It is one thing for the media to whisper to one another, or to post on their blogs, that the CEO of America’s most valuable company is a gay man. And it is a quite another for the man himself to step up to the microphone, with confidence and grace, and tell us himself. We knew Cook was gay; what we didn’t know is how he felt about it. Or, at a time when being gay is still very much a political act, what he planned to do with it.
I don’t think avoiding Twitter is pragmatic if your audience is there, but it’s also unwise to dump all of your writing into bite-size pieces that are almost immediately skimmed over, forgotten, and lost to the vast depth of the mostly unsearchable, practically inaccessible Twitter archive.
Twitter is a complementary medium to blogging, but it’s not a replacement.
I’m glad to hear from people like Manton who are exploring this problem as well. Some simple shifts and modernizations in tools, formats, and styles can go a long way.
By knocking down a few walls and moving some furniture around, blogging is preparing for a comeback, and we’ll all be better off for it.
I’ve greatly enjoyed my Synology NAS, the DS1813+,1 for over a year, but I hadn’t found a good cloud-backup solution until now.
Arq to S3 or Glacier
Arq runs on a Mac, not on the Synology itself, and can back up any mounted file shares to Amazon S3 or Glacier.
Arq works well, but S3’s pricing can get prohibitive: priced per gigabyte, a 1 TB collection costs $30/month to host. The Reduced Redundancy option brings it down to $24/month, but that’s still significant. On the special bulk Glacier service, 1 TB is only $10/month, but Glacier is extremely clunky — simple operations can take hours or days to complete.
I used Arq with Glacier for months, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Glacier isn’t made for this, and it never lets you forget that. I’d only recommend Arq if you’re willing and able to pay for the more expensive S3 or RRS storage.
But my family’s backup set is about 4 TB (and growing). $96–120/month for RRS or S3 is simply not worth it when there are other options that aren’t priced per gigabyte.
Backblaze via iSCSI
I’ve used Backblaze to back up my Mac for years, and it’s still the option I recommend for that.2 It’s a flat $5/month fee with unlimited storage, but while it supports external drives, it won’t back up network shares. But you can trick it with iSCSI if your NAS supports it, and Synology does.
iSCSI makes networked storage appear as a raw, unformatted, locally mounted disk to your computer that you format and use however you’d like, with all of the benefits and limitations you’d expect from such an arrangement: you can’t share the volume with multiple users and the NAS can’t read the files or do anything dynamic, but it’s much faster, Spotlight works properly, and Backblaze will back it up like any other directly-connected disk.
But iSCSI is not designed for intermittent connections, like Wi-Fi — only use iSCSI over wired Ethernet. More critically, it requires special software: Macs need an $89 or $189 “initiator” kernel extension to use iSCSI disks. Third-party kernel extensions are bad news, and it’s wise to minimize your dependence on them.
I used the GlobalSAN iSCSI initiator for a few months so I could use Backblaze and browse the disk more quickly, but the initiator started causing frequent problems, disconnections, and failures. I eventually removed it and went back to normal network shares that Backblaze won’t back up.
I’ll only try iSCSI again if Apple builds native support into OS X, which seems unlikely — if they ever intended to, they probably already would have.
Unlike Arq and Backblaze, Symform runs directly on the Synology. It’s a clever idea: copies of your data are split into tiny pieces and backed up on other people’s NASes running Symform. If you contribute space to the pool, you get free backups at a 2:1 ratio.
In theory, it sounds great. In practice, that 2:1 ratio is a big deal — to back up 5 TB, I need to host 10 TB of other people’s data — and I started having doubts of the reality of relying on random people’s NASes for my data integrity. I was tempted to just make a big RAID-0 volume, then realized that my data would likely be relying on a bunch of other geeks’ RAID-0 volumes.
Those concerns aside, Symform’s fatal flaw was the upload speed. I never got Symform to upload faster than about 1.5 Mbit/s — nowhere near my 75 Mbit/s upstream capacity, and fatally slow for terabytes of data. The complexity of splitting files up between so many different people likely requires a bunch of little connections and transfers, and that’s tough to scale for high throughput, especially with the limited RAM and processing power of a NAS.
CrashPlan can run directly on the Synology or a computer, and if you run it on a computer, it’ll back up network shares (unlike Backblaze). Otherwise, it’s similar to Backblaze — unlimited space, $6/month — but has a clunkier, more resource-intensive Java app.
I’ve tried CrashPlan a number of times over the last few years, both on my computer and the Synology, and I’ve always abandoned it because of the same issue: awful upload speeds, usually well under 2 Mbit/s.
