Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Grumpy Man - whipper snappers with too much energy

There are these podcasters that churn out more episodes than even God can listen to. It is beyond me how people like Travis Dow manage to even breath with 10 or so podcasts waiting for him to add content to (podcastnik on Patreon). When the incomparable Kristaps Andrejsons got started, him and I were both very excited to discover each other and got off chatting. I asked him about his plans and found out he has more podcasts and more content in the pipeline. I urged him to refrain from getting spread out too thin and develop his unique angle and style. I am happy he still has it, but his production is amazing. And of course he is with his first podcast The Eastern Border on Patreon too. I think I could go on. There is more and more, always more, but is it better? Can it be better if it is so massively much?

In any case the internet produces a pull to put out more content all the time - it makes for the indispensable visibility that makes weblife possible after all; so it is not just Patreon. However, where generally the incentive to produce more more more, regardless of quality, comes without a break and without real return, Patreon seems to be better - it does deliver a real return. It can generate significant income (for some podcasters it really does) which frees them up with time, supports them with covering costs and hence unquestionably supports the podcast in a good way. In return for the contributors pledges, the podcaster commits to a certain goal which gives also the generous donors something concrete in return. It could very well be a pledge to improve the quality of the podcast. With such a pledge, though, the donors get the podcast they were going to get anyway - so why donate?

Most podcasters therefore offer exclusive content for donors. The frequently mentioned When Diplomacy Fails for instance does that. At the same time, the regular production schedule is maintained. The maker Zack Twamley tells me he is greatly encouraged and energized by his Patrons and manages to find the additional time and energy to produce both the regular content as well as the additional content he has pledged to. In this manner he begins to resemble those other mass producers that I cannot keep up with. All so young and optimistic and energetic - my old grumpy mind dazzles. But here is a catch: I have not enough time to take in what WDF regularly produces, so why become a donor and get even more WDF that I cannot consume? Besides, despite his qualities, I see room for improvement in Zack Twamley's podcast as well, yet, if he is committed to add a history of Poland and a history of Bismarck to the regular schedule, I do not see it happening. So there is more and even if it is not going to be worse, I am certain it is not going to be better.

Once upon a time there was a real gem of a podcast, Veertien Achttien which told the history of World War I in a very unique and pithy way (and in Dutch). After having built up a following it made its own Patreon move avant-la-lettre. New episodes became available on paid subscription only. This way however it became reliant upon a dedicated, but narrow following and it lost its web presence. When the time came round to produce the English version, the podcast had become unknown and invisible and the project never came to fruition.

So I am sure a podcaster on Patreon must continue to produce free episodes for his visibility and in order to keep a growing audience. Yet in order to take in the donors and give them real value for their contributions, what other can a podcaster do than offer additional paid content. What other than first of all produce more?

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Grumpy man - what do you have against Patreon?

As far as I can see all history podcasters are struggling to find the time and the money to put their baby out there. The rule is still that the podcasts are free and as long as I have been following the trade, podcasters have been looking for ways to generate some income from podcasting, at least to cover the costs. Not so long ago many tried sponsoring by Audible. The latest route podcasters follow is Patreon.

I am no savant in business, so I have no suggestion to offer; I do not see a real business model for podcasts and I have seen most monetizing fail. Therefore, I was extremely skeptical about Patreon, but so far it seems way more successful than anything tried before. That should make me happy, should it not?

On the last episode I listened to from The Bulgarian History Podcast, Eric Halsey revealed he had managed to pay off his student debt and thanked his Patreon Patrons for their contributions to this milestone. That was also very satisfying to me, even though I was not among the contributors.

Since I love history podcasts so much, it will please me to no end if podcasters manage to get some income from their work - good for them, they have earned it and that is ultimately good for us listeners. However, if the constraints of monetizing are pulling the makers away from the podcast, or cause them to compromise on the quality, we have actually lost.

It is my observation that generally the monetizing schemes generate a pull to the podcaster to produce more content, yet there is no pull to make it better. Patreon, it seems to me, is no different in this respect. In the coming posts, I will try to show this with some examples. The bottom-line being: it is good there is income to be had and I am certainly not against more podcasts, but it returns us to the original question: There is more, but is it better?

Friday, July 21, 2017

Grumpy man - why so grumpy?

Kicking off a series of posts criticizing history podcasts is in a way a breach of style in this blog. It is my rule to write what is good about the podcasts I write about; if they are bad it is better not to write about them at all. Yet, as I also said in the interview at When Diplomacy Fails, I would love to sit down with any podcaster and shape them up a bit. The ultimate goal is to improve.

