City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

Lots of activity in the podcasting space at the moment, which hasn’t gone un-noticed by the likes of The Economist, who describe the addition of podcasting support to iTunes thusly "Any confusion about the term or the process has not mattered much, because podcasting tended to be almost exclusively for the young, geeky or both. Last week, however, that changed." and "the iPod has finally staked its claim to a medium that already bears its name." [The Economist: Fiddly no longer]

Apple’s integration of podcasting into iTunes will take podcasting to another level for sure. We’re yet to calculate the impact on the BBC shows we have in there yet, but I expect at least a blip. It’s a tightly-controlled offering, with the iTunes Music Store front-end repurposed for displaying podcasts which are vetted by Apple. This still provides a rich new set of content for many users, but it’s a very ‘industry’ feel for sure. Many thousands others have commented on the iTunes podcast integration so I’ll leave it for now, save a few words on the technicalities of the user experience. (There are many other real technical problems with iTunes’ podcast implementation.)

From a content provider point-of-view, due to Apple’s non-standard extensions, the BBC’s shows don’t look terribly good in the Top 10 (Author: Unknown), and we have to consider placing ‘proprietary’ code in our XML to solve that (though as will Odeo and many others). Further, the user experience within iTunes is a bit odd. In general, it’s a seamless piece of work but those lack of seams can be a problem when trying to figure out why your podcast files won’t appear as part of playlists where genre = ‘Podcast’. It appears to be because Apple have chosen to treat them as different media altogether, somehow separated from the rest of your library (despite them being plain ol’ mp3s) and closer to audiobooks. The latter has the advantage of enabling bookmark functionality, so shows resume playing where you left them previously, but is that worth the price for the fair bit of confusion this effectively invisible separation also enables? Having said that, a form of ‘chapters’ is also enabled – which should provide some interesting options for content providers interested in offering segmented shows. Also, the ‘Keep all episodes | all unplayed episodes | Most recent | Last 5 etc.’ functionality is great. So it’s a pretty mixed-bag (more here – scroll past the bile). It might be enough to see off the challenge of Odeo, another high-profile entrant into the podcasting admin space yesterday.

Tom Coates has a good review of Odeo gestating so watch his site. We’ve been thinking about and then evaluating Odeo (thanks to Tom’s efforts) at work for a few months now. It’s a great piece of work for sure, and Tom’s review will pick out all the salient points. The most interesting aspects for me, outside of the carefully executed user experience, is the ‘Create’ functionality – currently under-wraps but beautiful, believe me – and that it reinforces my thinking about distributed electronic programme guides (EPGs) and openness in general (cf. Designing for Hackability etc.). I’d guess that proprietary EPGs will be powerful beasts in the future (extrapolate Sky+, iTMS, MSN/Media Center, Napster etc), but that an equally powerful beast will be a distributed EPG, in which the Web – or more accurately IP-distributed communication between IP-enabled devices – will form a lattice of connections to media (including all the associated comments and interaction around shows cf. Social Life of a Broadcast). The web is the EPG.

And Odeo looks a fully-realised articulation of this approach at the moment – as long as the unsubscribe/subscribe buttons can be ‘disengaged’ from and placed on your own site, next to your podcast. In this way, Odeo’s helpful tendrils reach out to the web and the edges blur between sites usefully, such that you can sub/unsub from podcasts in a truly distributed sense. You coalesce centrally from time to time, going to Odeo to administrate, but generally your action is distributed. All in all, it’s got everything a ‘Class of 2005’ web-app should have, so congrats to Blogger-creator Ev Williams and Noah Glass et al.