Based on Alter3d’s findings, I first tried just adjusting CrashPlan’s advanced settings, still using encryption but setting de-duplication and compression to their lowest settings. This worked very well, immediately raising the upload speed to about 20–25 Mbit/s during the day and even faster at night. (I later edited the config file to tweak the values manually like Alter3d did, but it didn’t make any difference.)
So far, it’s working fantastically. I uploaded 1 TB in 3 days. It still isn’t saturating my upstream, but it’s going fast enough that it won’t be a problem.
I was expecting better after years of Kindles being decontented into flimsier, lower-end devices, but I think it’s clear that Amazon just isn’t willing or able to make a premium, high-quality e-reader.
Rather than approximating buttons, the Voyage’s overly complicated “pressure-based page turn sensors with haptic feedback” are the worst of both worlds: they lack the precision, feedback, and intentionality of buttons, and they take more effort and are smaller than touch targets.
The Kindle software and interface is even worse. It has changed very little since the 2011 Kindle Touch, which itself was mostly just basic touch interaction bolted onto the 2009 Kindle 2’s UI.
And this crisp, new, high-resolution screen is still displaying justified text with very few, mostly bad font choices. Some of these choices, like the default PMN Caecilia font, made sense on the old, low-resolution Kindle screens but need to be reconsidered for this decade. Some of them, like forced justification and forced publisher font overrides, have always been bad ideas.
But Amazon doesn’t care. Nothing about the Voyage’s software feels modern, or even maintained. It feels like it has a staff of one person who’s only allowed to work on it for a few weeks each year.
The hidden, error-prone touch zones would be optional and off by default, since the hardware buttons would remove the need. Touching the screen would only be used to interact with what’s being displayed on the screen (which usually isn’t necessary) rather than constantly triggering unintuitive, undiscoverable, error-prone actions.
Text would be rendered with a small selection of high-quality fonts designed for high-resolution screens or printed books, and full justification would be either optional or unsupported. The user’s font and justification preferences would optionally override any fonts specified by publishers.
But Amazon has never made such a device, and it seems like they never will.
Bottom line: It’s a Kindle. If you’ve used any recent Kindle, you know exactly what to expect. There are no surprises, no major changes, and no major improvements. If you already have a Kindle that you like, there’s not much reason to upgrade. It could be much better with a few small tweaks, but Amazon seems to think releasing almost the same thing every year is good enough to keep the e-ink line going.
I suspect this will be my last Kindle. Amazon doesn’t care about e-ink Kindles anymore. Why should we?
The share icon Google uses in it’s [sic] properties (and the share icon that Android endorses) is a popular opensource icon and one that we feel well describes the connective nature of sharing. In a sense you could say we believe it’s part of our brand and that Google’s brand is to embrace the open and universal standard.
Maybe it’s just my inability to understand anything Matias Duarte ever says, but I see this as Google’s typical bullshit, insulting our intelligence as they push a self-serving corporate branding initiative and sheer arrogance as an inevitable, morally imperative “open standard”.
Why not tell the truth? Google’s apps don’t use the iOS share icons because Google doesn’t respect iOS1 and thinks its standard UI widgets are better, even in their iOS apps, on a platform surrounded by other apps that all use the standard iOS share icon.2 Secondarily, it reinforces their branding and makes the rest of iOS feel just a little bit more alien to people who heavily buy into the Google ecosystem, reducing iOS’ lock-in and making it cognitively easier to switch away.
Google’s use of their Android sharing icon in their iOS apps has nothing to do with “open” nonsense and everything to do with Google asserting that they know better.
Apple shamelessly pulls the same move — see, for instance, every Windows app they’ve ever made — but they don’t patronize us with bullshit justifications.
This is what rubbed me the wrong way about Jeff Atwood’s “Standard Markdown” move, too. He positioned it as “open” and “standard”, but it was really about Jeff not respecting John Gruber’s intelligence or ownership at all — which has been clear for years to anyone who follows Jeff Atwood — and wanting to take control of the Markdown name himself for his own blatantly non-standard desires. ↩︎
Or a slight but clearly recognizable variant, like Tweetbot’s rounded-corners version. ↩︎
It seems that Microsoft is finally accepting the reality of Office’s market position on smartphones and tablets. To some degree, Office needs to compete with the free Google Docs and iWork, but for many customers, it’s also competing with the idea of simply not using office apps (or using them far less often).
