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A quick review of Yahoo! Podcasts…

Double disclaimer time here – firstly I’m knackered and what follows is badly written and I will edit it later for clarity, punch and drama. The other thing is that – of course – the viewpoints represented here do not necessarily reflect those of my employers (the BBC) who may be much much more intelligent than I.

A few short months after iTunes installed a podcast directory and client comes Yahoo! podcasts, and frankly I think Yahoo are more on the money with this one. The current implementation is a bit clumsy, it’s true – there are loads of things wrong with it – but fundamentally they’ve got the idea that podcasts should be linkable, that social media navigation is fundamentally important and they’ve got that creating a platform for amateur creativity is going to be the thing that really demoncratises the medium and changes audio forever. In this – as in so many other things – they’ve taken a huge lesson from Odeo, which remains the best service on the net (and will blow people’s heads off when they launch their create tools please god sometime soon.

I wrote an enormous post about Odeo a while back, which I never published after a friend said it was ‘a little hyperbolic’. That post contained much of my thinking about the evolution of podcasting and why it was so important (and why Odeo had got it so right as far as it had got so far). I’ll dig that up later and try and get it up by the end of the day. But in the meantime, I thought I’d write a little bit about the design and implementation of podcasting on the Yahoo service (with occasional reference to some stuff that Odeo have done).

The big problem both services have is that they don’t own the audio clients that people will use to listen to (and probably download) podcasts. This unfortunately leaves iTunes with the most seamless (if truncated) experience. Odeo finds some ways around this. Yahoo! Podcasts doesn’t. The problem really is in the web interface elements. You want to be able to subscribe to a show with just one web-based click and have that be reflected with a download to your client-side audio player. Yahoo don’t even try to solve this problem, which brings us the first major problem with their product – the subscription process is a multi-stage horror of downloaded podcast files and double-clicking. It is, frankly, clumsy as all buggery. Odeo’s syncr app is a much more elegant solution – a small client through which you login to their site, and which then downloads your ‘queue’ of episodes. But Odeo’s app still has its problems – much of the great functionality of iTunes is concerned with deleting old episodes and with handling how many shows remain on your iPod. Odeo’s approach makes it harder to use that functionality.

What we really need, it seems to me, is some form of OPML-style file that a client can subscribe to that contains a collection of podcast feeds. The list of your subscriptions (in whatever appropriate format) could then be updated by web clients around the web and have that reflected in your podcast client next time it updated. I don’t know if anyone’s working on that kind of stuff. If you know anything, let me know…

So what else is going on with the Yahoo! podcasts service? Well can I just say to start off with how nice it is to see a Yahoo service that isn’t plain white! If this is a beginning of a trend for their more lifestyle / entertainment brands, then it’s something I’m in favour of. Obviously I’ve seen Yahoo Music before – but this seems to me to be a much more elegant solution – a simple top navigational structure that keeps the Yahoo brand but which could be colour-coded to represent different Yahoo products.

The rest of the page is a bit … busy … though. It’s the same problem I have with the Yahoo homepage actually – there’s just too much damn stuff on it. Or at least (in this case) there’s too lines and gaps and bits of black. It is – however – far from terrible and has take a lot of the lessons from Odeo’s implementation of subscribable programme blocks (complete with preview functionality). It’s just a bit inelegant, and doesn’t have the sheen of an iTunes or an Odeo. But generally, it’s far from sucky. Mostly well done!

One final thing I want to talk about is the implementation of tags. I think this is something that they’ve fouled up – although in this case slightly less than Odeo have. Both services allow users to add tags to describe shows, but neither builds in any impetus to do so other than pure, good-hearted altruism. The individual doesn’t bookmark or collect the shows in question, they just write stuff. There’s little or no (enlightened or otherwise) self-interest being met, and as a result I think it’ll probably fail.

The problem really comes in trying to derive value from the interactions of hundreds or thousands of people. The first rule is that the individual needs to see some value in what they’re doing (ideally personal value). It’s unclear what that value is in either Odeo or Yahoo’s implementation. But the second rule is that you should be able to aggregate individual interactions to create something bigger than the individual. Odeo gets this completely wrong – a show can be given a tag, but only one of any given tag. A bit of metadata that a thousand people think is useful is given the same conceptual weight as a bit of metadata that only one person thinks is useful. The end-result, an easily spammable system with no sense of weighting that could make searching or ranking results easier.

Yahoo tries to fix this by making it possible for a show to be tagged multiple times with the same term, but doesn’t give any clear explanation to people why they should tag a show with a word it has already been tagged by. And because there’s no obvious reason to retag something with a pre-existing word, and because there’s no value to the individual to undertake that tagging other than altruism, I can’t believe it’s going to be enormously successful.

