Introducing SpokenWord.org

Back in the good old days, circa 2006 or so, I was a happy podcast listener. During my many long periods of outdoor activity — running, hiking, biking, leaf-raking, snow-shoveling — I sometimes listened to music, but more often absorbed a seemingly endless stream of spoken-word lectures, conversations, and entertainment. Some of my sources were conventional: NPR (CarTalk, FreshAir), PRI (This American Life), BBC (In Our Time), WNYC (Radio Lab). Others were unconventional: Pop!Tech, The Long Now Foundation, TED, ITConversations, Social Innovation Conversations, Radio Open Source.

But once I caught up with these catalogs, there wasn’t enough of the right kind of new flow to provide the intellectual companionship that enriches my solo excursions. That’s problem number one.

Problem number two is more mundane, but still vexing. I’m subscribed to all the aforementioned feeds (and more) in iTunes. When I update them, I wind up taking a screenshot like this:

Why? Because although the downloads window conveniently lists all the shows I want to hear over the next day or so, this view evaporates once the files are downloaded. The shows retreat to separate branches of the iTunes tree. And I can never remember which branches I need to visit in order to copy those files to my trusty Creative MUVO MP3 player. In this case, the branches are Pop!Tech, Long Now, This American Life, and Radio Lab. But there are a bunch of others too, hence the need for this accounting hack.

So far, SpokenWord.org is more helpful with the second problem than with the first. I’m using it to consolidate feeds. From the FAQ:

Think of SpokenWord.org as a funnel. You collect streams (RSS feeds) of programs from all over the Web, then combine them into a singe collection on SpokenWord.org. Then in iTunes you subscribe to just one feed: the feed from your SpokenWord.org collection.

Managing feeds, in addition to (or instead of) managing items, is an aspect of digital literacy that’s only just emerging. I think it’s critical, so I’m a keen observer/participant in various domains: blogging, microblogging, calendaring, or — in this case — audio curation. The notion of a podcast metafeed comes naturally to me. But I’m curious about who will or won’t adopt the practice. It entails a level of indirection which, as we know, can be a non-starter for a lot of folks.

What about the first problem? I’m hoping that SpokenWord will become a place where curators emerge who lead me to places I wouldn’t have gone. That’s what thrilled me about Webjay, five years ago. The world wasn’t ready for collaborative curation then, and the domain of music was (and is) encumbered. But we’re five years on, and most of the spoken word audio that might usefully be curated is unencumbered. Maybe the time is right for folks like OddioKatya — my favorite webjay on Webjay, back in the day — to build reputations and followings in the domain of spoken word audio.

That hasn’t happened yet, of course, since SpokenWord.org just launched in beta this week. Meanwhile, the site offers a variety of lenses through which to view its growing collection of feeds and programs: tags, categories, ratings, user activity. So far I’m finding the activity to be most helpful. I’m either already familiar with, or not interested in, much of what I see. But the Active Collectors bucket on the home page has alerted me to a couple of feeds I hadn’t known about, notably BBC World’s DocArchive.

Disclosure: I am on the ITConversations Board of Directors. At a meeting last summer, a consensus emerged to focus on collaborative curation rather than original production. My contribution has been to connect Doug Kaye with Lucas Gonze (Webjay) and Hugh McGuire (LibriVox — two useful points of reference — and to try to help Doug clarify how curation can happen in this realm.

For me, SpokenWord.org in its current form is very useful for feed consolidation, and not yet quite as useful for discovery and curation. All these aspects will surely evolve as more people engage with it. I’ll be curious to know what those who listen to spoken word podcasts — and those would like to curate them — think about the service.

8 thoughts on “Introducing SpokenWord.org

  1. Matthew

    Google Reader provides a means for consolidating podcasts into a single feed:

    - subscribe to the podcast feeds in Google Reader
    - assign a common label/folder, say “podcast”, to these subscriptions
    - in the Google Reader folder settings, set this “podcast” label/folder to be shared
    - subscribe to the feed for this shared folder in itunes

    The big problem with this, and with any consolidated feed at the moment, is that OTA syncing from the iPhone is not permitted, as this is only supported for feeds published through the iTunes Music Store.

    A lesser problem is that it’s more difficult (in iTunes or on the iPod/iPhone) to determine from what feed a given episode has been downloaded.

    Reply
  2. Matt Grommes

    Not being able to see all my podcasts in one place was one of the big “What the heck!” moments I had with my iphone. I ended up making a smart playlist that keeps track of podcasts in order and removes them when I’m done listening.

    I’ve been waiting to hear what Doug was going to do with SpokenWord.org for awhile so I’m very happy to see this happen.

    Also, as a fan of yours Jon, I’m happy to see that our podcast listening habits are incredibly similar. :)

    Reply
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  4. Jacob Kenner

    Like Matt, I use a collection of smart playlists to aggregate podcasts into a single playlist that will fit on my player. I have an iPod, so it keeps track of whether the podcasts have been played on the player, so this method gets rid of them from the playlist when I sync.

    All Podcasts: Podcast is true && Play Count = 0
    Recent Podcasts: Playlist is “All Podcasts” && Date Added is in last day
    Recent Podcasts – Limited: Playlist is “Recent Podcasts” && Limit to 500 MB selected by Most Recently Added

    This method didn’t work so well when I had a non-iPod player. I really like that that no matter whether I use the player or iTunes, the podcasts get properly marked as played.