There is a parallel with my day job. I work in QA, that is, quality assurance, you can call it software testing, but the goal is not simply to find the bugs. Especially these days when software is rolled out at high speed. This is called continuous development, or even continuous deployment; new software is installed and patched up all the time. It is accepted that there are bugs with the end users, the idea is that the fixes come immediately. The role of QA is less clear in this constant flux, but we still search for the bugs and we report them so that they are fixed before reaching the end users.

The way I see it, one must report the bug, but the real goal is to make the developers do a better job. We must train them to dot their i's and cross their t's; to close their objects and clean the garbage. And this is what I need to establish as a reviewer to the podcasts.

For this I may come across as a grumpy man, but I am really pushing for better podcasts. I hope that as a reviewer I have the same authority as I have as a senior QA professional and my reports of what is wrong is taken seriously.

The reason I am aggravated and worried is that some of my criticisms apply nearly across the board. Almost nobody is doing it right and established podcasters are giving a bad example. I am worried that this can mean the death of history podcasting.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

There is more, but is it better?

In case you did not notice, I was interviewed by Zack Twamley on his podcast When Diplomacy Fails. He asked me: "Did history podcasting get better since you began your blog?" My answer was YES, mostly because there are more history podcasts than ever and everybody has got the technicalities of the audio and the supplies right, and most of all: I got excited again. It got me blogging again - for a bit.

In a way I evaded the NO that is enclosed in the answer; there is more, but is it better? Maybe NOT.

I did not entirely evade it; I did get excited again about podcasts and as I told Zack, I also got passionate about some things that are not right about podcasts. I do not know how to write about it though; as I put it in the interview: I do not like to be Anne is a grumpy man. Yet I am willing to give it a try.

It just so happens I am on a bit of a break - so let's have it. Anne is a Man about the things that irritate, aggravate and most of all worry him in the world of history podcasts.

Listen to part 1 of WDF meets grumpy Anne and part 2 of WDF meets grumpy Anne.


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Monday, July 4, 2016

Revisionist Licensing

Malcom Gladwell's new podcast is called Revisionist History (feed) and this title instilled in me a slightly different expectation than what I got in the first episode. I was expecting either a revision of any widely accepted narrative, or a study of any such widely accepted narrative that had been challenged, more or less successfully. What Gladwell does rather, is take on a certain subject and show how we would generally assume a certain history and in stead get another. It is not very different, but still it is not negating an established thought but rather revealing the twist of closer inspection versus superficial expectation.


There are two episodes out, while I write this and I have only heard the first one, but this episode, The Lady Vanishes was so powerful, I just had to review immediately. Gladwell asks us: If Hilary Clinton will be elected as president, will that pave the way for more women in office or will generally enhance the chances for any other woman to be elected president? The historical sample taken is from the 19th century when the female painter Elizabeth Thompson was about to enter the Royal Society of the Arts in England.

Yes, we would expect such occurrences to work as a sluice that opens, but Gladwell invokes the concept of Moral Licensing from social psychology to show that the opposite might be true and presents the historic examples to support this kind of revisionist history (which I maintain is not exactly revisionist history in the regular sense, but we catch the drift). His point is that frequently individuals and societies allow particular cases of minority members (Women, Colored people, Jews etc) to enter a realm otherwise closed for them, only to satisfy their conscience and consequently proceed to discriminate with renewed ardor. The saddest example Jews in Germany as he takes it from Amos Elon's study "The pity of ot all" - which shows the Jews in German society from 1743-1933 occasionally succeeding to break the glass ceilings and walls, but nevertheless finding themselves eventually in a land that embraced the lethal antisemitism of the Nazis.

It is a very bleak conclusion; it cautions us that when we think discrimination might be over it may come back with a vengeance. While this may exactly be the case, there are two major reservations I have here. One is that this line of thinking has a tendency to be irrefutable because no matter how many examples you may find that discrimination is receding, it might still be a case of moral licensing. The second is that this idea of moral licensing comes from psychology, hence it describes processes in individuals and Gladwell takes this micro-level theory and applies it on a macro-level which is a jump cannot be made just like that.


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Sunday, June 12, 2016

Wrong artwork for podcast - does anyone know a fix?

Some of the podcasts show up in my iPhone with the wrong picture. For a long time I thought I did something wrong, but some internet research shows that many more people complain about media files that have the proper artwork in iTunes on the PC are synched on a device with the wrong artwork. I checked my iPad and the same problem occurs there.

Take for example this episode from the Talking History podcast as it shows in the player on my PC (screenshot on the left - correct) and on my iPhone and iPad with the artwork of a totally other podcast (screenshot to the right). As a matter of fact, when you look more closely, more than just the picture is messed up. It seems that more mp3 labels are not exactly in place.

Does anybody else have this problem? Did you manage to solve it? I would love to hear about it and many more with me as the internet is full of complaints about this but few suggestions to solutions.