What they need to do instead is think about a generic implementation of tagging (and a representative user interface widget) that a logged in Yahoo user can carry with them around all of their services, showing how an individual search result or review or news story or web page or podcast has been tagged by them personally (and making each tag a link off to browse their annotated collections of stuff), as well as showing the aggregate. That would make much more sense, and could be much more powerful.

9 replies on “A quick review of Yahoo! Podcasts…”

I’ve had similar thoughts when using iTune (or attempting to use it) with other music services and with podcasts, except from the opposite direction. I’m basically wondering at which point do we start to see Apple getting knocked about for uncompetitive behavior.
I was sorely disappointed when I found that I couldn’t find a single streamable music service that I could use on my Mac and PC besides. Besides the fact that on principle I can’t bring myself to use iTunes for it’s music store, it also just doesn’t have the streamable option (which of course would subvert their entire profit model).
Fortunately geekdom doesn’t appear to have fallen down to worship Apple’s podcast directory, as was reasonably to be respected. It really doesn’t do much beyond over-promote the big-media and few breakout indies. Far from being a democratization of media, it makes anything past the front page look like a dusty cobweb corner.
At what point do the closed platform of the iPod, the lack of choice between music suppliers, subscription, and purchase choices, and the lack of interest in the indie-ness of the media itself eclipse the savvy industrial design and marketing smarts that have made the iPod what it is?

Tom, please do post those Odeo thoughts, there’s some bits here where I think you’re writing with that post in mind.
I have to admit, I spent about five minutes clicking on the “Subscribe” buttons in Y!P waiting for the “multi-stage horror process” to begin, before I realized that these “.pcast”(?) files were being instantly downloaded and added to iTunes. This is in OS X, which I’d thought you were also using. I prefer this to Odeo’s build-a-feed-of-feeds subscription approach, though I guess it’s not as seamless on Windows.
My first reaction to this is, well, too bad for Odeo (which was also my reaction when iTunes added podcast support). At the moment, Y! hasn’t done much more than copy Odeo’s basic ideas–tag implementation aside. (Though Y!’s got Craig’s minipops everywhere, yay!) And all else being equal, Yahoo’s obviously got more ability to bring users into their service. Odeo at the moment doesn’t feel significantly better for me to prefer it, and I can only assume that Yahoo’s indexing power will tend to find more content overall for me to choose from. (Although I’ve hit my podcast saturation point already with the ten or so shows I listen to regularly.)
I do certainly agree with your comment about the business of the page. Compare Yahoo’s listing of “Notes from the Underground” with Odeo’s listing. Yahoo’s is nearly unreadable, but for those appealing “explicit” buttons leaping out of the mess.

Forgot to respond to this part in my last comment:
“What they need to do instead is think about a generic implementation of tagging (and a representative user interface widget) that a logged in Yahoo user can carry with them around all of their services…”
That’s for sure. I think that generic implementation should start with the MyWeb2.0 work they’ve already done, which already has a good model for the mine/ours/anyone’s permission-setting.
The problem of starting all over with personal tagging of content with every new service that’s launched is going to dilute any interest in it pretty quick. Now tag your Yahoo Automotive content! Now tag your Yahoo Finance content!

I’m finding to be more useful than odeo at the moment, at least in some areas.
I really want individuals to filter my content for me. I don’t have time to listen to every episode of every podcast — what I want are meta-podcasts. I want to find a few people I trust, and have them pick a few things every week that they think are worth my time. Could be an individual episode of a podcast, one particular talk at itconversations, etc. That’s what I’m looking for anyway.

I wrote an enormous post about Odeo a while back, which I never published after a friend said it was ‘a little hyperbolic’. That post contained much of my thinking about the evolution of podcasting and why it was so important (and why Odeo had got it so right as far as it had got so far).

Whether hyperbolic or shambolic please do post your thoughts about podcasting. I’d like my students to latch on to this (they’ve just done their first podcasts) and an ‘evolution of podcasting’ article would be triffic.

Be interested to get your thoughts on our site, Loomia, as part of the critique of the space. We offer some recommendation and personalization features that Yahoo and Odeo don’t. Makes it a lot easier to work through the 20,000+ channels out there (and that’s not including the impending wave of video channels). Some great ideas in your post btw.

I completely agree with the idea of Yahoo!’s pages in general being too full. They are impossible to navigate, and I feel like I have to jump through a lot of hoops to get anywhere on them.

I have been tearing my hair out with Yahoo podcasts. Each time I try to download an episode, it launches in a media player rather than allowing a download. Any ideas of how I can fix this or should I shake my head in dismay and move on?

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