A great app for recording podcasts →

December 02, 2014 |

Allen Pike, on why such an app doesn’t exist yet, and is not likely to exist anytime soon:

The next step, the final step before going all in on building this, was for me to figure out how to make it sustainable in such a niche market. I just had to do the “napkin math” to show that if we built the app, we could maintain it at a level we could be proud of. This step has proved problematic.

Unfortunately, it looks like the potential audience for an advanced, high-quality podcast recording app is not large enough to make it sustainable to develop — and more importantly, to maintain.

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America's Malls →

December 02, 2014 |

Chris Wild, Mashable:

In 1989, Michael Galinsky, then a 20-year-old student, took a month to traverse the U.S. Everywhere he went, he documented the same place: the shopping mall. The results are now an archive of a vanished world, simultaneously familiar and foreign, trivial and full of meaning.

Aah, the eighties and their fashion. Gotta love’em.

Being European though, the whole concept of spending my time at the mall feels extremely alien to me. I’ve seen it on American TV shows and movies, but I’ve never quite been able to get it.

To me, malls are like the dentist’s office: you don’t go there unless it’s absolutely necessary and even then, you only stay for as little time as humanly possible.

Does that make me weird?

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The Newsprint Enters Year Two →

December 02, 2014 |

Josh Ginter celebrates The Newsprint’s first birthday:

I just want more. I want more control. I want more speed. I want more simplicity. I want more focus. I want to embed videos. I want real link posts. I want beautiful typography. All of these things were more properly served by a change.

So here we are. A brand new design for The Newsprint.

Whoa. Massive congratulations on a great accomplishment, and a fantastic job. The new design is gorgeous; I’m sure he’s over the moon with it, and with good reason. Having gone through the same process a few months ago — only hacking through all the tedious bits myself — I’m intimately aware of the effort such a redesign takes, as well as the advantages it will bring in terms of increased performance, decreased costs and overall “pride of ownership”.

But beyond all these technicalities, the reason The Newsprint is one of my favorite websites will always be its excellent content. Josh has worked his ass off day in, day out for the past year, and it shows. He’s one of the few people out there that are creating the Internet we all want to read.

The Newsprint is a labor of love. I’m so happy that Josh is doubling down on the site, and we’re all better off for it.

He probably doesn’t know this, but he’s been — and continues to be — a huge inspiration for me, personally and professionally. He’s living proof that what we’re trying to do here is important. That showing up, having something to say — and being brave enough to say it — matters. It may not always translate into more pageviews or RSS subscribers, but it’s always, always worth it.

It’s a lesson I keep reminding myself of day after day, when the insecurities kick in. I’m in this for the long haul, and I’m glad to see he is too.

Happy birthday, Josh. Here’s to another great year, and to many more after that.

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The ultimate guide to podcasting guides

December 01, 2014

It’s no secret that over the past few years, podcasting as a medium has been steadily on the rise. It used to be that podcasts were seen as a unprofessional creative outlet mostly populated by geeks. Now, even the mainstream press is talking about them, in no small part thanks to the overwhelming popularity of the new Serial podcast. It would seem the entire world agrees: podcasting is the new black.

Of course, the Internet can rarely stay in agreement for long, so over this past weekend, several of my favorite tech podcasters got into a bit of an argument on Twitter over which gear recommendations are more appropriate and helpful for people who are looking to start their first podcast. This prompted some of them to share their podcasting setups and give some advice on their respective sites. Which is totally cool, except sometimes it can feel like there are more podcasting guides out there than actual podcasts.

But fear not, my young podcasting apprentice, because I’ve got you covered. Allow me to walk you through what these excellent hosts had to say in each of their guides.

Podcasting guides galore

The incomparable Jason Snell, one of the first ones to jump into the fray, urged people to avoid being intimidated by podcasting:

So start with the equipment you’ve got. You could literally do a podcast by talking into your iPhone and posting it. (I don’t recommend it, but you could do it.) Every Apple laptop comes with a built-in microphone. Again, I don’t recommend you use that microphone, but you could. You could use the EarPods that come with your iPhone—and I’d recommend them over that laptop microphone any day. Add an external microphone when you get the chance. Learn how to use GarageBand or Audacity to edit your podcast—both of them are free.

Beyond that, here’s a tiny bit about hardware.

His position strikes me as eminently reasonable. There will always be time to upgrade some or all of your equipment down the road, but you must allow yourself the opportunity to simply get started.

Marco Arment is way more into high-end audio equipment than most podcasters out there, but even he had very encouraging things to say about the need for expensive gear:

Arguing whether gear matters and whether you should spend money on it 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.

