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Matt May is a Web accessibility specialist, and has written on the interaction of people and technology since 1995. He keeps his own weblog at bestkungfu.com, and produces a podcast called Staccato, which features Creative Commons-licensed music.

Alex Williamsblogs, consults and produces unconference style events, where people immerse in DIY media. These are fun occasions, designed for people who want to get together with authors, artists, technologists and leading thinkers to converse, eat, listen to music, write, shoot photos and post podcasts and videoblogs. Alex also works with companies to establish DIY approaches, where writing, photography, voice and video come together to create new conversations and communities. Alex is currently fascinated with digital photography. His girlfriend calls him a Flickrholic. Send Alex a nice message: alexhwilliams at gmail.com.

Nicole Simon loves blogging and podcasting, dashed with an European view. As consultant she helps to facilitate such tools for business purposes or personal publishing empires. She can be found at cruel to be kind and on her private blog Useful Sounds.

Roland Tanglao is a well known podcasting enthusiast and a passionate advocate of blogs, RSS, and social software as a means of online expression for people, organizations and businesses. He is a prominent participant in the blogosphere and online communities and one of the founders of Bryght and as Bryght's Chief Blogging Officer reads hundreds of blogs daily. He graduated from the University of Waterloo, worked at Nortel Networks where he ran its first internal corporate blog, has has been blogging since 1999, and was the first business blogging consultant in Canada.

In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

Podcasting

« It's like déjà vu all over again... | Main | Feedburner Offers Support for iTunes »

July 07, 2005

How iTunes 4.9 got it wrong

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Posted by Matt May

It's been 9 days since the release of iTunes 4.9, the first version of the media player to integrate podcasting. Reviews have been largely positive, with users praising the aggregation features and integration with the iPod, and noting some hidden items such as videoblog support.

At the same time, though, a growing number of flaws have emerged in both the design of the software and how Apple has communicated -- or failed to communicate -- with the content providers they're now leveraging. Here's an overview of where iTunes has gone astray.

Bandwidth-blowout defaults

The typical RSS feed contains 10 to 15 entries. It's reasonable in an RSS aggregator to display all of them to the user. What is not reasonable, however, is for an aggregator to default to downloading all enclosures for a new feed.

The contents of my music podcast's feed is over a half-gigabyte of data. Now, ordinarily, I'd be happy for anyone to download the last 12 hours of my show -- if only they were going to listen to it. The reason for much of the traffic in the days since the iTunes launch is not new listeners, but existing listeners switching over. It's a duplication and a massive waste of bandwidth, for which a lot of podcasters are paying with real dollars. My site traffic has more than doubled in the last week and a half. I'm fortunate to have enough bandwidth to be able to survive that first wave of iTunes users. And yet, my show wasn't one that was listed.

The earlobe lottery

Podcasters had been told that Apple was sourcing the iPodder directory to generate its own. This was good news: we all wanted to be there on launch. I knew that I was in that directory, so I figured I was in good shape. Then, on the morning of the launch, I searched the database for my show. No results found.

So I went to submit my RSS feed, and found that someone had already submitted it. Now, my show is as podsafe as it gets, so I'm unconcerned about whether it's got copyright issues that would concern Apple. Maybe they're manually listening to shows to quality-check them. Maybe they've determined that they can't accept items licensed "non-commercial" under the Creative Commons license (though that's not what the license says). I can only guess, as I wait through week 2, what the problem could be. One thing is for sure: Apple's not talking.

Lack of communication

Almost everything we knew about iTunes, we heard second-hand from people like Adam Curry and Dave Winer. We heard that it was going great, that there'd be some new elements to add to our feeds, and that it was coming really soon. We got 24 hours' notice of its impending release -- and still we got none of the information we needed to prepare our podcasts.

Nobody knows when they're going to update. Nobody knows how they decide which podcasts they host and which they don't. Nobody even knows what the procedure is. All any podcaster can do at this point is to hope that those who do have access to Apple will let some detail slip. This is no way to communicate with independents. The lack of communication on the part of Apple has spawned a rumor mill which serves no one.

Secret schema

Apple published a new namespace, "itunes:", for podcast feeds. The value of much of it is still in question, with parts of it duplicating existing RSS elements or providing value only to iTunes users.

But worse, if you go to the provided document type definition, where you should see a listing of available elements, you instead get redirected to the iTunes homepage. This behavior is, in a word, dumb. In three words, really, really dumb. A number of podcasters have taken it upon themselves to figure out the itunes: namespace (and where it diverges from Apple's published documentation). Their work is impressive in its speed and efficiency, but all that wouldn't be necessary if only Apple would talk to us.

Apple has time to fix all of these problems and regain the goodwill of podcasters. But they will need to deal with us directly, not through some self-appointed ambassadors. They need to get onto the mailing lists, address the concerns, and be responsive. It's not something they are known for doing, to be sure, but they didn't invent this community. We did. And we're going to demand some amount of cooperation from those who are going to benefit from our work.