This is a bold move, but I think it’s the right one: give it away for casual and independent use to protect (and hopefully grow) its ubiquity and relevance from further erosion, and make money from big-business users with big-business needs and big-business budgets.
It’ll be interesting to see if they go further with that strategy. Why not bring the same business model to Office for Windows and Mac?
Dustin Curtis on Amazon’s weak consumer-hardware efforts:
There is simply no rational explanation for its products. The only thing I can come up with is this: Amazon continues to make hardware because it doesn’t know that it sucks, and it has a fundamentally flawed understanding of media.
Apple had actually been pretty clear about what developers can expect with the rollout of WatchKit. This has helped temper my expectations and make me more realistic about what will be possible to build at launch.
For some bewildering reason that’s likely a reflection of society’s bankrupt standards for journalism, a lot of people read Business Insider.
Whenever one of my products or I am mentioned in it, I get more people coming out of the woodwork and telling me they saw it than from any other press coverage — usually via Facebook, a website that assumes I’d like to read an algorithmically profitable subset of the random writings of people whose random writings society expects that I should care about, but I don’t.
Anyway, somebody wrote this on businessinsider.com, a domain name on the internet, and the aforementioned people are woodworking about it despite it having no relation to me:
Facebook Is Seeing More And More App Developers Go Android-First
Facebook is seeing a trend in Europe of app developers going “Android-first.”
The first line of the article has already proven the headline to be misleading. And those who find the rest of the article between all of the other garbage on the page1 may notice that the headline actually doesn’t reflect the real story at all. This is the bulk of the actual information being reported:
But Codorniou told us Facebook has a team of evangelists encouraging Android developers to use Facebook as a way to build and promote their apps: “As of today, I have four guys from my team in Paris talking to Android developers about the greatness of Parse, Facebook login, app links, app events. It’s a very important bet for us.”
“There is a pattern coming from Eastern Europe. The Russian developers develop on Android first because of a big audience, and it maybe being easier to develop. They liked the fact that they could submit a new version of the app every day. This is a trend that I see and I think it is going to accelerate.”
In other words, the staff members at Facebook tasked with promoting Facebook to Android developers have, unsurprisingly, been talking to Android developers. And it turns out that many Android developers prefer to develop for Android first.
If there’s actually a trend toward Android-first, this story isn’t showing any evidence of it.
The likely truth is that there is no noticeably shifting trend of developers choosing Android first because of its market share, or choosing iOS first because of its profit share, because that’s not how developers choose. Most developers with the authority to choose their platform will choose whichever one they use and like best.
If there was really a shift occurring toward Android-first, a significant number of iOS developers would be switching teams, developing for Android first and probably switching to Android as their carry OS. But of every iOS developer I know — and I know a lot — only one is choosing that path.
And the number of successful startups that launch on Android exclusively, or even first, remains far smaller than the number that start on iOS first.2
Maybe someday this will change, but it would require far more talented mobile developers and startup founders to switch to Android themselves. Find that story first, and the apps will follow.
At the time of writing, these distractions include an ad for denture glue, a newsletter sign-up solicitation, a Facebook sharing solicitation, a LinkedIn sharing solicitation, a Twitter sharing solicitation, a Google+ sharing solicitation, a “Print” solicitation despite most web browsers including a print feature, an email sharing solicitation, a huge ad for Dropbox, clipart stolen from Flickr, a Facebook stock ticker, a generic stock ticker labeled “Your Money” that doesn’t actually represent my money as far as I can tell, banners for articles including “A ‘Sexist’ Ad From UK Newspaper The Sun Offering A Date With A Topless Model Has Been Banned” (with a photo of five women wearing bikinis and promoting unattainable body images), “The 6 Types Of Killers Who Use Facebook To Connect With Their Victims”, “Here’s What Happens When You Eat Olive Garden For 7 Weeks Straight”, “6 Scientifically Proven Things Men Can Do To Be More Attractive”, “Scientists Have Figured Out What Makes Women Attractive”, “How To Get A Dancer’s Body”, “Women Are Going Crazy Over These No-Underwear Yoga Pants”, a repeated sharing-solicitation bar at the bottom of the article with every aforementioned option except the already redundant “Print”, links and banners to 31 (!) more garbage articles, and Tynt to taint your copy-and-pasted text. ↩︎
I know of zero. I’m sure it’s not that bad, but I bet it’s not great. ↩︎
Unison’s end is bittersweet. The market for a Usenet client in 2014 isn’t exactly huge. But if you know Panic, you know we do our very best to never drop things awkwardly — we like to leave our apps in a good place for our (very) valued users.