Unlike Marco, though, Marcus De Paula warned about the shortcomings of cheap USB microphones:

One of the most popular affordable and decent USB mics is the Blue Yeti. This mic is marketed and believed to be the best podcasting mic for the money. And for $99 or less, it is… fine. It works. But it does have quite a few negative tradeoffs you should weigh against the positives of low price and “plug-and-play” of a single device with a single cable.

A week earlier, Casey Liss had also given a very detailed look at his admittedly high-end setup. He probably spent more than most podcasters do, but he was quick to point out that high-end gear is not what makes a great podcast:

Like I said above, nothing here is really magical. The magic for both shows is giving a crap.

Furthermore, he backed it up on Saturday with a crystal-clear qualification:

Don’t let the quality snobs — including me! — get you down. Use whatever you can, even your earbuds, if you have to. The point is what you’re saying, not how it sounds.

Stephen Hackett also joined the conversation, pointing out that, while he does believe that having quality gear matters, there are other factors that matter more:

A million factors go into making a show successful. Audio quality takes the front seat because it’s perhaps the easiest to throw money at, but your content, show notes, release consistency, co-host chemistry, branding, website, social presence, iTunes ratings and cultivating relationships with fans all play an important role.

The common thread? Working hard, often without direct reward.

Several of these articles reference Dan Benjamin’s take in one way or another. Dan is certainly one of the most experienced and respected podcasters I know of, and he definitely knows what makes a good show. He took the trouble to set up The Podcast Method, an excellent website with his hardware and software recommendations for podcasters of all levels of experience.

Regarding people who are just starting out, Dan had this to say:

I want everybody to podcast! And the lower the barrier of entry into the medium, the better. Fortunately, all you really need to get started is a mic and some headphones. That’s good, because most new podcasters out there are hesitant, unable, or unwilling to drop a lot of cash on gear. I was too!

Frequently, though, beginning podcasters may also have less than ideal recording conditions – noisy rooms, kids and pets running around, neighbors blaring music, lack of acoustic insulation, while still learning good mic technique. Combine that with a poor microphone, and you have a recipe for a less than ideal recording.

The Podcast Method also features some great tips on professional audio recording and editing, handling multiple callers in Skype, and even live streaming. It’s a pretty comprehensive guide full of really good stuff.

Finally, Dave Wiskus thinks it’s time for a podcasting intervention. With technology empowering everyone to make podcasts, most shows are starting to sound exactly the same:

Two or more white males talking to microphones for two or more hours sharing their unscripted thoughts about their phones and their computers. Sponsored by Squarespace.

He has a point. There’s too much focus on technology and hardware, but in the end what makes a great podcast will always be the content. What sets your podcast apart from the rest? What do you have to say that no one else can? Before spending hours of research and a small fortune on your next microphone, make sure you’re willing to put as much time and effort on what you’re actually going to say with it.

The bottom line

It’s pretty clear by now that podcasting is here to stay, and it’s attracting more and more listeners — and sponsors — every day. It really is a fantastic way to explore certain topics and ideas, and it creates a much stronger connection between the hosts and the audience.

I love listening to all these guys every week, and I’m thankful to them for being generous enough to not only make great shows, but also help others do the same. Together, they’re pushing podcasting forward as a respected medium, and that’s awesome for everyone.

Starting a podcast of my own is something I’ve been considering for some time, but I won’t do it unless I’m positive I have something unique to add to the conversation. If there’s one thing I’m sure of it’s that I won’t be adding to the noise, not if I can help it. There’s too much of that already.

Still, I confess the idea excites me. My father owns a radio station and has worked as a professional broadcaster for over 30 years, so I guess you could say it runs in the family. It may never come to fruition — or it may happen sooner than you think — but at least now I know how to get started. Which, as you know, is often the hardest thing to do.

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Jeffrey Zeldman is also pissed at Yahoo for selling his Flickr photos →

December 01, 2014 |

Jeffrey Zeldman:

I want people to use my photos. That’s why I take them. I want that usage to be unencumbered. That’s why I chose a Creative Commons license. Some of the publications and businesses that use my photos make no money at all. Others make a little something. I don’t care either way. That’s why I chose a Commercial Attribution license. The license makes my work available to all publications and products, whether commercial or non-commercial. Fine with me.

But Yahoo selling the stuff? Cheesy, desperate, and not at all fine with me. I pay for a Flickr Pro account, and am happy to do so. That’s how Yahoo is supposed to make money from my hobby.


