Social Enterprise

Podcast Only? No Thanks!

[5/2/2006] Edited to clarify for those who may have missed the original discussion. I am not against podcasts. I am against information being distributed as a podcast but not available in any other format. There is nothing inherently wrong with podcasts as long as that information is available in a text format in addition to the podcast, or if the podcast provides a unique value proposition.

This blog is written in response to the comment thread for Don't be lazy: Communicate with your end users.

I am with Palmetto on this one. I refuse to use podcasts (along with RSS and many other "Web 2.0" hocus pocus). I can read approximately 10 times faster than anyone (save the guy who did the Micro Machines ads) can talk. I can read the script for a 90 minute movie in about 10 minutes, typically. I can read a 1,000 page book in about 10 hours. Listening is the least efficient form of knowledge transfer for me. Reading is the most efficient. Like many others, I can read an article at my desk, even if on the phone or waiting for another process to finish. If I am interrupted, I just remember where I was, re-read the preceeding paragraph or sentence, and continue, as opposed to having to shuttle back and forth to jog my memory.

Furthermore, this is the Internet, not the radio. Text is the lowest common denominator. Satisfy the LCD first, and then worry about the high-end users or special need users. This is Reason #4,562 why I am against AJAX; it fails on the LCD test. If your information cannot be used within Lynx, throw it out, it is worthless. Even someone who uses a screen reader (such as the blind or vision impaired) is equally well served by a text document as they are a podcast. A deaf person cannot use a podcast at all, whereas they can read text. Do you mean to not have your message be accessed by the deaf? If I owned a store that a handicapped person could not enter for whatever reason, I would be in deep trouble as per Federal law. Your online business should operate the same way. No excuses. Call me silly, call me crazy, but I do not turn away business because I wanted a fancy widget that deprived 5% of my potential customers of the chance to give me their money.

The only time a podcast (or any other audio-only presentation of information) adds any value is when the voice itself provides information that cannot be easily or adequately transcribed (vocal inflection, information about music with sample clips, sarcastic remarks, etc.). I do not have an iPod or similar device, and if I did I might not have a way of hooking it up to my car stereo, where I listen to most of my audio stuff. What do you propose I do? Burn the podcast to CD to listen in my car? I will not do that, and neither will anyone else most likely.

In your article itself, you state:

"In this 5-minute podcast, I explain why there is no substitute for good communication and offer a little advice for using three common communication methods: e-mail, voice mail, and face-to-face contacts."

Offering a podcast without a transcript (or at least a summary of the salient points) is pretty lazy. I have a problem with my hands, wrists, and eyes. Even at my age, typing, especially at the end of the day, is extremely painful to me physically. Yet I do it anyways, because that is the best way to communicate on the Web, and I communicate via the Web. I would love to simply be a lecturer or a radio or TV personality, but I am not. I put up with the pain in order to provide the best possible service to my readers.

Remember, we (the audience) are the customer. If we are unable to use or consume your product, no matter how good it may be, you will not be able to sell it. Period. This is why I spend so many bytes in my blogs discussing basic usability. Poor user interfaces equal low market share, regardless of how good the product is (look at Linux in the desktop market). Of course, great user interfaces do not result in great market share (Macs in the desktop market), but a poor interface will always lose to a better interface, unless the product is so good that its value proposition after the hit from usability still makes it substantially more valuable than the more easily used product. It is that simple.



Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.

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