While we can no longer work on Unison or offer support for it, the good news is it’s also free. This version of the app will be automatically unlocked for all users, no serial needed.
Unison has the ridiculous level of polish and detail you expect from any Panic app, applied to a type of app that’s not only completely out of fashion, but whose typical customers usually couldn’t give less of a damn about UI quality.
I can’t really blame them for ending support — I’m surprised they were able to justify working on it as long as they did. Still, I hope it works for a long time so we can all keep using Usenet for its completely legitimate purpose.
My friend Meaghan O’Connell, one of my favorite writers, describes childbirth in only the way that she can.
It’s long (save it), and I wanted to quote almost every part. Here’s one of the many sections that made me laugh out loud while reading it in bed at 1 AM last night:
I wished for a way to communicate pain more precisely than a scale of 1 to 10. But the scale is subjective, I longed to say. We have no way to know. I hated this. I said 7, 8. I didn’t know. It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt, but I have never had my arm cut off. That was what I always imagine to be the worst pain: having a limb chopped off. I saved 10 for it, out of respect. I wanted to save 9 for the moment the baby tears its way out of my vagina. So what’s left is 8. I wanted to seem brave, so I said 7, but then I worried they wouldn’t understand the immediacy of the situation, so I came back with 8. …
The residents wanted to check me. I was told this wasn’t a teaching hospital, I wanted to say, but don’t. They asked me if it was okay with me if two people checked me. I thought it had to be for accuracy but no, it was for their own benefit. If there’s anything I’d take back from labor it would have been the fact that I let two people fish around in my vagina for their own benefit.
I’d been “checked” before. This is what they call it. They want to “check you.” You means your cervix. You are your cervix. “Check” means stick a hand inside of “you”—your vagina—and measure how open your cervix is. They do this with their fingertips, because that is where we’re at with science in 2014: We use fingertips as a unit of measurement. Then you are pronounced whatever number of fingertips wide the gap in your cervix is. You are your cervix.
In typical Meaghan style, it’s refreshingly humane, surprisingly informative, hilarious, and terrifying.
In our country’s oversimplified celebrity/sports-team view of politics, most citizens think Presidents have much more power than they really do. Maybe Obama really wanted not to fill the regulatory agencies with lobbyists with completely conflicting interests, and he simply couldn’t get it done. Either way, it didn’t happen, along with a pretty long list of other things we were supposed to Hope™ for.
Why should we believe that he’ll actually have any effect on net neutrality?
And isn’t it sad that a U.S. president can have such a strong opinion on a regulatory decision that’s such obvious common sense, so obviously beneficial to consumers (and the lack of which is so obviously harmful), so well-supported by the citizens, and falling on the shoulders of someone he appointed, yet it still has such a low chance of actually getting done?
Campaign-finance reform, possibly via Mayday, would theoretically go a long way toward fixing this. ↩︎
[Twitter CFO Anthony] Noto also read out Twitter’s new mission statement, which he admitted was a mouthful: “Reach the largest daily audience in the world by connecting everyone to their world via our information sharing and distribution platform products and be one of the top revenue generating Internet companies in the world.”
This story is suddenly everywhere. It’s not extremely accurate, but I’ll take it.
* * *
In early 2013, a New York Times reporter contacted me to ask about the town I live in, Hastings on Hudson, a small suburb about 10 miles north of Manhattan.
We had a long phone call, about an hour, but it was strange from the outset. He kept asking if I had seen a trend of lots of hipsters moving up from Brooklyn to Hastings, and I kept telling him that I had seen absolutely no evidence of such a trend.
He kept pushing, wanting so badly for that story to be there, but it wasn’t. He thought Hastings was becoming the new Williamsburg or Portland and was digging for evidence to support that, ignoring anything to the contrary. It seemed that a couple of his friends had moved here, or were considering it, so he assumed it was a trend, and wasn’t interested in my statements to the contrary as someone who actually lives here.
Almost every time I’ve talked to a reporter has gone this way: they had already decided the narrative beforehand. I’m never being asked for information — I’m being used for quotes to back up their predetermined story, regardless of whether it’s true. (Consider this when you read the news.) Misquotes usually aren’t mistakes — they’re edited, consciously or not, to say what the reporter needs them to say.
