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Technology Thoughts

Tech behemoths battle to wall off podcasting

Aside from the news up in Minnesota other things are happening in the world and what happened today that has implications for free speech. Apple announced Apple Podcast Subscriptions. The purpose is to compete with Spotify and some of the latest upstarts in the podcast space. This has free speech implications because Apple controls the index that most podcast apps and podcast hosting companies use to aggregate and disseminate podcasts on non-Apple platforms. If Apple shuts off the spigot podcasters and the other platforms they operate on will lose listeners and revenue.

Starting in May, listeners in more than 170 countries and regions can sign up for premium subscriptions that include a variety of benefits curated by creators, such as ad-free listening, access to additional content, and early or exclusive access to new series. Listeners will be able to enjoy premium subscriptions from independent voices and premier studios, including Tenderfoot TV, Pushkin Industries, Radiotopia from PRX, and QCODE, to leading media and entertainment brands, including NPR, the Los Angeles Times, The Athletic, Sony Music Entertainment, and many more.

“Fifteen years ago, Apple took podcasts mainstream, offering creators a premier, open platform to inform, entertain, and inspire hundreds of millions of listeners around the world,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services. “Today, Apple Podcasts is the best place for listeners to discover and enjoy millions of great shows, and we are proud to lead the next chapter of podcasting with Apple Podcasts Subscriptions. We’re excited to introduce this powerful new platform to creators around the world, and we can’t wait to hear what they make with it.”

Apple Press Release

To add insult to injury Apple will charge podcast creators $19.99/year to be able to charge for subscriptions. Apple will also take it’s obligatory 30% cut in the first year and 15% in subsequent years. Will podcasters get shut out if they offer paid subscriptions that are not on Apple? Just like when you want to buy a book using the Kindle app on iOS you’re directed to leave the app in order to make the purchase. Apple’s vig is more than twice Patreon’s to start and 3% higher than Patreon’s highest tier going forward. Apple doesn’t let you do anything on the cheap.

Apple is redesigning its podcasts app to make it easier for people to find shows from their favorite creators and sign up for paid subscriptions that could unlock perks like early access or an ad-free experience. Podcast creators face a similar payment schedule to app developers, with Apple taking a 30% cut in the first year and 15% in subsequent years, with a $19.99 annual fee. The new version of the app launches in May.

Market Watch

Facebook also announced their entry into the Podcast space. For now they are integrating podcast listening and search into their app. You’ll be allowed to find podcasts and listen to them without leaving the Facebook app. You’ll no doubt give them more data about the media you consume by doing so. I don’t know where they’re pulling their podcast index from but I would bet it’s not going to be Apple.

More than 170 million people are already connected to hundreds of thousands of podcast pages on Facebook, and more than 35 million people are members of fan groups around podcasts — but until now, you had to leave the Facebook app to listen to these episodes. Within the next few months, you’ll be able to listen to podcasts directly on the Facebook app — both while using the app or when the app is backgrounded. And because it’s still hard to discover podcasts you like, we will help you easily find new podcasts and episodes based on your interests, comment on them and recommend them to your friends.

Facebook Newsroom

In addition to the above they’re also introducing a sound studio, live audio rooms, and the ability to monetize.

So here we are with podcasting suffering from the same type of industry consolidation that happened with radio, TV, newspapers, and streaming services. The majority of podcast listeners will use devices with operating systems from Google and Apple. Young people overwhelming use Spotify and older people use Facebook. The potential for severe lock-in is tremendous. Podcasting must have really hit the mainstream.

Don’t get trapped in these walled gardens. The great thing about a podcast is that you don’t need any of this stuff. It’s virtually free to get started and you can have a direct relationship to your listeners rather than giving up 15% or more to one of the big tech companies. Being independent is the only way to make sure you can’t be demonitized and/or deplatformed.

If your podcast does not use RSS as a way to disseminate the episode feed it’s no longer a podcast. It’s something else because it is then bound up inside a walled garden. The big tech companies are making a big push now to relegate RSS to the dustbin of technology history. It started when Google mothballed Google Reader and now absolutely none of these services even mention RSS.

To me the future of podcasting, and media creation and dissemination in general, is the Podcasting 2.0 project. Adam Curry and Dave Jones have been working for over 6 months on extending RSS functionality. Maybe it’s no small coincidence that the podcast consolodation is happening now. Big tech needs to cut off this initiative at the knees before it can take hold with listeners and podcasters alike. Podcasting 2.0 has launched features such as chapters, chapter images, transcripts, and streaming payments and are working on live chat. A bunch of new apps and some of the hosting companies have started implementing these functions. If they succeed there will be no reason to ever host or listen to a podcast with any big tech company. The listener will have the freedom to find unique content without giving up any privacy or data and the podcaster will be free of gatekeepers.