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Yahoo may start selling Creative Commons-licensed Flickr pictures — and keeping the profits

December 01, 2014

Some photographers are understandably pissed at Yahoo for trying to profit from their work. In an article for The Wall Street Journal, Douglas MacMillan reports:

More than 300 million publicly shared Flickr images use Creative Commons licenses, making it the largest content partner. Yahoo last week said it would begin selling prints of 50 million Creative Commons-licensed images as well as an unspecified number of other photos handpicked from Flickr.

For the handpicked photos, the company will give 51% of sales to their creators. For the Creative Commons images, Yahoo will keep all of the revenue.

This seems to be a fairly incendiary and short-sighted move by Yahoo, but the article fails to mention that there are different types of Creative Commons licenses available to Flickr users. Presumably, Yahoo will only be able to sell pictures that were released under any of the licenses that allow for commercial use. There are currently three such licenses:

The reason this is a thorny issue is that, legally, Yahoo hasn’t done anything wrong. Morally though, it’s a different matter.

And it’s not only about sharing the profits, either. When you make something and decide to release it under a CC license, you usually do it for the good of the community. It’s an act of generosity towards other human beings, not an opportunity for a corporation to make millions of dollars on your behalf. The only way to honor the true spirit of the Creative Commons license would be to sell the prints at cost, that is, without deriving any profits from the sale whatsoever.

In any case, Yahoo should focus on the big picture here.1 They may be in the right legally, but in the court of public opinion there’s no way they’re going to come out of this as a winner. If they want to avoid an even bigger PR mess, they should rethink their stance — and soon.

That said, there’s also a bit of user responsibility at play here. It may not seem like a big deal, but choosing the right CC license for your work is incredibly important. As a Flickr user, you should be aware that if you’re using one of the three CC licenses listed above, then Yahoo is free to sell your photographs without owing you anything in return. What’s even worse, you cannot revoke the license unless Yahoo violates its terms.

From the official Creative Commons Wiki:

What if I change my mind about using a CC license?

CC licenses are not revocable. Once something has been published under a CC license, licensees may continue using it according to the license terms for the duration of applicable copyright and similar rights. As a licensor, you may stop distributing under the CC license at any time, but anyone who has access to a copy of the material may continue to redistribute it under the CC license terms. While you cannot revoke the license, CC licenses do provide a mechanism for licensors to ask that others using their material remove the attribution information. You should think carefully before choosing a Creative Commons license.

If you don’t want Yahoo to sell your pictures but still want them to be available under a Creative Commons license, you may want to consider using a more restrictive CC license, like the Attribution-NonCommercial License. The new license may not apply to the existing pictures in your photostream, but it should cover any pictures you upload to the service in the future.

And to Yahoo, I say this: don’t be jerks. Flickr users rallied to bring the service back from near death once; don’t be so cocky as to presume they’ll do it again. That’s one more chance than most Internet companies get, and it only worked because Flickr was a deeply beloved service and everybody wanted it to survive, but no service is irreplaceable. You would do well not to forget that.

In the long run, Flickr will thrive or die with its users. If you continue to piss them off, they’ll slowly but surely move away from the service, never to return. And then Flickr will be back where it was a couple years ago. Only this time, there will be no one left to bring it back.

  1. No pun intended.

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Wanderers — a short film by Erik Wernquist →

December 01, 2014 |

“Wanderers” is an awe-inspiring video narrated by Carl Sagan, depicting the likely future of the human race as we go beyond the confines of the Earth and venture into the far reaches of the Solar System:

Wanderers is a vision of humanity’s expansion into the Solar System, based on scientific ideas and concepts of what our future in space might look like, if it ever happens. The locations depicted in the film are digital recreations of actual places in the Solar System, built from real photos and map data where available.

Without any apparent story, other than what you may fill in by yourself, the idea of the film is primarily to show a glimpse of the fantastic and beautiful nature that surrounds us on our neighboring worlds - and above all, how it might appear to us if we were there.


Via Kottke.

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A Common Habit That Costs Us Friends →

December 01, 2014 |

David Cain has an uncanny ability to make me see myself in his writing:

It was a lot less dramatic this time, however. There were no wars or illnesses or bad GPAs involved. It began when I went hyper-frugal to save up a job-quitting fund. I didn’t want to spend money on booze or restaurants or parties any more, so I said no to almost every invitation for nearly a year. Eventually the inviters stopped bothering, and I lost track of my biggest circle of friends. I did, however, still spend a ton of time with my girlfriend at the time, who is now my best friend. I would have been up the creek without her.

Then when I finally did quit my job in the fall, I stopped seeing a lot of another good friend, because we had worked out of the same office. He was, of course, another vital connecting piece, this time to my oldest and most important circle of friends. And they began to drift into the fog too.

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