Talking to reporters is like talking to the police: ideally, don’t. You have little to gain and a lot to lose, their incentives often conflict with yours, and they have all of the power.1
I didn’t even recognize the description, filled with exaggerations and outright falsehoods, as my town. The hipster caricatures were exaggerated at best. Nowhere in town serves shade-grown coffee and I’ve never seen a novelist with sideburns drinking it. The bird silhouettes on the bakery window, easily verifiable, have never existed and were completely fabricated. The reporter used none of the information from our hour-long phone call except a fluffy quote about deer in my yard,2 since the rest of it contradicted his narrative.
I don’t know anyone in Hastings who read that article and didn’t find it comically inaccurate. Wherever this allegedly booming hipster paradise was, it sure wasn’t in Hastings.
But feature articles about hipsters in the Sunday print and online editions of the New York Times reach a lot of people.
And a crazy thing happened over the last year. A larger-than-usual number of young families from the city have been moving here. Hastings real estate is unusually hot, with prices significantly up for the year and many houses being sold in only a few days, often with multiple bidders pushing them above the asking price. Two realtor friends have told us that a lot of this new interest came from that article.
The article, which was mostly bullshit, is slowly making itself more true. And our town is doing very well from it.
* * *
The story of podcasts suddenly being “back” strongly suggests, and mostly requires, that they had been big at one time and had since gone away. That New York Magazine article even cites a “bottom” time: 2010. But that never really happened.
Podcasts in 2010 were a lot like podcasts in 2007, which were a lot like podcasts in 2004, which are a lot like podcasts in 2014. There’s a lot of tech shows (and a lot of tech listeners), but most of the biggest are professionally produced public-radio shows released as podcasts, with other strong contingents in comedy, business, and religion, followed by a huge long tail of special interests with small but passionate audiences.
What’s apparent from most of the recent podcast stories is that most of their reporters have talked to very few sources and either don’t listen to podcasts themselves or have just started. Most podcast listeners and producers know that the truth is much less interesting: podcasts started out as a niche interest almost a decade ago and have been growing slowly and steadily since. Over many years, growing slowly and steadily adds up.
Smartphone podcast apps and Bluetooth audio in cars have both helped substantially, but both have also been slow, steady progressions that are nowhere near complete. No smartphone app has caused a massive number of new listeners to suddenly flood to podcasts, and people don’t upgrade their cars frequently enough for any automotive media features to cause market booms. A lot of people still listen to podcasts in iTunes, and a lot of cars still don’t have Bluetooth audio. We’ll get there, but it takes a while.
The most likely explanation of these “Podcasts are back!” stories is threefold:
Serial, an offshoot of This American Life, got a ton of listeners quickly. But This American Life has been the biggest podcast in the world for most of the last decade, so a heavily promoted offshoot becoming very popular doesn’t indicate much about the market as a whole.
Gimlet Media, a podcast production startup, just raised a bunch of money from investors,3 publicized by their very popular StartUp podcast. StartUp became popular quickly not only because it’s very good, but also because it was started by a very well-known producer of very popular podcasts, including This American Life and Planet Money. Again, not a strong indicator of the overall market.
Midroll, a big podcast ad broker, talks to the press a lot and has grown well recently. Selling podcast ads is a pain in the ass, producers love the idea of someone else taking care of it, there are very few ad brokers, and Midroll is probably the biggest. But that doesn’t mean there are suddenly far more listeners — it’s just easier to put ads in shows.4
The money and raw numbers have finally gotten investors to pay attention, and investors have a lot of press
influence. But podcasts have never exploded and have never died. The truth is that they’ve grown boringly and steadily for almost a decade, and will likely continue to do so. And that’s great!
But what if the hype around these stories builds on itself and starts making itself true, like that terrible profile of my town? Then podcast growth actually might explode.
And that’s even better.
I almost behaved wisely in September when I was interviewed by a WSJ writer, allegedly about people who choose to work at home and what working at home is like in our tech community. I thought appearing in the WSJ may have passing value to Overcast, so I agreed to talk.
But after a long phone call about working at home and the indie Apple business, the reporter kept requesting photos of my office, possessions, and the rest of my house, and kept asking probing questions about the house’s size and layout. I realized that this had nothing to do with actual work, so I bailed out. That turned out to be the right decision. But ideally, I wouldn’t have even taken the first call. ↩︎
Even my “quote” isn’t exactly what I said, but it was close and harmless enough that it wasn’t worth the risk of a correction when they fact-checked it with me. I can’t see the George Washington Bridge from my house, but I could in a previous apartment. ↩︎
Midroll previously sold our podcast’s ads. If you’ve recently heard a bunch of podcast hosts asking you to take a demographic advertising survey for a chance to win a $100 Amazon gift card, those are Midroll shows — and a big reason we’re not anymore. ↩︎
It’s considered “safe” to tell people about your pregnancy after 12 weeks, since the chances of a miscarriage after that point are extremely low. This protects you from many painful, awkward, tragic conversations if you tell everyone, have a miscarriage, then need to tell them all the bad news over the next few months as they ask how the pregnancy is going. Each one of those conversations can be incredibly emotionally taxing.