But all this depends on people not being lazy.

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Technology

Intel pulls a T-Mobile

This smacks of desperation. I’m not an Apple user. I’m an old school Apple hater. I don’t like their locked down ecosystem and can’t stand their operating systems. But I am a fan of some of their hardware and I wish I could use it with other software.

Intel must really be feeling the pressure from Apple’s new processors. All the reviews and benchmarks show not only do you get great battery life from their new ARM processors but you will also get great processing power. This was not available before now.

The future is still open on how those machines will operate over time but this ad barrage from Intel using Justin Long shows Intel is worried big time.

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Technology Thoughts

Online advertising model smells like fraud

Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram, Apple, Spotify, Amazon, and more shove ads into your content. I always had the opinion that online advertising and the way these companies make money with it smells like bullshit. Online advertising dollars has always been bullshit. Starting all the way back in the early days of the Web and banner advertising. Anyone remember banner ads?

The latest discovery is in Spotify and ads counted by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB).

In my test, it did not appear that The Bill Simmons Podcast had SAI at all. The episode I listened to had host-read ads that were either baked-in or dynamically inserted. So, let’s run through the type of stats that would have produced:

If the content was baked-in, Megaphone—media host for the Bill Simmons Podcast—wouldn’t have any way to know which portion was ad-content or not. So that 1-second play would have resulted in one IAB certified download for the episode. And since there’s absolutely no way to tell where the ads are in the episode for baked-in, that one IAB certified download would have likely been used to show that every single ad in the entire two-hour-long episode should be counted.

soundsprofitable.com

If you’re an advertiser paying good money to run ads on the podcast mentioned above you’d be pretty pissed off getting charged for something that never ran.

Big tech makes a huge chunk of their money from ads. Google being the biggest among them. What’s under the hood? It’s so easy for coders to hide mechanisms that over count clicks. Has any of this ever been audited by anyone?

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Technology Thoughts

Get off Telegram now

When the ads start rolling your speech stops flowing.

Telegram will have to convince advertisers that its audience is broad, which could be a challenge following reports that far-right groups and white supremacists flocked to the app after being banned from other platforms. Mr. Durov will also have to satisfy Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google—whose app stores control most of Telegram’s distribution—that the app can rein in threats of violence and coordination of illicit activities such as weapons and drug sales.

Wall Street Journal

The Internet is the platform. Get your own domain, join open source federated services like Mastodon, and support the Podcast 2.0 Namespace. Hosting and publishing your own content on open platforms using open protocols like RSS that no company owns is the only way to maintain free speech online.

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Technology Thoughts

If I had to work via Zoom

I can barely use a cell phone with all the digital compression. I can’t imagine how bad it would be on a video call.

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Technology Thoughts

Fireside: another social platform you don’t need

You may or may not have heard of Clubhouse. It’s all the rage in the social media space and is being closely watched by the podcast industry. I posted about this earlier. You didn’t need that service and you also don’t need the copycat Fireside.

Let’s set aside the future lawsuit that may occur regarding fireside.fm and firesidechat.com. Two platforms similar enough to cause confusion in the market place. Fireside (chat) is much like Clubhouse with maybe a few more bells and whistles. Essentially these services are public conference tools where some headline speakers allow people into a virtual room and there is the potential for audience members to “come up on stage” to pose a question or enter the conversation. Whoopy doo.

From the app itself, which The Verge has seen in screenshots, users can “react” to conversations with emoji and sound effects. People can clap, for example, which shows up in the recorded conversations and solves for a problem Clubhouse users have run into: a silent room and no way to gauge how what they’re saying is going over.

Audience members can also choose an emoji and type a comment without jumping into a conversation directly. These comments and emoji will show up over participants’ heads as a thought bubble. Moderators or hosts can then type back or address comments during the chat.

If participants do want to join the live chat, they can request to join the stage by tapping a microphone emoji and submitting a written request.

The Verge

I don’t see why people need to join another platform from which to be de-platformed. I wouldn’t expect too many really good conversations of controversial topics from your average person. These platforms can’t risk that kind of exposure or expense. Only celebrities might want to get in on these services as the services can pay them for their appearances, much like a live in person conference.

