Podcasts and the Case for Bundled Content

From The Atlantic, “The Like Button Ruined the Internet”:

In the Google Reader days, when RSS ruled the web, online publications — including blogs, which thrived because of it — kept an eye on how many subscribers they had. That was the key metric. They paid less attention to individual posts. In that sense their content was bundled: It was like a magazine, where a collection of articles is literally bound together and it’s the collection that you’re paying for, and that you’re consuming. But, as the journalist Alexis Madrigal pointed out to me, media on the web has come increasingly un-bundled—and we haven’t yet fully appreciated the consequences.

When content is bundled, the burden is taken off of any one piece to make a splash; the idea is for the bundle—in an accretive way—to make the splash. I think this has real consequences. I think creators of content bundles don’t have as much pressure on them to sex up individual stories. They can let stories be somewhat unattractive on their face, knowing that readers will find them anyway because they’re part of the bundle. There is room for narrative messiness, and for variety—for stuff, for instance, that’s not always of the moment.

Madrigal suggested that the newest successful media bundle is the podcast. Perhaps that’s why podcasts have surged in popularity and why you find such a refreshing mixture of breadth and depth in that form: Individual episodes don’t matter; what matters is getting subscribers. You can occasionally whiff, or do something weird, and still be successful.

Imagine if podcasts were Twitterized in the sense that people cut up and reacted to individual segments, say a few minutes long. The content marketplace might shift away from the bundle—shows that you subscribe to—and toward individual fragments. The incentives would evolve toward producing fragments that get Likes. If that model came to dominate, such that the default was no longer to subscribe to any podcast in particular, it seems obvious that long-running shows devoted to niches would starve.

Seeking Google Alerts Replacement

Google Reader officially died today. I was not one of the legions of people who expressed dismay and displeasure at Google’s decision. I can’t argue with a company’s desire to focus, I don’t have any insider information as to why they made that decision, and I’m not interested in participating in tech punditry theater.

My general feeling is that, if a service that’s valuable goes away, the marketplace will replace it. That’s exactly what happened here. Feedly and several other companies moved very quickly to fill that void. I migrated to Feedly shortly after Google made its announcement, and while the service has some warts, my overall feed reading experience is better than it was with Google Reader. Score one for markets!

Despite my overall apathy toward the shift, I was annoyed to receive a notice this morning saying that Google Alerts no longer supports RSS feeds. I suppose it validates speculation that Google is de-emphasizing RSS, as I see no substantial technical reasons why it should kill what amounts to another serialization format.

So it goes. I’ve decided to use this as an opportunity to find a replacement stalking personal dashboard notification tool. Unlike Google Reader, Google Alerts has been gradually fading on its own for months now, so this is a good excuse to find something better. I’ve already been using Newsle for several months now, which I like quite a bit, but it’s centered around people, and I want something for topics as well.

Any suggestions?