14 Dec 2010

Google Listening Or Are we ready for real-time audioblogging conversations

Author: will | Filed under: blogging, do we really need this, electronic identity, friends, opinion, podcast, technology, twitter

Google Listen is a wonderful android app that gets your podcasts in your ears. It does have a few side-effects; it stops you from listening to music.

Now bear with me on this. It might just be me, but with a constant stream of podcasts that I want to hear, I sort of stopped listening to music. After all, I only have 80 slots, and only so much time I can listen to things. But let me go back a bit…

Google Listen is an Android App that ties in with Google Reader. Once the app connects to your reader account you discover that you have a new folder called “Listen Subscriptions”. Any correctly formatted blog post with an MP3 file (I said correctly formatted @enormous) in that folder will get the files scrapped in to the Listen app and it will download and queue it. It seems to work with M4A files too (@MajorNelson audio works however all the links are just a mess of notes. Add a bit more spacing for legibility next time).

However the details of an audio file are small. The actually audio files are much larger. Lets put it this way, if a picture costs a thousand words, then audio costs about ten pictures a second. And over a mobile network, with all the limits most of the carriers apply. Well lets just say that data packets can cost a packet if you exceed your limit. Fortunately you can make Google Listen only download the audio files while connected to a wi-fi connection.

Free wifi is not ubiquitous. And most “advert fronted” wi-fi nodes stop the audio downloads cold (they make Listen download the advert, not the audio file). This means that if someone leaves you a personal audioboo message, it might be some time before you can download it.

Listen also imposes a limit to the number of files you can download.This makes sense if you are running out of memory space on your device (Android has jumped to tablets, and one or two netbooks). The current maximum is eighty files. Not eighty megabytes but eighty files. To ease this a bit I push the short files, those under ten minutes to the top of the queue every morning (sorry @DoneganGardens, your Sodcast remains in the slow queue). This includes most if not all of my audioboo feed. Once played (or deleted), their slot is free for another file. This means that there is at least a delay of a day before I hear a personal message.

What does this delay mean. I means that one-to-many or personal messages audio in search of a reply don’t get heard until the next day. And a response could be delayed even further depending on how much you can afford to reply with over-the-air audio. Even if I was connected to wi-fi constantly, I suspect I wouldn’t push those short audio files for an immediate listen either.

Brian Greene asked if using the likes of pub-sub-hub for audio blogging would make audio-file chat more likely to happen. The problem isn’t simply technology. Its cost, and lifestyle. And yes technology. Costs can come down, technology will reduce the amount of time before you can listen to near zero. But it takes time to listen. It takes time to find the time to listen.

At the moment, this isn’t the time for real-time discrete audio file chatting. Its as much as lifestyle as it is technology. Real-time audio chatting is better on a one-to-one connection, such as a phone call or a skype chat. Even something like a Kinect video chat party conference is a possibility. These are a “stop what you are doing and talk to someone” technology, or synchronous. Swapping audio files, even in a public forum is closer to non-synchronous technology such as e-mail. Or voice mail. Audioboo makes a twitter public style version of voicemail, but its non-synchronous. Meaning it can wait while you do something else.

So my answer is “no”. I’m not saying “not-yet”, I’m saying “no”. Its because actively seeking to hear all new comments is a very active choice in a mostly passive medium. Netbooks are an example of “good enough” technology. They are not the latest and greatest, they are small, light and cheap enabling a lot of functionality in a convenient form-factor for a lot of tasks. Non-realtime audio-blogging is “good enough”. Mainly because you are recording a message.

Recording an audio message implies that its not urgent, its passive. A phone call is an attempt to form an active connection. An e-mail is a fire-and-forget leave it until you are ready connection. A podcast, even a personal one, is a style of communication that can wait. And audio-blogging is such an example. It will never be as current as sending a tweet.

Otherwise you are chatting. And if you want to chat… chat.

But let me ask you to do a test. Get a text-to-speech application. Send your real-time, pushed twitter feed to it. Its noisy. Literally noisy. That is the possible end result if everyone tried to real-time audio-blog. You would need to stop the feed to reply. Even the fire-hose of video bloggers on YouTube know that immediate chat is not possible. Life and a mixture of more feed than there are hours of the day get in the way. Besides, the consumption of this video feed is not a real-time push, but a I’m-ready-for-it-now pull.

As a technology, its great for breaking news. Real-time release of news-in-the-field is a wonderful thing. However, the people actively listening for that real-time push is few. News organizations and news junkies would love it. And then they curate that feed. The old slow systems are not just a “good enough” technology for most, may actually be chosen by preference.

If the technology becomes widespread, then to manage it, you’ll have to do what many do with twitter. Watch some in real-time. Watch and later read a few twitter feeds that are personally important to them, and leave all the others go in to the ether of the web until a search finds them.

I’m just not too sure that its what the advocates of audio-blogging are actually looking for.

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3 Responses to “Google Listening Or Are we ready for real-time audioblogging conversations”

  1. WillKnott.ie » Blog Archive Says:

    […] post has moved to “Google Listening” (because I forgot to title it. Really shouldn’t blog late at […]

  2. Enormous Says:

    Hey Will,

    Thanks for the heads up! Any chance you could send me a grab of what you are seeing so I can fix it up all nice? Thanks a mil!

  3. WillKnott.ie » Blog Archive » Listen while you push on Says:

    […] LBC’s topic this week is “Listen”. As much of a nerd that I am, I’ve already written about my favourite Google app, namely Google Listen. So instead I want to to listen to the music… of games. The Escapist : Extra Credits : […]

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