    I’ll be checking out spokenword.org. It sounds like a nice tool to find other things I will like. The iTunes store certainly doesn’t fill this need.

    Reply
  5. Jim Yates

    jon, I always appreciate the depth in which you involve yourself in particular areas. It appears you are partial to the spoken word (despite your written articles and books). I also like the spoken word particularly as it applies to audiobooks (which could extend to podcasts). However, there is a big difference to me. The content of the audiobook is also contained in text that can be searched and used otherwise. Is that the case of the contents of spokenword.org and podcasts in general? It seems to me even Cartalk (which I like also) is of value to search as content when my 2000 Old Silhouette’s clutch slips a little.

    Reply
  6. Daniel Fisher

    I tried to solve problem #2 by making a universal downloader that copies MP3′s to an Amazon S3 share.

    My ultimate (DIY) goal was to make it so that I wouldn’t have to listen to the same podcast twice… Even if I changed devices.

    (To make that happen, I’d have to probe the devices to find out which ones they’ve played… I don’t think that’s impossible, but I haven’t cracked that nut yet)

    Anyway, I’m not really that happy with the results, so I like to see some other way to attack the problem (that requires less code to be written by me).

    What I’d really like to see (and haven’t after browsing spokenword.org) is an API to programatically set my personal rating and/or my comments.

    If I could set a rating, that’d be a pretty good indication that I listened to the podcast entry and that’d be a good signal to my other devices: Remove this podcast entry.

    Anyway, do you know if there are there plans for an API?

    Thank you for your time,
    Daniel Fisher

    Reply
  7. Len Lynch

    Jon says:
    “Why? Because although the downloads window conveniently lists all the shows I want to hear over the next day or so, this view evaporates once the files are downloaded. The shows retreat to separate branches of the iTunes tree. And I can never remember which branches I need to visit in order to copy those files to my trusty Creative MUVO MP3 player. In this case, the branches are Pop!Tech, Long Now, This American Life, and Radio Lab. But there are a bunch of others too, hence the need for this accounting hack.”

    Not to take away anything from raising awareness of Doug’s new endeavor…

    I didn’t see anyone mention the iTunes Agent http://ita.sourceforge.net/ which was recently updated (much improved) and is really handy for synchronizing media to USB mass storage devices. I recommend this tool.

    One way to solve the “I’m using the 800# gorilla that is iTunes” and *not* using an iPod issue:

    - (correctly identified by others) create a single Smart Playlist that correctly aggregates the new podcasts of interest (by way of a small collection of other Smart Playlists to get the filtering right)

    - sync the aggregate Smart Playlist using iTunes Agent, to the USB storage/player

    If your device supports a play-log (like audioscrobbler) and application can read the play-log and you can quickly uncheck the entries in your aggregate Smart Playlist so that what you listen to get automatically removed from your player the next time it is synchronized.

    I use the Rockbox player software (http://www.rockbox.org) on an iRiver H10. I also use the QTscrobbler (http://qtscrob.sourceforge.net/) application for managing play-log data. I can post what I’ve already listened to on Last.fm (http://www.last.fm/) using QTscrobbler if I want to track usage history (last.fm calls this “charts”).

    iTunes is the 800# gorilla, but feed crafting isn’t as easy as it should be, and some feeds don’t play nice with iTunes (or at least didn’t use to), so I also use the Juice podcatcher (http://juicereceiver.sourceforge.net/) and import some feeds into iTunes this way.

    I can make this work, but when someone else asks me how I do it, it’s easier to recommend that they buy an iPod or a Zune…

    None of this is new and only talks about the “consuming” portion of the process.

    Jon’s points about discovering and curating content are spot on. We’ll have to jump in and see what we can do with Doug’s site to make progress on these. I agree that on-line community and web services will be needed.

    With regards to the process of curation, and tooling for this craft, what beyond media players that allow us to share what we are consuming with a social group needs to be proposed? If the player/catcher applications know where the content URI are, they stand to help more people get into process of contributing ratings and endorsements. But does this start down the path of empowering non-techs to curate?

    *If* iTunes wanted to help with this task, they would most likely want to do this through the iTunes Store, and may not be flexible to the needs of the social groups that support it.

    I haven’t experimented with the new Zune software, but I’ve heard good things about it, with regards to music management and discovery using the Zune marketplace.

    I can imagine an opportunity for integration with on-line community spaces and the Zune software if podcast publishing tools can extend it for the purpose of making public recommendations explicit. I’m not readily finding Zune scripting API information, but there surely must be such an animal.

    Podcatchers that aren’t players have the URI content information, but don’t sit in the right place in the work-flow. Modifying the Juice receiver as an experiment might be a good proof of concept, but may not advance a community forward.

    There is an iTunes scripting API, which brings us back to the 800# gorilla again…

    If this is already being done, I’d love to hear about it. Maybe a clandestine media player/ecosystem is all over this…

    I feel like I’m missing something fundamental here, feel free to point it out…

    Reply
  8. Jon Udell Post author

    “what beyond media players that allow us to share what we are consuming with a social group needs to be proposed?”

    As Doug Kaye mentions here:

    http://www.spokenword.org/program/158636

    there is work underway to create an iTunes/iPod agent that relays a rating up to your cloud collection, and optionally deletes the thing you have rated. I think that’d be really helpful — as Phil Windley says on the show, it’s finally a reason to /do/ the rating.

    Reply

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