I first learned about podcasting back in 2004. It was a simple format then: extend RSS with an
Despite not wanting to publish a podcast myself, I did want to make it easier for others to publish them. I was also involved in an open-source CMS project. So I built a podcasting plugin for the CMS to help you generate an RSS feed. A full ten years later, NPR affiliate WBEZ released the now critically-acclaimed podcast Serial. At this point, friends of mine suddenly declared podcasting to be “a thing.” The grump in me wanted to complain aloud “it’s been ‘a thing’ for a decade now, where have YOU been?”
Within those ten years, I followed a fork of the CMS and took the podcasting plugin with me. I answered countless forum posts on getting it set up, got it to generate iTunes1-friendly feeds, explained over and over again “no, putting a Flash-based player on a page does not a podcast make,” explained over and over again “no, the generator cannot track how many times your episodes were listened to,” wrote a book about the CMS, recorded screencasts about the CMS, got tired of the plugin, gave it to a colleague, started working with my colleague, relaunched the plugin as a commercial project, and then finally abandoned all of it (including the CMS) for good.
This decade (several lifetimes in Internet years), saw the birth and death of countless startups, the shift to software as a service, the advent of the smartphone, music as a subscription, the rise and fall of apps, set-top boxes for streaming, and several attempts at building an Internet of Things2.
After a decade, this simple format is finally now mainstream. But nobody thinks in terms of “podcatchers” anymore, let alone RSS. RSS is humming along in the background, happily delivering those podcast episodes that are now “a thing.” Aside from additional tags for iTunes, podcasts still use the same RSS format they did back in 2004.
Since quitting the CMS, I’ve been considering some software I want to build… or rather, software I want to build, but shouldn’t. It’s really tempting to sit down with a fresh Git repository, pull in packages, test out frameworks, and start writing what I think will help my ideas go mainstream as quickly as possible.
But if there’s anything to be learned from podcasting, it’s that you need to start small and simple. It might not get used or even noticed at first, but that doesn’t mean it won’t someday. The first podcasts were released before any software could of read them, by people who weren’t software developers. It then took a decade for them to go mainstream.
I’ve been working on a project off and on for several months now. You could say it’s inspired by podcasting. I’ve had a lot of ideas and false starts, but I currently have nothing to show for it. The only way this is going to work is if I start publishing and see what happens.
So that’s what I’m committing to do.