If you are an authority on a topic you’re much better off having your own domain and web presence and follow that up with your own podcast using services such as Fireside, Blubrry or Buzzsprout. While you’re still using another’s platform to host your files you have more freedom and are less likely to be de-platformed for a view that doesn’t fit the mainstream narrative. You are also free to move around if you own your own domain and control your own RSS feed.

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Technology Thoughts

What’s with amateur hour at the White House?

They need to fire who ever is responsible for this horrific video production. Any kid with an iPhone and a table top tripod can do better than this.

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Technology Thoughts

What trick does Google have up its sleeve?

The headline reads, “Google to Stop Selling Ads Based on Your Specific Web Browsing”. Do you believe that? I don’t. I believe that they have reached such ad space dominance that they’ve found a way to crush competitors. Their only concern is squeezing more dollars from connecting users to advertisers. The only reason for them to do what is reported here is if they have found a better way to track what you do and cut out others at the same time.

In the U.K., the Competition and Markets Authority, the country’s top antitrust regulator, last month opened a formal probe into Google’s phasing out of third-party cookies from its Chrome browser. The probe stemmed from a complaint from a group of marketers that argued Google’s plan would cement the company’s heft in the online advertising space.

Wall Street Journal

I’ve never been concerned much with what Google does in the advertising space. I truly don’t care about the ads they push. What I do care about is their increasing roll in cooperation with the government. Your data has no place being used for government purposes without a warrant. Some company wants to sell me boots? Fine. The government wants to know what I’m reading? Nope.

Image by Firmbee from Pixabay
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Technology

Deep Nostalgia is deeply creepy

If you want to bring dead people to life all you have to do is go to MyHeritage. I heard about this from a post on Gizmodo.

Called Deep Nostalgia, the resulting videos are reminiscent of the Live Photos feature in iOS and iPadOS where several seconds of video are recorded and saved before and after the camera app’s shutter is pressed. But where Live Photos is intended to be used to find the perfect shot and framing that may have been missed the exact second the shutter was pressed, Deep Nostalgia is instead meant to bring still shots, even those not captured on a modern smartphone, to life.

Gizmodo

It’s cool but very very creepy.

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Technology Thoughts

Clubhouse, the social network you didn’t know you didn’t need

Wave goodbye to Clubhouse

Clubhouse is the new hot commodity in the “tech” world. It’s basically an audio online chat room but with controls. From what I’m reading in tech press and hearing on podcasts Clubhouse is trying to be the next “platform” for speech. Not free speech mind you but for speech. This is just another platform to gain users for advertisers to scrape data.

There is no unique tech to Clubhouse. Yes, it’s audio only but this is something you can already do with Zoom or other group online meeting platforms. Just turn off the cameras. In Zoom, the person creating the meeting can control everything about the meeting. You can even open the meeting up to the public. What is stopping anyone from using Zoom as a broadcasting platform where advertisers can sponsor an event? Nothing. In fact it’s already happening with online webinars and conferences set up using Zoom or other online platforms.

Newer social networks, while dealing with the threat of having their features copied, must also figure out their business models in an industry where most digital-ad spending goes to Facebook and Alphabet Inc. Snapchat parent Snap Inc. remains unprofitable despite notching its highest quarterly growth in nearly five years in its latest quarter.

Clubhouse is exploring options for performers to receive tips, and offering paid events and memberships that would give users access to extra content, the founders said during a recent conversation on the app.

Wall Street Journal

So why is Clubhouse getting all this free press? Exclusivity. It’s invite only right now. It has that elitist vibe because celebrities and “luminaries” are the highlighted users. If you’re lucky enough to get into their “clubhouse” then you’ve made it. You’re in. You’re part of the elites!

Clubhouse could be successful in building paid features because of its air of exclusivity—an invitation is required to join, but easy to procure—and the high-profile names coming to converse on the platform, including Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg, Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk, actor Lindsay Lohan and Brad Parscale, one-time campaign manager for former President Donald Trump.

Wall Street Journal

If you’re at all independent minded why would you want to join another social “platform” only to get de-platformed once you start to express views and opinions that are outside the club.

Starting a podcast is better than doing anything on Clubhouse. There is a near zero barrier to entry for podcasting. It’s virtually infinitely scalable because you can start using your own storage and if it gets popular you can transfer to a dedicated podcast service. You can have live interaction by streaming your podcast and having a chatroom or live call in like radio. Joining a service like Clubhouse only serves to enrich those providing that platform. If you have a good product or are already famous why put another middle man in between you and your ad dollars?