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.