That, and writing being my preferred method of coping with my feelings, is why I’m telling you in a blog post that we lost our 21-week pregnancy. We live our lives in public. Thousands of people knew we were pregnant; I can’t bear thousands of tragic conversations.
There were earlier warning signs, but there was always the chance that they wouldn’t matter. A critically low PAPP-A only weakly correlates to negative outcomes; the difficulty locating in every ultrasound could all have been unlucky positioning; the low movement could have just been a mellow personality.
In retrospect, we were let down gently, but it was still a shock to hear three specialists in the span of a few hours tell us that there was poor placental function and bloodflow, poor development, no amniotic fluid at all, and no realistic chance of survivial, mostly due to the inability for lungs to develop.
We didn’t have a choice whether to end the pregnancy — we could only choose whether to end it under our control or wait for nature to take its inevitable course to a stillbirth, which would have been far worse, physically and emotionally, and much more risky. On every specialist’s recommendation, we chose a dilation and evacuation to maximize Tiff’s safety and our chances of a successful pregnancy next time. We’ve always been pro-choice, but this wasn’t really a choice.
I’m not sure which is worse: quietly coping with an early miscarriage alone, since nobody talks about them, or having to tell everyone about a later loss like this. I suppose we’ll find out — we had a 5-week miscarriage last winter, and it was comforting to read the few other stories that brave people had shared. If sharing this can comfort a random Google searcher someday in even the smallest way, it’s worth it. Maybe this is our brick.
As horrible as this has been, we’ve had great care through it. Everyone has been compassionate, helpful, and gentle.
We’re extremely fortunate to have one kid already — that’s infinitely more than a lot of people get, and I never forget that. And he’s awesome, which is even luckier.
We’re going to regroup and are planning to try again when we can. Thank you for your support.
Last year, I published this somewhat-anti-other-gift-guides gift guide:
All I can do is tell you what I’ve used, but in an effort to be most helpful, I’ve narrowed the scope further than most recommendation sites can: these are products that I personally bought or received as gifts at least a year ago, use regularly, and still enjoy and recommend.
Fortunately, due to its conservative time requirements, I can just link to it for this year and everything’s pretty much the same.
I’ve tried a lot of new things since then, but most of them are either not worth including because they’re not good enough, or I haven’t owned them for long enough to qualify.1
My headphone upgrades have been the latter, but I’m done for a while. The HE-6 has killed every other high-end headphone for me. To my ears, they’re better than the Sennheiser HD 800, the Audeze LCD-3, and even the Stax SR-009 — and not just by a little. The only catch is if you get one, you must get one of only a handful of amps powerful enough to drive it, the cheapest and most practical of which — and the one I use — is the Schiit Mjolnir. ↩︎
My cohosts on bothshows and I are often asked about our podcasting rigs. To be honest, there’s not a lot of magic behind what we do, other than really giving a crap.
That’s the gist of it.
The prevailing wisdom in podcasting for years has been that recording people over Skype with mediocre USB microphones and exporting it with nearly zero editing as a 64 kbit/s MP3 is good enough.
That’s like the default 2004 Blogger template of podcasting.1 It has worked for a while, and it was great when we started doing it a long time ago. It continues to work acceptably for a lot of podcasters.
But you can certainly do a lot better, people do notice the difference, and we believe it’s worth it to push past that baseline where we reasonably can.
People often say that podcasting hasn’t had its “Blogger moment” yet, and that podcast production will soon be just as easy as blog publishing. I don’t think that time will ever come, because I don’t believe it’s possible. Great audio production is inherently more complicated, technically, than writing well. It always has been and it always will be. For many, the content side of it is easier, but the technical side will always be more complex.
Video has the same problem, but even moreso — no matter how great the hardware and software are, producing good video will always require a lot more time, effort, and equipment than blogging. ↩︎
This is just the next step in killing third-party apps. Twitter doesn’t have the guts to just end them outright, so they’re just gradually inflicting passive-aggressive wounds over time to quietly shove them into the sunset.
