Audio Books Living Menlo Park Walking

The Couple

On my morning walks around the pond, I often see a married couple taking their own constitutional. They walk in perfect sync, stepping in time as if trained in a military march. In their right hands—always the right—they clutch large mugs emitting wisps of steam. Their elbows press close to their sides, steadying the mugs as they promenade along.

Every so often, maybe every 100 yards or so, some invisible signal makes them halt in unison. They raise their mugs and take long sips, black coffee I envision, turning to each other to exchange a few private words before pivoting in tandem to continue their measured pace.

This morning, while watching the couple’s syncopated steps carry them farther from view, I listened to Meryl Streep narrate Ann Patchett’s new novel Tom Lake on my headphones. She read a passage set at a Traverse City cherry farm, describing a summer visit before the harvest. The lush depiction of endless orchards with lush green grass under the trees heavy with green fruit made a lovely soundtrack for my walk through the neighborhood.

It was a peaceful start to the day, with the air very still and heavy with humidity. High overcast clouds blanketed the sky in an unbroken slate grey. The solemn couple marching away added a faint visual rhythm to accompany the cadence of Streep’s voice recounting the verdant cherry trees. I found myself wishing I could capture the mood of this moment – the mingled sights and sounds that made it so uniquely serene.



I’ve been thinking about podcasting a bit, doing some listening around, trying to find what’s interesting.

I’ve got a very short commute — so there’s simply no time to listen in the car on the way to work.

When I’m not traveling (fortunately, most of the time!), my listening time is a tradeoff basically with my reading time. Sometimes, I can overlap the two — reading out of one eye while listening out of one ear. Sometimes I can’t — insufficient mental bandwidth! When I’m listening in this mode, it’s on my PowerBook at home, not on my iPod.

When I am traveling, I do listen to my iPod alot — music mostly but words sometimes — basically because I hate the weight of paper and typically just don’t take books or magazines along on flights. For a bunch of reasons, my PowerBook almost always stays in its bag on flights.

After burning some time doing this, reading how Russ’ morning commute was so enhanced by listening to a podcast, etc. it struck me that what’s really different about podcasting is how it further changes the shape of the “long tail” distribution of site popularity as, for example, compared to the same popularity distribution function for text-based weblogs.

Because podcasts are simply so much more difficult for us to find time to listen to (vs. reading/scanning feeds for news and blogs for example), there will naturally be a more significant concentration of popularity among those few who are committed to the format in a way that actually builds a repeat audience. For the rest of the podcasters, the tails will be very long and slim, much longer and slimmer than in the blogosphere.

A few folks seem to be way out in front of this natural law — notably Doug Kaye with his IT Conversations. For most of Doug’s content, for example, I can see IT professionals deciding its worthwhile for them to listen to his podcasts at work — not at home, not in the car or the airplane but in the office. [Update: See Doug’s comments here about folks listening while exercising, etc.]

It’s going to be fun to watch how what amounts to a new “competition for our time” shapes up. In addition to reputation systems, what are the other business opportunities that might flow from podcasting?

Or, is podcasting just CB radio all over again?

Note to self: A credible podcast reputation system seems to be sorely lacking! Who’s going to be the Arbitron for podcasts? Where’s my Listener’s Guide? Does Ben Fong-Torres care about podcasting? How about Tim O’Reilly and O’Reilly Media — who’s usually shown up very early at parties like this?