The big news of the day is that Apple released the newest verson of iTunes. New in this release is built in support for Podcasting. Being the proud owner of a new iPod mini and an avid consumer of Doug Kaye's ITConversations podcast, this is of particular interest to me and I must say that I am impressed with how well it has been integrated into the iTunes user experience.
Last week Odeo.com went live. I signed up, added a few subscriptions, download the syncr and spun the tires a bit. Overall it has been a positive experience with a couple of minor interface issues and two major usability ones. First off, Odeo flattens the repository of available podcasts in a way that loses much of the rich browsing capability provided by the ipodder.org directory making it far more difficult to find podcasts that are of interest to me. While using Odeo, I was more apt to go out and discover the podcast on my own then plug it in to the odeo subscription manager rather than using their tag-based directory. The second major issue is that there appears to be a significant lag in odeo's sync engine. Adam Curry's Gnomedex keynote, for example, did not appear in my Odeo sync list until this morning despite having been available on Adam's blog since Sunday. As an information junkie who likes to stay on top of things, that's a bit too late for my tastes.
In contrast, I installed iTunes 4.9 this morning and immediately added the IT Conversations, For Immediate Release and Daily Source Code podcasts. The interface immediately retrieved the latest 'casts and sync'd them to my iPod. The searching and browsing functions for podcasts is seamless and natural for anyone already familiar with iTunes and while I like where the community features of odeo are going they're going to have a hard time competing with what iTunes has put together but it is definitely possible.
Now to the downside of what iTunes has put together. As several folks have noted, iTunes podcast support comes complete with a new RSS extension that is rather unfortunately pretty specific to iTunes. What's worse is that most of the tags duplicate the function of already existing tags in RSS (and Atom for that matter).
At one point in the iTunes podcasting extensions spec it states that "it is OK if some of the values in these tags duplicate values in similar tags that are part of RSS 2.0 specifications". To which I respond: OK for whom? For iTunes or for the RSS feed producers who have to do extra work to produce duplicate information within their feeds? What if Windows Media Player starts doing podcasting and introduces it's own set of extensions that duplicate RSS 2.0 core elements? Will it be "OK" if a feed uses core RSS 2.0 elements, Yahoo Media RSS elements, the iTunes elements AND (hypothetical) Windows Media Player elements? What if odeo introduced their own namespace that was specific to their service. Would that be "OK"?. Here's a hint: it's not OK.
Technology vendors in this space need to remember something very fundamental: content producers and users are in control. Make their jobs and their lives easier and you're adding value. Fighting over extensions and standards and introducing proprietary extensions that require duplication of effort and data doesn't make anyone's job or life easier.