The first all-podcast network, ITConversations, founded by Doug Kaye in 2003, has stopped producing new episodes. When it shut down last month, the network had nearly a decade and about 3,300 episodes across many shows and topics of interest to information technology professionals. But Kaye’s influence was much broader than the particulars of any given podcast.
Kaye started the network before the term “podcast” had even been coined. His intent was to create downloadable audio programs, starting with conference events, as sufficient bandwidth, interest, and audience had developed, but without trying to cash in on the proposition. In the process, he shared pretty much everything he learned with listeners and the world at large. Most of the work has been done by volunteers.
Podcasting transformed ITConversations from links on a Web page into an audio publishing stream by integrating audio enclosures directly into RSS news feeds which could, in turn, be automatically imported into iTunes. (Syndication and auto-import were Dave Winer’s and Adam Curry’s big ideas.) The ability to obtain podcast episodes automatically and store them in a program like iTunes made it vastly easier to attract a substantial audience, and Kaye was one of the very first to integrate the necessary technical pieces in his feed. IT professionals were more likely to install the scripts and early software, making his topics a perfect fit, too.
Kaye was also responsible for the creation of The Levelator, which we use at TidBITS to improve the audio quality of our podcasts (“PodBOT Improves TidBITS Audio,” 7 May 2012). The Levelator turns a podcast that may have many different input levels — from a local mic, a remote Skype party, a patched-in phone call, and others — into an audio file with a consistent loudness. That is, all parties sound about the same volume, including lows and highs, so listeners don’t need to constantly fiddle with the volume for comfortable playback. Kaye’s audio engineer colleagues, notably Bruce and Malcolm Sharpe, developed an audio normalization utility that eventually became The Levelator and was released for free. It was a great gift to the Internet that keeps on giving.
Kaye turned over day-to-day management of ITConversations to Phil Windley back in 2006, but stayed deeply involved. I had some great conversations with Kaye back when I was planning and launched a short series of podcasts for my Wi-Fi Networking News blog (I recorded 26 episodes in 2006). He was generous with his time and insight and offered to host the podcast at ITConversations. Windley is also one of the Internet’s good guys, more interested in sharing his expertise broadly than hoarding his hard-won knowledge. Both Kaye and Windley wrote notes about the end of the run back in August and September 2012; I only heard the news recently when they announced the final episodes. The two of them had a final conversation — in podcast form, naturally! — on 3 December 2012.
Why did it shut down? To quote Kaye:
We’ve helped event producers and podcasters to create and publish programs themselves, and increasingly that’s what they’re doing. There simply isn’t as great a need for a service like The Conversations Network. So we’ve decided to complete our mission by helping our remaining partners continue their podcasts on their own Web sites.
So here’s to Doug Kaye and Phil Windley! The Internet has long been associated with generous spirits, and they are two of the best, having helped thousands of podcasters and millions of listeners along with their crew of over 200 paid and unpaid staff who worked on podcasts across the years. Let’s not be sad that ITConversations has put into the Internet Archive’s dry dock; rather, let’s celebrate that it launched a thousand new voices.