30 January 2014
A few weeks ago, and way late to the game, I started listening to podcasts. Of the several I’ve heard so far, the ones I enjoyed have included Horace Dediu’s “The Critical Path”, Benedict Evans’s “Cubed”, Gabe Weatherhead and Erik Hess’s “Technical Difficulties” and Shawn Blanc’s “The Weekly Briefly”. The ones I’ve disliked have included John Gruber’s “The Talk Show” and Marco Arment’s “Accidental Tech”.
I wanted to take a moment to reflect on why I liked some and disliked others. This is mostly for my own benefit, since going through this exercise will likely reveal my motivations for listening to podcasts in the first place.I enjoyed both The Critical Path and Cubed because they are thought provoking. In their respective podcasts, Horace Dediu and Benedict Evans choose a topic and then take a deep dive—far beyond what would be possible in, say, a blog article. Through their podcasts over the past few weeks, I’ve gotten some fresh perspective on bitcoin, and have considered Google’s business through a new, analytical lens.
As an aside, I think both those podcasts could do without their co-hosts, as it seems wasteful for Dediu and Evans to spend time struggling to sidestep the intellectual equivalent of, “Great point! And that brings us around to something I’ve often wondered—will Google continue to capitalize the A in Android?” (Ok, in fairness it’s not that bad, and keeping up with Horace or Ben is a tall task to begin with.)
I enjoyed Technical Difficulties because, as a geek and tinkerer, I like to learn practical things I previously didn’t know or hadn’t considered. From episode 61, I was inspired to wire my house with cat-6 ethernet cable, thereby relieving my poor wifi network, and from episode 62, I revisited my UPS strategy, and discovered that OS X has built-in support for UPSs in the Energy Savings settings. So this podcast has practical value.
I enjoyed The Weekly Briefly for Shawn Blanc’s sincerity and authenticity. I felt he was speaking directly to me, and that in a way a relationship began between us in that first episode. Having listened to the podcast, I’d feel comfortable introducing myself to Shawn if presented with the opportunity.
I didn’t enjoy The Talk Show or Accidental Tech. In both cases, it seemed as if the hosts believe what their audience has always wanted was the chance to eavesdrop on a random conversation between them and their buddies in a Starbucks. The delivery felt unprepared, the content wandering and arbitrary, and the tone insincere due to what seemed like an attempt to wrap every other comment in wit or sarcasm. (In some strange way that I don’t quite understand, I seem to associate that type of wittiness with arrogance.)
Both Gruber and Arment are smart and interesting guys, and for many years I’ve enjoyed reading what they’ve published on their blogs. For that reason, I was surprised at their work in this medium. As the podcasts didn’t provoke much thought or provide practical value, and since I didn’t feel I got to know them better as people, I came away feeling I’d wasted my time.
For those interested, I chose Instacast as the product for listening to podcasts. Vemedio offer Mac and iOS versions, and a particularly nice feature is the cloud synchronization; if I’m listening to a podcast at home on the Mac in the morning, I can pickup at the same spot on the iPhone while driving to work.