Mopodcasting and Other Gratuitousness

Language evolves. New words arise to meet changing needs, old ones are adapted or discarded along the way, and the faster the change in the area of need, the faster new words arise. And that’s before we get into arguments over functionality illiteracy and laziness being used as an excuse to mangle the language. No really, let’s not. Of course the technology/media/content industry is about the planet’s prime culprit here – if a techie Rip van Winkle had fallen asleep in 1985 and had just come to, he or she would be somewhere twixt boggled and brainfried. But at least ForTran‘s still around…

This time it started with “blogging”, a contracted conflation (contraflation?) of “web logging”, itself a verbification of something many of us had been doing for years, quite happily and without feeling the need for the naming of names – the doing of things being more important. In essence though, “blogging” is the creation of dynamically updated web site content through the medium of an automated content management system. It’s perception ranges from being the reinvention of journalism in a post-post-literate society to a vanity publishing tool for the geek-at-heart. Of course, these are not mutually exclusive. What it has done is to create a massive and large accessible resource of information and opinion, plus mechanisms for its distribution and connection, which contains essential lessons for organisations in today’s emergent and adaptive environments. Polemic over for the moment and back to the -oggness of things:

After blogging came moblogging, voblogging, audioblogging, videoblogging and probably a load more I haven’t encountered. Now we have the latest mot-de-jour – podcasting – another name for a function that is a Homeric component of any system with a pretension to ubiquitous information delivery. In short, it’s simply the means of more-or-less automatically downloading compatible content from a web site to an iPod or similar device, for listening at leisure.

So another small step on the way to ubiquity is to now put a couple of buzzwords together and come up with, ah, mopodcasting – not actually something you do when annoyed with a small motorcycle, but the logical portmanteau of moblogging and podcasting – with this I can create any content I choose on a mobile device – audio, video, pictures, deep pan pizza, and send them directly to my web site, leaving behind nothing but a few crumbs and the lingering smell of pepperoni. That’s the blogging bit, only slightly confused with my lunch. The sneaky part was simply to adapt the moblogging software to provide the information that the podcasting software needs to create a syndication feed that tells podcast-aware newsreaders to download that which I’ve just created.

And I’ve just realised that the last sentence contained very little that could be regarded as standard English. So a little explanation may be in order:

Syndication feed: Search engines are fine and good. But, for the most part, they know nothing about the content of what’s being searched. If only they understood a bit more, this would, most feel, be a good thing in the battle to minimise information overload – if a machine can actually do part of the knowing of what’s what and why, then do at least part of the filtering process before we see anything, then it helps, a little at least. Over the last few years, a number of standards have emerged to help do exactly that – create structures around information that tell other machines what the context of the content is. If you come across the term “semantic web“, that’s a high-falutin’ way of saying the same thing. Anyway, I digress (again): a syndication feed is simply the content of all or part of your web site that’s had the structures of one of those standards wrapped around it, so that other systems can make some sort of sense of it. If you see the terms RSS, RDF or Atom, they’re all different but related ways of presenting semantic information. All of these are based on the XML (eXtended Markup Language) which developed out of HTML, both of those being variants of SGML from the 1970s. There ain’t nuffink new.

Newsreader: In the bad old days, we had news groups. These were essentially discussion fora, where every contribution to a group was copied to different servers across the Internet over a period of days (for context, remember that even until the early 90s, many servers communicated with each other by dialling up overnight on analogue phone lines). It’s a system that, while still extant, largely fell apart with the coming of real bandwidth, online bulletin boards and newsgroup spam. There even used to be a central authority for deciding whether you could set up a new news group. Then, a newsreader was a piece of software that attempted to provide some sort of usable interface to the news system. Nowadays a newsreader is a piece of software that takes the syndication feeds (qv) from other sites and attempts to provide some sort of concise presentation of the contents. It will automatically update itself as the content on those sites changes and will often attempt to categories what it finds on the basis of the content. A podcast-aware newsreader is simply one that will recognise the tags in the feed that tell it to take poddable content and download it automatically to your iPod client, be it iTunes or another of its ilk.

So podcasting uses a web site’s syndication feeds to tell a newsreader to download audio content to somewhere whence it can be transferred to a person’s MP3 player. Mopodcasting is then the logical extension of the creation process to automatically take content created on the hoof and pass it through to the web server in that form. The word is frivolous, but the feature useful – see below for a couple of demonstration entries.

Now it only remains to have something to say that’s worth people’s time in the listening. That’s the really tricky part…

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