3. What do you think makes for a good show? I listened to your show the other day, and reading a letter about Ruby on Rails turned into a 10-minute discussion of zombie movies.
Coté: That episode, 35, is representative a good show. Personally, I like podcasts that aren't scripted, about just one subject, possess a high degree of spontenaity, and have a good interplay between at least two people.
Listening to 30 minutes about just Ruby, Java, or any technical topic would seem too wooden, pedantic, and boring. Once you allow yourself to start talking about, for example, current themes in the zombie genre, you immediately add a human voice and feel to the podcast. I know for a fact that some people don't like this: they'd rather hear just the technical stuff. But, of course, we don't cater to those people.
The audience we have, as indicated by the comments we receive and our estimate of subscription numbers, seems to like the format: we got quite a few positive comments about the zombie episode, to quote one of them, "Zombies and RoR; can't go wrong."
What'd you think about the 10 minute discussion on zombies? Note: The author liked the concept of a scoring system for zombie movies, but thought "Resident Evil: Apocalypse" should be docked 1 point for being based on a video game.
Charles: Our best shows are the ones where there is a free flow of good information between all the people talking, be it technical or otherwise. In the example you listened to, the letter we read accused us of lacking "brains." Zombies eat brains. It seems a natural segue into the general theory of zombie evolution right?
That said, I prefer it when there's not so much free-association that we can't fully unearth and examine at least one tiny nugget of knowledge.
4. Do you have a feel for your audience? How many people are listening and what kind of feedback do they give you?
Coté: I think we hover around 300 subscribers. It's hard to tell, as you can subscribe from two RSS feeds or directly download the MP3s. We get comments on the blog posts on drunkandretired.com, e-mail, and posts on other people's blogs.
From what I can tell, the audience is primarily programmers with the occasional "other" tech industry employee. Many of our most vocal listeners are in the process of learning Ruby or software in general. I think that group of people enjoys the podcast because we try to explain all the basic topics as they come up (for example, why would you care about transactions?) instead of just quickly glossing over them.
And, of course, we get comments along the lines of "you suck."
Charles: I think our core audience is primarily a technical one, but that alone would not account for its listenership. I imagine they're into technology because it's fun... kinda like a zombie movie... or Panama. If you're just looking for a tutorial on how to work with a particular product or platform, this is NOT the show for you. But even though there is a technical bent, I'd like to think that there's a little something for everybody who just likes to sit around and shoot the breeze with us on our imaginary porch with the swing.
We also get listeners tuning in and out in response to episodes relating to a particular subject like the Mozilla framework, or Ruby on Rails. While most of them go away after listening to what they came to hear, hopefully some will be intrigued enough to stay for the after-party.
I also force my girlfriend to listen as often as possible.
5. What do you like about podcasting as opposed to other forms of discussing programming?
Charles: Articles and presentations are great, but sometimes the information is too dense, and too rigid. The author already has a firm grasp on what he thinks about a particular subject, and he's presenting it to you in its final, refined form. Blogs are a little more spontaneous; a little bit more like a dialogue, but the podcast lets you peek directly into that raw precursor to the well-developed thoughts of essays and articles, also known as "the conversation." Conversations follow more closely the human thought process, where it's acceptable to follow any thread to see where it takes you--even if that's over-the-rainbow, or nowhere.
Coté: I like it because it captures all the ideas and discussions that you forget about between talking about something and writing it down. It's also a good format because it lets you edit out all the "dead time." Also, it's an easier way to collaborate with people you meet online vs. writing: all you have to do is call them up on Skype, and you can create something with them. We've done this in several episodes, and having "special guest stars" is something we enjoy doing. It's especially nice when we've run our mouths about something we know nothing about (like domain specific languages) and then get someone to come on in a subsequent episode and set us straight.
6. Do you use any Java tools in creating or distributing your podcast?
Coté: Not at all, unless it's under the hood and we don't know about it. We use Audio Hijack Pro, Audacity, Skype, LibSyn.com, emacs, feedburner.com, and sftp. The nice thing is, except for the hosting, everything is free. Even the hosting at LibSyn is just $10/month for unlimited bandwidth, which is fantastic. Those guys need an award for that business model.
Charles: For the podcast itself we use Skype to record, Audacity to edit, and the standard unix toolkit to publish. If someone knows of some great Java sound editing software, I'd love to hear it, though. I do use jEdit to write most of the code that I yack on and on about. Does that count?
7. Is there anything else you'd like to tell prospective listeners?
Coté: We're not always technically correct in what we talk about, but we've got over 20 years of combined experience in the trenches between the two of us, meaning that when it comes to the real-life, nuts-and-bolts, we do know what we're talking about. More importantly, we don't talk in a stiff style: there's always something like Java, zombies, Ruby, pooping in pickle jars, Agile software development, and general software trends and thinking to listen to. Well, except those times when the show sucks. Just hit "Next" when you get one of those.
We're always looking for guests, so if you'd like to respond to past episodes or talk about a entirely new topic, give us an or just send in an MP3.
Charles: Talking about programming is the most fun (and incidentally most productive) when it's friendly, and with friends. We'd love for you to stop by and tell us your piece to those gathered round, or just take a listen if that's your style. We don't have an agenda, just a healthy dedication to the truth, and a good time.
If all else fails: Heck, we're better than half the stuff out there!
The author would like to thank Tim Shadel, Roman Strobl, Charles Lowell, and Michael Coté for discussing their podcasts for this article.
Chris Adamson is an author, editor, and developer specializing in iPhone and Mac.
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