Trade Secrets Revealed

Dave and Adam are starting to explain their new venture. Here’s my interpretation and speculation from listening to their recent podcast, based on Dave’s bullet list:

  • Content tools. Expect heavy use of OPML, particularly using Frontier, a software package created by Dave’s former company, Userland Software that’s either now open source or soon will be.
  • Readers and aggregators, iPods and iPod-alikes. They hope to prevent compatibility problems and to improve the state of UIs. They want to advise manufacturers of podcatchers and perhaps even develop their own based on some OEM device.
  • Content. “We’ve got the #1 podcast,” Dave claimed. He also referred to creating “a new music indstry” including “partnerships with RIAA companies.” Do they plan to compete with Apple’s iTunes Store and others? Dave also talked about “a building full of production people” so perhaps they’re also planning to create a large amount of original non-music content.
  • Bandwidth. Sounds like they plan to enter the content-delivery business, too, with “people to manage the bandwidth.”

Whatever their specific plans, it sounds like a major undertaking. We’ll all be anxiously waiting to hear more about Adam and Dave’s (hopefully) Excellent Venture.

Competition Down Under

TechnologyTalks is an Internet business servicing the Information Technology sector in Australia and New Zealand. Our product is centralised IT events registration, along with post-event downloadable audio and visual materials in a choice of formats for those unable to attend. The full range of IT events relevant to the region will be covered – conferences, seminars, motivational topics – from which we will produce high quality digital recordings and transcripts.

I’m flattered that they (or anyone) would see IT Conversations as competition:

In the final weeks of our business plan we found one website that offers a product similar to what we plan to offer. ITConversations offers audio and transcripts of “interviews and important events” for the IT Industry, they produce these for O’Reilly’s Conferences and for a variety of other non-conference IT groups and they principally focus on the US market/Internet businesses. They have a well planned site, their content is free because much of it is open-source or readily available material and some cool value adds. Whilst this group do a great job [Boioioing!!] and we have learned something from them we do not see them as a direct competitor because our sole market is conferences and seminars (whilst they are broader in scope yet advertise only one group’s conferences).

Update: Apolon Ivankovic dug deeper than I did and may have uncovered that there’s nothing behind this. Curiouser and cusriouser.

Those MP3 Recorders

(This also applies to anyone submitting recordings to IT Conversations.)

Solid-state portable audio recorders are relatively new in the consumer market, and many people are now using them to record podcasts and conference presentations. While these devices are undoubtedly convenient and can store a lot of audio in MP3 format, they’ve introduced a new problem.

Like JPEG, MP3 is a lossy compression scheme, and the effect of repeated encode/decode operations creates some nasty sounding artifacts. Furthermore MP3 is designed as a final encoding technique: The only decode operation should be playback and rendering as sound. You should never encode audio as MP3 unless and until it’s in its final form.

A problem arises when you want to edit an MP3 recording, even just to trim off a few seconds at the head or tail of the file. If you use any computer-based software like Audacity or SoundForge to edit, the MP3 will first be decoded to an internal uncompressed format whe you open the file, but this will not recover the audio lost in that first encoding operation. When you’re done editing, you’ll have to re-encode, and the sound quality will be significantly worse than what your started with.

If you have one of these portable recorders and want to be able to edit your files, or if you plan to submit your audio to IT Conversations, here are some guidelines:

1. If possible record and save in uncompressed in WAV format. I use 24 bits and 48,000 samples per second in the studio, but you can use 16/48,000, 16/44,100 or even 16/22,050 and get pretty good results if you keep your levels up.

2. If you must record or send a compressed file, encode using a much higher bit rate than the final audio. For example, IT Conversations MP3s are encoded at 64kbps. If you send me an MP3 that you’ve recorded and/or encoded at 128kbps, the improvement in quality will be substantial. In particular, the artifacts that you get when you encode at 64kbps then decode/re-encode at the same rate will be far less annoying if I start with your 128kbps version. If you encode at 192kbps or higher, the artifacts will essentially be gone.

If you can only send me a 64kbps MP3, the final 64kbps will sound about the same as a 32kbps original, and there’s a good chance I won’t be able to use it.

Biz Blog Book

Robert Scoble and Shel Israel are writing a book on corporate blogging, and they’ve started a blog on MSN Spaces to support their project.

In the summer of 2001 I wanted to write a book on blogging but I couldn’t convince a publisher, even though I already had one succesful book under my belt. Three years ago, almost to the day, John Robb and I pitched a proposal for business-blogging book. Our working title was Blog the Organization. But we were way too early, and no publisher would touch it. Hopefully Robert and Shel will be more successful. Guys, I’d send you all my notes, but three years in the Blogosphere is a looong time, so I doubt there’s anything worthwhile in there.

(I would have posted this on their blog, but you can’t comment on MSN Spaces without a .Net Passport. Boo.)

Donations are Working

It’s been just one week since I posted the IT Conversations, and already I’ve received donations from approximately 1% of regular listeners. Here are my math and logic:

  • 3,005 registered listeners
  • 3,392 unique IP addresses for RSS requests (24 hrs)
  • 3,231 active mailing list recipients
  • 51 donations to date

Assuming some overlap between those who use the web site and those who use RSS, there are probably about 5,000 regular IT Conversations listeners, so 51 represents roughly 1%. FYI, the most popular shows are dowloaded or streamed to as many as 14,000 unique IP addresses, suggesting that one-third of those are regular listeners and two-thirds are ad-hoc listeners.

A Conference Bonanza

As regular IT Conversations listeners know, I work hard to get permission to offer audio from the premiere events in the IT world and beyond. Well, when it rains, it pours. In just the past three days I’ve received the original recordings from three of the very best conferences of 2004. Over the next few months — yes, it will take that long to release them all at the rate of 4-5 presentations each week — IT Conversations listeners will be treated to the following:

To make sure you don’t miss a single program you can subscribe to the podcast/RSS feeds on the pages linked to above or to the site-wide IT Conversations feeds. Or if you’re very 20th century, you can still get announcements via email. 🙂

New Features Prototypes

I’ve just posted two prototype HTML pages for some forthcoming IT Conversations features and I’m looking for feedback. (Add a comment here or send email to doug@rds.com.)

The first is a Personal Profile editing page. It should be self explanatory.

The second page is to manage a Personal Podcast/RSS Feed. This one should be self explanatory, but that’s where I need your help. In case it’s not obvious, the idea is that each registered IT Conversations member will have the ability to manage his/her own RSS feed by selecting which programs should be included based on a variety of criteria. The motivation for this feature is that new listeners in particular are put off by the quantity and variety of programs and need help sifting through the archives. Likewise, podcatchers want a way to control what gets automatically downloaded into their MP3 players.

Remember, these are just prototype pages. They don’t do anything, the links are bogus and the supporting JavaScript automation hasn’t been coded.

As we’re still discussing on the wiki, it’s possible that these new features may only be available to members who pay an annual fee. But it’s my hope that there will be no tollgate impeding access to the programs themselves.