Comments (27) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Products


COMMENTS

1. anonymous on July 8, 2005 02:20 AM writes...

iTunes does not download all enclosures when you first subscribe. No wonder Apple doesn't want to talk to you when you are spouting nonsense like that.

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2. Chidi O on July 8, 2005 03:11 AM writes...

Maybe it is an idea to exercise some patience. Podcasting is *new* to iTunes. Surely your complaints/suggestions will be more effective if passed on to Apple. Finally, is it not so that iTunes increases the exposure of your podcast?

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3. Jack B. on July 8, 2005 12:45 PM writes...

Its amazing even looking at the comments the number of people who defend itunes. Do they all own stock in apple or are they all completely unable to criticize something on its obvious faults. I really liked and agree with what you said Matt. Especially the non-communication issues and the complacency.

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4. scott on July 8, 2005 02:46 PM writes...

Excellent post. However, I suspect that Apple *is* watching the relevant lists. If Apple sees an organized mass uprising against what they are doing, they might decide to open a conversation with indie podcasters. Unfortunately, I don't see any indication of that happening. The OSS community does not have the leverage to take on Apple. Therefore, Apple won't have to bother with supporting content providers that don't generate revenue for Apple.

I think the blame for this situation lies with the lack of a standards process for RSS extensions. Without one, the market leaders will be able to define extensions that will serve to re-enforce their market positions to achieve subscriber lock-in. Innovation will be supressed.

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5. Dreadful Snake Guy on July 8, 2005 08:23 PM writes...

This post is right where my heart is. Apple is just not paying attention to the broad community that sustains podcasting by creating most of its content. Adam and others probably get more ears with one cast than many of us do combined but it is the diversity and breadth of our content that makes it a unique medium. I think it all comes down to corporate decisions on what makes Apple money. So my guess is they devoted very few 'man hours' in their business plan for a support plan around all those feeds that appear 'no charge' in itunes. And like a bud of mine said - "You spend cheap - you get cheap!" Hope they wise up. . . they are sitting in Versailles playing with G5s while we peasants who till the podcast soil outside are not getting anything from this. . . yet. I doubt we will come up with a cyber-guillotine, but we grow restless, restless indeed.

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6. Dreadful Snake Guy on July 8, 2005 08:50 PM writes...

Matt - searched for an email link to you to say this offline (hmmm - oxymoronism?) Just quoted you and linked to you from this blog http://dreadfulsnake.blogspot.com/
Thanks for the good work

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7. Podcast Shuffle on July 9, 2005 12:21 AM writes...

When does Apple ever tell us what they're doing prior to a launch? Usually the only ones who know are people who are under NDA or other legal agreement or those bloggers who have inside info and are being sued. :0

Permalink to Comment

8. Mark on July 9, 2005 04:24 AM writes...

Playa hating is all so trendy, ain't it. BTW - you didn't create this thing called Podcast... the guys you criticised for being involved with Apple did.

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9. Dreadful Snake Guy on July 9, 2005 09:40 AM writes...

Mark - feels like your focus is drifting to Adam, not mine. The point of this thread is that Apple as a corporation is not supporting well at all this broad user group called podcasters.

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10. Tim Coyne on July 9, 2005 05:34 PM writes...

At this point, I'm mostly bothered by the lack of communication. My show was submitted well over a week ago yet I've received zero information since then. ANY comunication would be nice.

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11. steven Frein on July 10, 2005 03:44 PM writes...

I agree that Apple is working in a vaccume when it comes to it's release, however I do see this as a beta release. I hope Apple will embrace feedback like Odeo has done. Odeo's response to my problems garnered a email within a few hours. Apple can learn from start-ups like Odeo.

Permalink to Comment

12. Larry Jones on July 10, 2005 04:08 PM writes...

The Man With The Gold Is The One With The Hold. I was reading the google news and came across a news release about a server side php program which converts a standard rss feed to the iTunes format. I also saw this program on hotscripts.com
and I followed the link and purchased the program. I found it a very easy way to conform with the iTunes new RSS format, the price of ten dollars was well worth my time. The software was delivered very quickly, an easy install and I am very happy. See http://aruntc.com/software/

Permalink to Comment

13. Larry Jones on July 10, 2005 04:13 PM writes...

The correct link for the Aruntx Transtune software is http://aruntx.com/software/

I am very sorry for the typo.

Permalink to Comment

14. Ed on July 10, 2005 06:37 PM writes...

Originally posted by Matt:
"What is not reasonable, however, is for an aggregator to default to downloading all enclosures for a new feed."


Excuse me Sir, but iTunes does NOT default to downloading _All_ shows for a new feed.
It defaults to download THE LATEST ~ONE~. Get your truths straight.