The problem for Odeo is that all Apple need to do is follow suit on that aspect of the service – seamless distributed subscription – and they have a far more powerful play – true vertical integration from hardware to software, augmented by distributed input. You can imagine a small ‘iPodcast’ icon with associated code, distributed by Apple to podcasters to place on their site, which when performs the ‘subscribe at a distance’ functionality. They have a component of the ‘transport’ through to iTunes Music Store already figured out – having enabled the iTMS affiliate program, which links to particular tracks – this is simply an extension of that, messaging back and forth between your iTunes and the web. A more basic linkabilty would help too (though at least podcasts tend to have corresponding sites one can point at). Yet Apple tend to struggle with these aspects of informational product design, so let’s see if they act upon the interesting Odeo approach.

Odeo have a richer, open model for finding new content – their ‘EPG’ is open to anyone to drop content into. Apple’s storefront is far more controlled, and therefore ‘legal’ in the sense that the music industry will appreciate right now. I know why Apple have done the latter, and Odeo the former. It’ll be interesting to see how this one plays out. As ever, I expect no clear winners, simultaneous non-interoperable formats and interaction patterns, and nothing but bewildering complexity of experience and choice for the users 🙂


6 responses to “Podcasting in iTunes and Odeo”

  1. Andrew Avatar

    ” You can imagine a small ‘iPodcast’ icon with associated code, distributed by Apple to podcasters to place on their site, which when performs the ‘subscribe at a distance’ functionality. ”
    I had also assumed we’d see these popping up by now. Oddly enough, the first one I’ve seen’s on Odeo itself: on your profile page, there’s a link:
    “…subscribe to your Odeo queue with iTunes (4.9 or later).”
    It treats Odeo like any other single-source subscription in iTunes; each of your Odeo subscriptions gets a single entry under it. This is actually a little odd. You can really only subscribe to the most recent stuff via Odeo–there’s no way to get, say, the last few episodes of a given podcast.
    Plus, this doesn’t play nice with my current podcast prefs in iTunes: download only the most recent podcast, and keep only unplayed. That means I have to manage my Odeo subscriptions manually in iTunes, Get-ting all the additional ones that iTunes won’t download automatically. Still better than trying to juggle their Syncr along with iTunes for this whole business, though. (And what’s with the Flickr spelling-homage thing?)


  2. Scott's place Avatar

    links for 2005-07-12

    cityofsound: Podcasting in iTunes and Odeo I’ve been trying to find time to put together a “how to roll your own podcasts” guide for The Stage. Now it seems that there’ll soon be a one-word answer: Odeo. (tags: odeo…


  3. Ed Avatar

    Quote:”You can really only subscribe to the most recent stuff via Odeo–there’s no way to get, say, the last few episodes of a given podcast.”
    Actually, in the show’s page on Odeo, there are ‘+Queue’ buttons for Each Episode In The Series.


  4. Phil Gyford Avatar

    One problem with the Podcast implementation in iTunes, which I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere, is that you must have the Music Store enabled to access the Podcast Directory.
    I switched the Music Store off months ago, as I was never going to buy anything from it. I upgraded to the new iTunes and saw the new purple ‘Podcasts’ icon. But when I click it I see a blank playlist and some greyed-out buttons/links – the ‘Podcast Directory’ link only becomes active if I go into Preferences and re-enable the Music Store, something it took me a few days to realise.
    So, having switched the Music Store off again, I’ve never subscribed to a podcast and I have no idea how to (I searched Apple’s ‘iTunes and Music Store Help’, but there’s apparently nothing in there for ‘podcast’ or ‘podcasts’).


  5. Paul Mison Avatar

    Phil: you can drag a URL into iTunes and have it added as a podcast.
    Woe betide if you want to drag a URL in for anything other than a podcast, mind. iTunes 4.9 assumes that’s always what you mean. If you really wanted to listen to a streaming radio station, you have to use Open URL… from the Advanced menu. At least, that’s what I remember from when I was still using 4.9.
    (I did wonder how the podcast feature coped if you disabled the music store. I think it does the right thing, for what it’s worth, but I also wish that you could switch off podcasting, just like you can switch off the music store.)


  6. John23 Avatar

    Now with Itunes 5 you can just click and add podcast to your ipod!


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