribing to and consuming podcasts freakin' easy. And on top of that, you get show ratings, the podcast directory on the iTunes store, and a lot more. Plus, when you consider that the producers of a podcast have to work to get their show into iTunes, it's raises the bar slightly and as a result the signal to noise ratio is a little lower.
  2. The Mac Mini on my kitchen counter - With some compact speakers and the iTunes client running on it, I just load the Added recently playlist and listen. Obviously, this could be a Windows machine or whatever. The point is, in the space where you spend your time, it's good to have the ability to let stuff play in the background, and your primary iTunes subscription point show be there.
  3. iPod (or iPhone in my case) - The thing that matters the most here is that you need to have it with you all the time. Truth be told, my iPod saw so little use day-to-day that I seriously consider that particular purchase to be a waste of money. I have a friend who has actually used it much more than me. But the iPhone, on the other hand, goes everywhere with me. As a result, the iPod content on the phone actually gets listened to. I cannot overemphasize the importance of this point: Listening needs to be something you just do. The planning part should be limited to the discovery of and subscription to content. After that, the whole idea is to focus energy on the shows, not the delivery mechanism. Else you'll find yourself frustrates and giving up. And that's, well, pointless.

I'm a Windows and Wintel guy primarily, so you might be surprised to see the glaring consistency in manufacturer above. Get over it, I did. And it works. That's what matters. 

My point here is this: The time it takes to actually listen to podcasts is often confused and munged with the time it takes to be able to listen to podcasts. I'm not saying that Arjan's situation is specifically that, but rather his comments caused me to think through some common frustrations based on my own experience and the experiences of others.

I've heard many people say they just can't find the time for it. I know I certainly get frustrated with shows that ramble on and on and present nothing useful. That's why - for example - Scott Hanselman's excellent Hanselminutes podcast is intentionally compact and focused on a specific audience, and it's why we work hard to keep RunAs Radio around 30 minutes per show and focused on topics for IT professionals.

What I've found is that if you can work out the technology part of things, and then be willing to spend a little bit of time here and there glancing at recommendations made by others and which fill your own interests, you can learn and consume a lot of good stuff in the "between" time (and still have time left over for other stuff).

For those who roll their eyes and doubt, here's my "preachy" thought for the moment - for what it's worth: If your schedule won't allow you to listen to a podcast every week or two (and this statement is coming from a true workaholic, people) you might want/need to take a hard look at your schedule and figure out what's wrong with it. Missing out on good information, whether it be written or recorded or what have you, is an unfortunate and damning side effect of too-much-ness. We all got to where we are today by learning, and stopping now really isn't an option - unless our goals are to slide backward and relegate ourselves to being second-best. There should be time for family and friends, time for yourself, and then time for work.

Anyhow, a special thanks to Arjan for making me think. :)

Do you listen to podcasts? Or do you find you can't? Why or why not? What is the one thing podcast producers could do today that would make a real difference to you, the kind of difference that would make it really worthwhile for you to spend some time with them?

Ready? Discuss!

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Thursday, 27 September 2007 07:04:35 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Thursday, 27 September 2007 07:43:07 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
Hey Now Greg,
The last time I listed to a podcast is right now. I love them especially PWOP casts (hands down the best). I started to listen a little less than a year ago, & feel I've learned so much that I'd never have learned. My method is to download the mp3 files, and then I just play them non stop in my media player while working on my workstation. I used to listen to a ton of music so I'm familiar with mp3s & organizing them. I also listen to Podcasts in my mp3 player, but primerily when I'm on my pc. For me there is no substitute for the knowledge I've learned from them. For someone to say there is no time doesn't make since for me, how can make time.

My recommendation is to subscribe to PWOP feed then you'll know when the new episodes are released. Get the file & play it when you are on you PC.
RunAs Fan,
Thursday, 27 September 2007 10:24:02 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
Only time I listen is in my car on long drives. I can't find any other time to really pay attention to them. Music is better for me at work and at home I always have my mind focused on a million other things.
Thursday, 27 September 2007 14:16:10 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
Tony over at emailed me and points to a post on his blog:

Hey Greg,

Just read your post on podcasts and agree completely about the state of podcasts and listening. In fact, I felt inspired to dust off a post I wrote last winter, but never published for my blog. (

I would have put this in the comments, but thought it might be too self serving, so I hope you don't mind an email. Also, I referenced Run as Radio as an example of a well produced and listenable podcast (which it is) and hope you don't mind my linking to it.

Great site, by the way, and keep writing! I enjoy reading it.


Thursday, 27 September 2007 14:18:30 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
@Jeff - It's certainly true that for some music seems to be better. There are times when I like to listen to music, but those seem to be different times from when I want to listen to informational shows like podcasts.

Of course, I am not nearly as much of a music nut as many people I know. :)
Friday, 28 September 2007 10:35:39 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)

Hi Greg,

always glad if I can make someone think :-) Hanselman was always my favorite podcast, but a job switch caused a change in my commute from train to car. The car is, for me at least, not a comfortable place to listen to podcasts (did try though!), because concentration is needed for other things, music is really the only that keeps me focused on the road.

Anyway, now that I read your thoughts on this, and the comments I can only say: "of course I should be making more time for this!". Can't really say what was preventing me, the commute change can't be the only thing. So, I made a decision here: my goal for the next week is to listen to at least one Hanselman and one RunAs Radio. Hopefully this will get me back on track...

Now where did I put that MP3 player again...

Thanks again!

Saturday, 29 September 2007 16:43:16 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
Hate to say it, but I've never listened to a podcast. I find the whole concept of taking my focus for 10-20 minutes at a time and monopolizing it to be ridiculous. Add onto that the need to download, install, and configure whatever mobile media player I'm using to listen to it on the road, cmon now. Post a tech article if you have something interesting to say. At least that's searchable, saveable, archivable, and discussable.

Listen in the car, you say? I have an XM radio, I have 300 some odd 'podcasts' going on all at once. Do I need another?

If I'm looking for insightful, topical, and interesting materials, I put on NPR.
Monday, 01 October 2007 13:18:10 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
The ironic thing for me is that I burn podcasts onto CD's for my long car drives!
Tuesday, 02 October 2007 12:19:32 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
Until now I haven't been a big listener of podcasts. I don't own an mp3 player of any kind, although that will probably change. But your comment about listening in the kitchen makes a lot of sense. I tried that out and it's pretty nice. I can cook to a podcast, as long as it's not too complex a meal ;) and it's a great way to get through breakfast cereal! Those times cooking or eating breakfast, if I'm alone, is a good time to also try out some new podcasts. Besides the obvious technical ones like RunAs and Hanselminutes, there are lots of potentially interesting news and other special topic podcasts available. Thanks for getting me to think about it more.
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