We’re all just one compelling feature away from leaving our third-party apps on our own. For some of us, this full-archive search will be that feature. What’s next remains to be seen — I suspect direct-message enhancements may be — but I bet third-party clients will lose half of their users within two years without Twitter ever having to explicitly kill them.
We won’t even be angry at Twitter — we’ll move to the official apps voluntarily, and we’ll look back on all third-party clients like we look back on Tweetie, vanity link shorteners, and third-party image hosts today: as relics of a quickly abandoned past before we all started using Twitter’s better, newer features. You’ll see.
(Via friend-of-the-show Manton Reece, a great developer who Twitter lost along the way.)
Podcasts used to be minimally respected, low-effort hobbies and were treated with little respect or care, even by many producers and listeners. You could record one with little knowledge or care about your audio quality and its characteristics, little effort, minimal and cheap equipment, and little time. Non-listeners derided podcasts as amateurs talking in their basement, and many bragged that they never listened to podcasts. Even many podcast listeners complained that podcasts were too long, too many were being produced, and no podcast should be longer than their preferred arbitrary duration.
A few lazy cynics are still fighting that fight, mostly out of defensiveness because they don’t want to believe that they’re missing anything relevant, but they’ve already lost the war. That era has passed.
But a nonchalant attitude about podcast quality is still pervasive. I’ve seen a lot of defensiveness over the last few days from people who refuse to believe that podcasters need good microphones, manifested as an anti-rich-elitist attitude with secondary roots in anti-intellectualism.
Jason Snell and Casey Liss weighed in with a lot of positivity and inclusivity, but I’d like to shift the discussion a bit.
Arguing whether gear matters1 and whether you should spend money on it2 is a misguided and toxic diversion that’s missing the real discussion we should be having:
Making your podcast easy to listen to is worth some effort.
Just as blogs need sensible fonts, colors, layouts, and spacing to be comfortably readable, podcasts need to be listenable. And you can’t make easily listenable podcasts without at least basic equipment and production.
This doesn’t take tons of money and fancy equipment — it takes some cheap equipment, plus a bit of effort and caring about how your podcast sounds, just as you could make a few changes to your CSS in 2006 to make your blog a lot more readable.
You need a suitable microphone and headphones. This is non-negotiable. If you use your iPhone headset or the built-in mic on your laptop, you’ll sound distant and echoey and it will be hard to listen to your podcast. If you don’t record and edit the podcast with revealing, relatively neutral-toned headphones, you won’t hear potentially major flaws — and the audience will.
Your mic and headphones don’t need to be expensive — just suited to the task. (An important distinction.)
A simple integrated USB mic with a headphone port and some reasonable studio-monitor-style headphones are sufficient. You can sound better than most podcasts out there with a Yeti, and you’ll be able to hear almost any common flaw with the MDR-7506, for less than $200 total.3
Using suitable equipment isn’t about sounding good to audiophiles — it’s about making a podcast that sounds good enough for people to comfortably listen to without being annoyed at how bad you sound or how hard it is to understand you. So you might need to buy something — but not much. There’s better stuff out there that you might want to use at some point, but you don’t need to. You just need to be easily heard, and you need to hear what you’re putting out there.
That’s it. There’s no place for elitism or anti-elitism in this argument.
Many podcasters still refuse to do basic editing, audio adjustments, and room treatment. Someone with a basic $50 microphone who puts even a bit of effort into these will sound much better than someone with a high-end microphone who’s doing none of them.
Editing, audio adjustments, and room treatment all sound like intimidating time-sinks, but there’s tons of low-hanging fruit, and a little goes a long way.
If there’s nothing soft in the room, it’ll sound like you’re recording in a bathroom. You’ll be echoey, which is annoying to hear and makes you harder to understand.
You can get sound-absorbing foam panels… or you can just get some blankets and drape them over things in the room. If your computer and mic are portable, go record in a closet or laundry room full of hanging clothes. You’ll sound amazing.
That’s it. “Room treatment” only needs to mean, “Have enough soft stuff in the room so you don’t echo.”
Being conscientious about noise sources also goes a long way. Your MacBook fan should never need to be spinning at full blast while recording a podcast — it’s not that strenuous. If you have a bunch of loud computer equipment, consider recording with a laptop in another room, or turn off whatever’s not essential to the podcast while recording. It shouldn’t sound like you’re recording in a server room.
Basic room considerations and adjustments like these let listeners hear you more clearly and focus on what you’re saying instead of being distracted by annoyances in your environment.
