Scripting News for 9/23/2006

Three years ago today: “Chris Lydon has been doing a series of audio interviews on his weblog at Harvard. There are already over 25 interviews, representing 40 separate MP3 files. The archive is nearly 300MB. It’s a perfect application for RSS enclosures.” 

My two cents on “podcast” 

Today is, in a sense, the three-year anniversary of podcasting. It wasn’t called podcasting then, but all the essential elements of what would become podcasting were in place. A regular show with a theme (Chris Lydon inteviewing people he finds interesting), a feed that has those shows as enclosures. The enclosures are in MP3 format. And a small number of aggregators that could do something interesitng with all that. A step down the road that would lead to podcasting.

When this became a juggernaut, almost exactly a year after the first Lydon feed, it desperately needed a name. Danny G came up with “podcast” and we liked it, so that was it, the decision was made, a “rough consensus” formed, and from then on we called what we were doing podcasting.

Now there’s no doubt that part of the reason that podcasting took off then and not in 2003 or 2002 or 2001 is that there was an iPod and it was a juggernaut. People were interested in portable media, and the iPod had everything to do with that. So it made sense to relate this new art to the iPod, even though what Leo says is totally true, our podcasts work on things other than iPods. In fact, I wonder why Apple or someone else hasn’t invested in making a device that is GREAT for listening to podcasts on the go, but that’s another subject altogether.

Apple has a legitimate concern if you look at it from their point of view. Although I am not a lawyer, it seems to me that iPod is an excellent trademark, it’s not descriptive, it’s a made-up word, until Apple came up with it, it meant absolutely nothing. So, from the start, it was a defensible trademark. Then it went through the lifecycle that most runaway successes do, commercial interests try to take advantage of the popularity of the mark and name their products relative to Apple’s, some leading to confusion, others not.

I think podcasting may create some confusion for the podcasters but not for Apple. No one confuses a podcast with an iPod, any more than car wax is confused with a car. And it’s totally explainable that a podcast works on other hardware, by saying that the computer industry makes stuff that works together. To think that today’s iPod isn’t the leader in the market is to be in denial. So all competitors are able to play content that works on Apple’s market leader. Emphatically, this is a good thing, and I feel no pity for Apple at being forced to be open, which is what podcasting forces them to be, like it or not.

I guess my take on it is this. I like the term podcasting because it causes people to find out where innovation really comes from. Apple has been coasting on other people’s work, as well as contributing their own, but they’re not very generous when it comes to sharing the credit. I’d be inclined to work with them on this, and other things, if they would be kind to us and our creations. Instead Apple sneers at the people who gave them this innovation, and sends demand letters to members of the community.

Maybe change is something Apple should contemplate? Maybe there’s a way of working with creative people outside their own company that creates a win-win, and a foundation for further innovation?

10 responses to this post.

  1. You are right about Apple not understanding the huge contributions of podcasters, BUT I do think that the iPod is the only device I’ve found that plays podcasts perfectly because it has the “Remember playback position” function – something which I demo’d on video:


  2. As far as I can see, Apple is okay with the term “podcast” as a generic description. The confusiion the term creates only works to Apple’s benefit, as some people are inclined to believe that you need an iPod to play a podcast. When Steve first publicly demo’d the podcasting section of the iTunes Store (at the Wall Street Journal D3 conference, 5/22/05) he seemed quite delighted with the advent of podcasting, acknowledged that it didn’t originate at Apple, and recognized that it enhanced the value of his product.

    Anyone know of a podcaster who has received a cease-and-desist letter from Apple?

    Sof far, it looks like Apple is only going after people and companies who create trademarks that include Pod and iPod and Podcast within them.

    I expect that the term podcasting has too much weight behind it by now to swap it out for something more neutral. But language is mutable and words with even wider usage than podcasting have been replaced.


  3. Dave, going off topic a bit, have you changed the tool you use to actually create the posts on Scripting? Tweaked the feeds a bit?

    I ask because all of a sudden (one or two days), deletions and inserts are visible in my newsreader, which is NetNewsWire. (It’s not just you; I’m seeing this in feeds from many sites.)

    Example, from the lext of last graf in this post:

    I like the term podcasting because it forces causes people to

    Jist in case that doesn’t survive the WordPress mill, a “del” tag is wrapped around the word “forces”, and an “ins” tag brackets the word “causes”. Both are of class “diff modified”.

    In NNW, the text is displayed as bright red with red line-throughs.

    Looking at Scripting with a browser, everything is normal: no red, no lline-throughs, and no del and ins tags in the HTML.

    I’ve posted a query over at the NNW tech forum, but I’m curious if any other NNW users are seeing this.


  4. Good post Dave.
    A question I’ve been asking…Do you think the legal notices are Jobs/Apple or just their legal department doing on their own what all legal departments do? Do you think if their is a big fuss Jobs/Apple will/would be more accommodating and reign in the legal beagles or at least spell out the whens/whys pod can be used?


  5. Actually, Dave, Apple is quite far from being the market leader in portable mp3 players:


  6. Jackie: I’m not an Apple apologist, but to think that mobiles/PDAs/smartphones are going to significantly eat in to the MP3 market is sheer insanity. The interface on most phones sucks compared to the iPod interface – and their not getting better. I use my Razr in spite of the interface not because of it. The iPod is the only device that has come anywhere close to having a scalable use model – and it’s done so by realising the limitation of networks. Mobile networks are currently too slow and expensive for anybody without a very loose expense account and a very forgiving boss.

    It would take me the best part of half an hour to download a track over GPRS – and if I wasn’t on a very cheap bundled deal – cost me about the same as a three-course meal to do so. If mobiles are the great hope to save the world from the iPod, then the iPod has a very long life ahead.


  7. Dave: the answer has hit me. If Apple don’t want us folks to use their precious “pod” name – let’s call it ‘feedcasting’. It points out the more important component – the RSS (which is – because it’s XML – open and extensible) – rather than the good but replaceable component – the physical player.


  8. Posted by ajcann on September 23, 2006 at 7:43 pm

    My guess is that Apple don’t want their most valuable trademark going the way of others, like Xerox (generic verb to photocopy), and Hoover (generic verb to vacum). IMO, they should just bite the bullet and ride the wave.


  9. Posted by Tony on September 24, 2006 at 4:11 am

    ajcann is correct, if Apple are going after people for using ‘pod’ or any variant of it, it’s only because the ludicrous trademark protection laws force them to.

    If iPod became a generally used term (such as hoover, mentioned above), then in future it could be impossible for Apple to enforce the trademark if someone were to use it in a malicious way, say to try and pass off cheap rubbish mp3 players as iPods.

    Their only defence in a situation like this would be to show that they had a history of defending their trademark, and whilst I can see that these legal letters are a bit of a scattergun, Apple need to protect the billions they invest in their business.


  10. Posted by ajcann on September 27, 2006 at 10:49 am

    Adam Curry had a good commentary in his Tuesday podcast, reading out sections of a letter that Apple had sent. Nowhere does the letter say “cease and desist”. They’re not trying to protect “pod” as a trademark (as in podcast), only to protect ipod. Hence they’re going after mypodder (sounds like…), but I suspect they’ll leave podtech, etc, alone.


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