Permalink to Comment

15. Podchef on July 11, 2005 01:08 AM writes...

Loved the post. I just now got listed in iTunes even though I'm in all the other directories. Even Odeo picked me up out of the gate. I love iTunes,and Apple products in general which makes their weak attempt to integrate podcasting that much more maddening. There have been so many great, strong voices about podcasting from the beginning that not to approach the community that was implimenting and pushing the genre was a huge mistake. Several people have criticized this article saying we're complaining about something we have no control over--Apple took back control of something it had every right to, etc. . . .Not so. Podcasting will survive whether Apple succeeds or fails in integrating it. It is bigger than the sum or its parts and as such will weather any storms Corporations cause.
While it is nice, now, to be included in the iTunes directory I was doing just fine before I was, haven't seen a huge change since, and won't care when I'm not. There are other ways of distribution and Apple needs to remember this. And apart from Adam Curry and a few others, very few will see any profits as podcasters even if Apple decides to pay for premium content--so there's no use hanging on their sleeves waiting for Big Things To Happen. All roads lead to Rome, but in this case Rome isn't Apple, its Podcasting

Permalink to Comment

16. another anon on July 11, 2005 01:17 AM writes...

This is pretty stupid. What the post completely misses is that Apple IS talking to podcasters. Moreover they are delivering what CUSTOMERS want. Intelligent podcasters would think this is pretty important. Aside from having your facts completely wrong and jumping to conclusions. I've personally setup a dozen new podcast listeners because iTunes actually works and there hasn't been something out there before that was usable. Would I like to see it automatically work with other products (IE, Safari, Thunderbird) sure. But just because you can't figure out the audience for podcasting don't condem the thousands of new podcast listeners that iTunes enabled.

Permalink to Comment

17. Hopesome on July 11, 2005 03:57 AM writes...

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Permalink to Comment

18. Todd Cochrane on July 11, 2005 06:36 AM writes...

Apple is not talking to podcasters, we do know they are talking to some bloggers that have their ear but are not podcasting. They have not talked to the experts. They feelings have gotten hurt becuase we are trying to hold them accountable. Apple does not get it. This is evident in their podcast music store in highlighting all of the commerical shows and largely ingnoring the true podcasters.

Permalink to Comment

19. Matt May on July 11, 2005 11:03 AM writes...

When iTunes installed itself on my machine, "Download all" was the default setting. I did the install within a few hours of its release. Whether they changed it when they realized what kind of Pandora's box they had opened, I have no idea.

What I do know is that they had been messing around with a lot of other settings in the background, including caching of feeds and/or shows, in the first few days. I got a near-equal number of downloads of all of the episodes in my feed on the first day. Through July, though, it's reverted to the old curve, where the newest episode gets 10 times more downloads than the oldest. What that suggests to me is that I and my detractors are both right.

I was just right first. :P

Permalink to Comment

20. Billy K on July 11, 2005 12:42 PM writes...

So, let me get this straight...Apple is helping you reach a much larger audience than you ever could on your own...for free...and nine days after the launch of this new system, you've decided you're not happy with it.

You know, I would love it if Apple comminucated directly to me, as well. They have more important things to do. I suspect your situation is similar.

I encourage you to jump ship, since Apple is clearly not interested in helping you. You should also refuse to pay them for their services.

Permalink to Comment

21. Ed on July 11, 2005 04:51 PM writes...

Yeah, basically hes picking it apart because hes not happy with it and doesnt think anyone else should be either. Hmm... Boo Hoo lol get over it.

They arent talking to podcasters? your all the podcasters? you've talked to all the podcasters? lol. Your jumpin the gun man. Yeah I'm all about bashing evil corporations that dont have customers best intentions at mind, but Apple isnt screwin you over, your expecting too much from them FOR FREE lol.

enough of trying to convince people to calm their crazy asses down

Permalink to Comment

22. Chuck Olsen on July 13, 2005 07:38 AM writes...

I think your comments are *spot on*
(except iTunes only downloads the most recent podcast as I'm sure you found out).

The podcasters and videobloggers I know are all scratching their heads about how to get listed, and what are the criteria? YES we are grateful they took this important step (although it benefits them as much as us). But NO we're not going to shutup and wait for things to fix themselves. We want this to succeed, we want Apple to do it right instead of half-right, and the only way that's going to happen is if we TELL them.

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23. Zg00sh on August 9, 2005 09:36 PM writes...

Mozzila Firefox i s one of the best browsers aviable on the net. Also I think IE was sux and will ever sux.

Permalink to Comment

24. Zg00sh on August 11, 2005 01:12 PM writes...

You guys should spent more time with CSS/XHTML books... you site look completely diffrent in Opera - IE - Firefox
coffee maker nah!

Permalink to Comment

27. lilia on September 4, 2005 06:34 PM writes...

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Permalink to Comment

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