Jason J. Gullickson

Jason J. Gullickson

Preposter.us for Podcasts?

I've been listening to Hacker Public Radio and marveling at how cool their production model is. For the uninitiated, all HPR content is generated by its listeners, who submit individual episodes into a largely automated scheduling process which constructs and publishes the podcast.

There's a lot of things that are cool about this. In my opinion the first is that it significantly reduces the barrier to getting started in podcasting because there's not as much pressure to immediately start producing a continuous, regular body of work. The second is that a lot of the overhead normally associated with publishing a podcast is absorbed by the system. To me this is a good example of leveraging automation where automation shines while leaving the work that people do better to the humans.

All this got me wondering if there are podcasts like this for other subject areas? Hacking proper does cover a wide-range of topics, but it's not hard to imagine how a similarly contributed and automated podcast for say, recipes, or short story writers might be cool.

I haven't done any research along these lines yet, but while I was thinking about this I of course started thinking about how to set up a system to manage it and realized that Preposter.us has most of the pieces to do this already. The workflow would be substantially different from how HPR works, but for the artists and audiences I have in mind, those differences may amplify the things I like best about HPR.

For example:

A producer records an episode on their phone and attaches it to an email they send to a specially-configured Preposter.us instance. Just like a blog post, Preposter.us uses the subject line for the title (in this case, the episode name) and the sender's name for the attribution. Any text included in the email becomes "show notes", and the attached audio file becomes the podcast audio itself. Preposter.us then adds this episode to a Podcast feed XML file (Preposter.us already does something similar for RSS) which listeners subscribe to. Listeners can subscribe to a publisher-specific feed, but to me the more interesting mode is to subscribe to a site-wide feed that features episodes contributed by all producers using this particular instance.

If we want to get fancy we could add a little server-side audio processing to normalize the audio and add "station identification" to the head and/or tail of each episode, and maybe insert some sort of regular station update to give some consistency to the broadcast week-over-week. There may also be value in managing the cadence of the site-wide feed (for example, only adding one episode to the feed per day, etc.).

For the inexperienced producer, this improves on the HPR model in a number of ways. It simplifies the publishing process by eliminating the need to interact with a website, making publishing possible from anything that can send an email. It eliminates the schedule by publishing episodes in a FIFO manner. The station itself is 100% automated, and just like any other Preposter.us instance, requires very little in terms of server resources to host.

There are of course downsides to this approach, and I'm sure there are good reasons HPR chose to use the publishing process they have in place. But I think that for a number of use-cases, especially for inexperienced, non- technical producers, the Preposter.us workflow improves on making podcasting accessible to a wider range of people.

To be clear, I have no intention of competing with HPR, and in fact I'm seriously considering contributing some episodes, I just think it's a great way to get more people publishing more diverse content, which is directly in- line with Preposter.us's mission. The fact that there's so much technological overlap between the two is just too tempting to leave unexplored. I'll have to set some time aside to experiment with this and see if there's some "show- stopper" to this approach I'm overlooking, but if not I might setup an experimental instance for this purpose and try to rope some of you into taking it for a test-drive with me.

- Jason