Sunday, December 31, 2006

2006 The Year In Review: Podcasts

This year the amount of time I spent listening to podcasts on my iPod far exceeded that spent listening to music. I have a forty-minute commute door-to-door, so that is about one hour and twenty minutes in Podland most weekdays. For a working week that totals out somewhere between six and seven hours. Currently, that breaks down to four to five hours of talk for every two to three hours of music. Which is quite a lot, considering that podcasts were not even on my radar when I bought my iPod two years ago. I have tried and abandoned many podcasts this year, but here are some worth recommending.

I find This Week in Tech equally enjoyable and infuriating. It is a panel-based weekly topical review of general technology news. US-based, it is pretty Silicon Valley-centric, but covering Google, Apple, Microsoft, Intel and so forth, gives it solid international appeal. As a general rule-of-thumb, when John Dvorak is a panellist it is definitely worth listening in, less so on the weeks whenever he is absent. The tech news is not pitched into the ├╝ber-geek stratosphere. It is set more at around my geekiness level, although when they start talking about HD-TV specifications it is definitely time to roll the fast-forward wheel. The free-wheeling, conversational nature that is the chief characteristic of TWiT is also the programmes’ biggest failing. Most of the one-hour podcasts do run out if steam well before they hit the three-quarters mark and the last fifteen minutes is often a rambling mess. However, when it really does go off the rails it tends to do so in a spectacularly embarrassing, if highly entertaining, fashion. The infamous Steve Wozniak ‘Yellow Lasers’ episode being the best example from my listening.

A more business-orientated podcast that I enjoy is Venture Voice which is about entrepreneurship. The format is simple: an in-depth interview with either a successful serial entrepreneur, the leader of a high-potential start-up, or a someone integral to the process such as a high-profile VC. Again this podcast is US-based with a strong tech/Silicon Valley slant. Most of the interviews are around one hour, which allows the space to explore the topics to an informative degree. My interest level for each interview does depend on how relevant the particular interviewee is, but on balance most have been worth the listen. The frequency of podcasting has dropped off noticeably during the second half of 2006 and hopefully will increase in the coming year. Crucially, given that business podcasts are really those that I unsubscribe to most quickly, the fact that this has stayed on my iPod for the whole year makes it worth recommending.

The only Irish podcast that I listen to regularly is Digital Ireland, which is another technology-focussed programme. This podcast’s publishing schedule has also been pretty erratic this year, but I would rather listen to a podcast that is only published when people have something to say or report, rather than where they are trying to generate filler content to pad out a given weekly slot. This podcast tends to cover some of the international tech news that I already hear on TWiT, so I really listen to it for its Irish-orientated content. Which was worth it this year if only for their coverage of the implosion of Smart Telecom and the background to what was going on there. (How do I spell Schadenfreude?)

My old buddy John Maguire does weekly film reviews on the Breakfast Show podcast. John plays the cynical critic foil to Dempsey’s seeming willingness to find some merit in even the most banal Hollywood barrel-scrapings. TodayFM’s podcast wizards now manage to spell John’s surname correctly too. You will also get all of the Gift Grub sketches with this feed too. The Gift Grub humour quality control is a bit patchy. But it is either more hit than miss, or else I have just grown fond of it over the last year.

While John only gets about seven minutes to review the current week’s cinematic offerings, Mark Kermode gets a half-hour on the BBC Five Live podcast. I had previously only been aware of Dr Kermode as a talking head on film documentaries or those Channel 4 ‘Top 100...’ clip marathons that tend to run on Saturday nights.* Known in foreign climes as “that shouty man on the radio” Kermode is always at his most entertaining when berating movies that he dislikes.

The majority of podcasts are ephemeral broadcasts: the previous edition losing most of its attraction once the subsequent edition is released, just like yesterday’s newspaper. Occasionally there is a good interview or a conference speech that I find it worthwhile retaining on my iPod, but those are sporadic one-offs.

Up to recently I have never come across a whole series that I wanted to cache for repeated listening. That is until Merlin Mann’s series of eight ‘Productive Talk’ conversations with David Allen on 43Folders this Autumn. These chats are both concise and on-topic, which immediately counteracts two of the most prevent failings in podcasting. Also, I found David Allen to be a much more entertaining and engaging character than I expected, so much so that I am going to check out the audiobook edition of ‘Getting Things Done’ to compliment my hard copy edition.

I would recommend these eight conversations to anyone thinking about personal productivity as an informal introduction to some of its primary themes. Each of the individual episodes can be downloaded from 43Folders and there is also one hefty composite mp3 with the complete ‘Productive Talk’ series.

Productive Talk 1: Procrastination
Productive Talk 2: Leaks
Productive Talk 3: Someday/Maybe
Productive Talk 4: Teams
Productive Talk 5: Email
Productive Talk 6: Interruptions
Productive Talk 7: Implementation Best Practice
Productive Talk 8: GTD 2.0
Productive Talk: The Whole Lot

*They really should do ‘Top 100 Movies Where Al Pacino, Although Apparently A Charismatic Father Figure For Our Protagonist, Is Really The Villain’ and also ‘Top 100 Movies Where CGI Animated Tame Animals Are Taken Out Of Their Depth And Back Into Nature, Whence Much Hilarity Ensues’.

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Wikipedia entry on TWiT