Form Follows Function — True for Podcasts Also

by Krishna on August 21, 2011

It was interesting to read this postmortem of a mistake made by Rob Conery in releasing a sub-standard podcast. You might think he is making too much of a small error, but I understand the feeling. I feel stupid when I publish a post and later notice that I had left a spelling or grammar mistake in it. It happens all the time, but it is not a good feeling.

But when all is said and done, I think technical issues are the least of the problems of “This Developer's Life”. While I enjoy the podcast (good interview subjects, topics and songs too), I think the following implicit assumptions in the format of the podcast pull it down:

  1. The podcast assumes that listening to Ayende (Oren Eini) or Jeff Atwood cannot keep you captivated. You need the speech interspersed with musical notes to grab your attention.
  2. It assumes that the listener also needs to be guided through the use of scattered voice over commentary such as “That was a good reply”, “Ouch!”, etc.
  3. It also assumes that a person listening to a technology podcast needs voiced over explanations of references to technology. Strange because Hanselman in his Hanselminutes podcast often stops a guest to explain an obscure term, but doesn’t do it here.

The problem with TDL is that it is melodrama. It tries too hard to evoke the emotions of the title of the particular show (say “Pressure” or “Criticism”). Sometimes, this works. For example, I found the “Revolt” show compelling. But sometimes, it fails or gets in the way.

Take the “Pressure” show. It was about Stack Exchange going down and their attempts at restoring the site. But the incident would have been better titled “Confusion” because apparently the admins did have an older backup, but wanted to get the database to where it was when it went down. Much of the show tried to inappropriately push the interviewees towards the title. At the same time, a discussion thread where mounting day-to-day pressure was mentioned was not further explored.

The overall style of the podcast reminds me of Bollywood movies. In case you are not familiar with them, the general structure is a 3‑hour movie that features several (3–7) songs. Sometimes the songs are very good and push the story along, sometimes they are a huge distraction and stop the movie in its tracks. The problem is that the songs themselves have a huge market and no producer wants to make a movie without songs. So whether or not the movie plot demands songs, you get them.

In a similar way, “This Developer’s Life” seems to be taken hostage by the format of the show. Sometimes it works fine. But sometimes I would just like to hear a raw conversation between two top-tier technologists for an hour without any interruption.

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