Your podcast can sound much better with two simple and subtle audio tweaks:
Equalization: Voices recorded with too much bass are muffled and hard to understand, as if you’re talking through a pillow. And many microphones accentuate or exaggerate harsh tones in voices around the 1–2 kHz frequency range, making voices sound more nasal or shrill than they really are.
In your audio editor of choice, apply an EQ adjustment that rolls off the bass (and maybe some of the upper treble) and has a slight narrow reduction in or near the 1–2 kHz range, so it’s almost shaped like a very short, wide “m”. (Play with where that middle dip is — each person’s voice will have a different sweet spot for it.)
Dynamic-range compression (or simply “compression”): Compression squashes volume levels into a narrow range so everyone’s always talking at roughly the same volume. Most audio editors have a simple compressor option with a single knob or slider — turn it up until you sound consistent and loud, but not ridiculous or distorted.4
That’s it. Once again, these subtle tweaks will make your podcast sound better than most podcasts, and most importantly, will make it much more listenable for the audience.
Now, the most feared and misunderstood word in podcast production: editing.
Most people assume that editing a podcast must mean painstakingly removing every “uh” or “um” or stutter or pause with hours of tedious work, so they dismiss editing as something they “can’t” do. But that kind of editing isn’t necessary (and isn’t even a good idea), and again, that’s missing a lot of low-hanging fruit.
Good podcast editing isn’t removing every “uh” — it’s mostly just cutting irrelevant sections out of the show entirely.
First and foremost: as a listener, I should never know that you use Skype.
If you have connection troubles at the beginning, someone needs to adjust their mic, or somebody’s call drops in the middle of the show, cut all of that process and discussion out and start the show when it’s all working. Nothing is less interesting than listening to a podcast work out its technical difficulties.
If a host has connection issues and their voice keeps popping in and out of low Skype bitrates, echoes, robot-voice distortions, or dropped syllables, that’s very distracting to listeners. Pause the conversation, fix your connection issues if you can, and then cut that discussion out of the final show. If one of your show’s regular hosts frequently has these issues, consider the “double-ender” recording method, in which everyone records their side and you sync it up in editing. It’s not as hard as it sounds.
The art of editing is in removing parts of the show that make it substantially worse, but only when listeners won’t notice their removal.
If the discussion stalls while someone Googles an answer, or someone’s dog barks, cut that out — but only if the surrounding discussion doesn’t mention it. Once you get accustomed to this, you can record with editing in mind: if your dog starts barking in the middle of your sentence, wait for her to stop, then start the sentence over again.
If you note the timestamps of problems during recording, basic edits like this only take a few minutes to do. Even if you want to listen back to the whole show to make sure you didn’t miss anything, that’s not unreasonable — if you’re about to ask hundreds or thousands of people to each spend an hour listening to it, surely you can spend an hour making sure there are no glaring flaws. If you don’t even have time to listen to your own show once, consider doing a shorter show.
I Don’t Have Time, I’m Not An Audio Editor, It’s Just A Podcast, Who Cares?
A defensive, derisive attitude toward putting effort into your podcast may have made sense when the medium was new and tiny (or maybe not even then), but those days are long gone.
Listening to your podcast will take time that your listeners could be spending on tons of other great podcasts. Putting in the bare-minimum effort to make it decent isn’t about being an audio geek — it’s about respecting your audience and their time, and giving yourself a better chance of succeeding.
If you “don’t have time” (which really means “don’t want to spend the time”) to make your podcast minimally listenable, or you’re not willing to buy even the most basic, inexpensive equipment to record it acceptably, you’re not taking it seriously. You’re half-assing it. You don’t really want to be making a podcast. You probably don’t even like podcasts. Why bother? Why should listeners respect you if you don’t respect them?
We accept this reality in blogging. You won’t get very far if you publish thousand-word posts riddled with typos with no paragraph breaks in dark gray text on a black background that you didn’t even bother proofreading yourself. Nobody accuses you of being an elitist if you suggest that writers should try to avoid misspelling words and may want to consider reading what they’ve written before publishing it.
Not caring about your podcast isn’t good enough.
Basic podcast production isn’t hard. Just like blogging, it requires a minimal investment in equipment, and you’ll need to learn some fundamentals about the medium.
You can outsource your editing, but you probably don’t need to, and you probably shouldn’t. If you’re the kind of person who cares about what you write and how it’s presented, you should show the same care for your podcast.
And if you put in the effort, your audience will reward you for it. Podcast audiences aren’t usually the biggest, but they’re by far the best. You won’t find more engaged, loyal, devoted fans than podcast listeners. Podcasters know it, advertisers know it, and listeners know it.