Are you still travelling the world without an MP3 player? Are you mad? From the practical to the profane, the professional to the puerile, Gary Marshall reveals his top 30 tech podcasts, guaranteed to improve your in-flight entertainment.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could turn the tedium of travel into something more interesting? Thanks to podcasting, you can. The number 119 bus is no longer a dodgy diesel of alienation, despair and olfactory atrocities, but an aural adventure! The tube, no longer a sardine can of potential suicides - it’s now a comedy club! Cycle to work? Why not absorb some Photoshop as well as particulates?
Podcasts, then, are web pages for your ears - and in some cases, for your eyes. From expert analysis to practical PHP and surreal silliness, no matter what you’re into, there’s a podcast that’s perfect for you, and over the next few pages, we’ll share our top 30 favourites, revealing which tech podcast will provide you with the greatest listening experience.
Paul Boag wants “to help you poor sods who have been lumbered with the job of managing the company’s website.” This means in-depth looks at ecommerce, getting better Google listings, the importance of web standards and the odd mention of Bagpuss.
Although this tech podcast aims to sell online training courses, each episode provides a simple, self-contained tutorial covering something useful in Flash, such as creating hover controls or pop-up movie windows.
It’s hosted by Rubyonrails.org, so there’s the inevitable cheerleading. But if you’re interested in how Ruby developers built their site, what problems they overcame and what protocols they plumped for, this podcast (or its transcripts, which are available on the same site) will be an invaluable resource.
Photoshop TV is a slick affair that persuades guests such as Adobe to share their top tips. It’s available in two forms - online Fl ash video or iTunes download - and while it will play on an iPod, it’s best viewed on a decent screen so you can see what’s going on.
The programme itself is excellent, with clear screens and a yack track that’s friendly without being overly whacky. There’s a decent range of subjects, too, with recent episodes covering cutouts, Smart Objects, colour replacement and photography tips. It’s perhaps a little basic for real Photoshop pros, but there’s plenty here for beginner and intermediate user alike.
Here’s one for the pros: Creative Suite expert Terry White provides advice on getting the best from Acrobat, Bridge, GoLive, Illustrator, InDesign and of course, Photoshop. If you’re looking for basic tips, this isn’t the tech podcast for you, but if you want to know the ins and outs of PDF preflighting, Acrobat forms workfl ow or GoLive CSS, there’s lots of useful advice and information right here.
Michael Murphy is a veteran art director with an encyclopedic knowledge of Adobe’s InDesign, and his vidcasts are aimed at users who want to find easier, faster or more productive ways of getting the job done. The programmes come in two versions: one for desktop viewing and one for iPod owners “with really good eyes”.
Diggnation is a simple idea: two men, two laptops, plenty of beer and the most interesting stuff to appear on Digg. It’s essentially no-budget footage of a pair of geeks riffing about anything that comes into their head, and whether you love or loathe Diggnation will depend on whether you find Kevin Rose amusing or irritating. If you fall into the former camp, Diggnation is like a video call from some fairly demented friends, and if you fall into the latter, it’s a live-action Beavis and Butthead who wonder who would win in a fight between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates (the answer, apparently, is that Jobs would be winning until the CIA came along and killed him).
Rocketboom is one of the best-known video podcasts, which is in no way due to web geeks thinking, “Blimey! It’s a girl! And she’s talking to me!” It’s one of the more professional video podcasts and looks like a low-budget TV news programme. And while it’s nice to see something that wasn’t filmed on a bedroom shakycam, Joanne Colan’s delivery sometimes seems rather scripted and stilted. Still, the content’s good: a quick look at new sites, daft stuff found online and, on the day before Hallowe’en, how to make your own floating head.
If you only know Penny Arcade for its gaming cartoons, you’re missing out: Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins are smart chaps with plenty to say, not just about gaming, but about pop culture and tech in general. The podcast is endearingly lo-fi- it sounds like you’re eavesdropping on two friends blethering rather than listening to a programme, and podcasts often start in mid-sentence. Yet it serves up smart commentary on devices (Microsoft’s Zune gets a skewering, Nintendo’s Wii gets a more enthusiastic welcome) and of course, games.
Major Nelson works for Microsoft on the Xbox Live team, so don’t expect completely unbiased commentary - he’s unlikely to say that the PS3 kicks the Xbox 360’s arse, even if that turns out to be true - but Nelson’s day job means he gets access to key gaming figures such as the developers of Gears of War. If you don’t own an Xbox and don’t care about forthcoming games, you’ll be bored to tears despite Nelson’s enthusiastic delivery, but it’s a firm favourite among fanboys. Nelson calls his podcast a ‘blogcast’, because ‘podcast’ makes you think ‘iPod’, and we can’t have that - and delivers it in Windows Media format, which, of course, doesn’t play on iPods. Good old Microsoft.
The Eurogamer site eschews fanboyism and rumour-mongering to provide a decent look at the latest gaming hardware and software, and that tradition carries across to its podcast, although the sound quality is often ropey. The most recent podcast featured a three-way chat which was often bordering on the inaudible. And some pieces, such as the discussion on Sony’s crackdown on online importers, go on way too long.
The clue’s in the name: PC Gamer is all about PC gaming, although the podcast spends most of its time responding to cheeky comments from subscribers, and providing relationship advice for hardcore gamers.
The BBC’s Digital Planet show is a bright and breezy look at consumer tech. The production quality is excellent, and the BBC can attract big names. For example, in October’s look at gaming, the show featured legendary developer David Braben of Elite fame, a spokesman for the British Board of Film Classification and the UK’s only professional gaming team.
Merlin Mann’s 43 Folders is the number one site for adherents of lifehacking, and his podcast covers key productivity issues such as organising email, banishing procrastination and minimising stress. It embodies the Getting Things Done ethos. If you listen to the Productive Talk podcasts, you’ll find them to be fast, fat-free and genuinely useful, and Mann himself is an engaging presenter.
There are stacks of Mac podcasts, but most of them are American and the US-centric focus can become wearing after a while. Enter Blighty’s own MacFormat, which offers straight talking on key issues as well as a useful ‘ask the experts’ feature. The fact that the MacFormat team sits across from us, knows where we live and threatened to slash our tyres if we didn’t include their tech podcast, has no connection with their listing here.
The world’s favourite Mac-related podcast is relentlessly cheery and realises that the world doesn’t end at the US coast. There’s chemistry between hosts Shawn and Lesa, and while the podcast is ostensibly about Macs, it’s really an excuse for them to talk about pretty much anything.
Windows podcasts are still relatively thin on the ground, but Paul Thurrott of Windows Supersite fame has teamed up with This Week In Tech’s Leo Laporte to deliver a PC podcast that’s just as geeky as its Mac equivalents.
Thurott knows his stuff and Laporte’s great at keeping conversation flowing, so if you’re looking for in-depth discussions about Vista, security and service packs, Windows Weekly comes highly recommended.
Engadget’s podcast has the same ups and downs as its parent site: the ups include an irreverent attitude, lack of snobbery and very detailed information on the latest tech, while the downs include a relentless US focus that means some of the discussions are utterly irrelevant to UK listeners. But that’s what the fast forward button was invented for.
Steve Gillmor’s heavyweight team - featuring luminaries such as blogging titan Jason Calacanis and TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington - are a serious bunch, and they talk about serious things such as online business strategies. It’s rather dry for our tastes, but if you are interested in the business side of the Net then it’s a key podcast that regularly features the Net’s big hitters.
Another serious site for serious people: IT Conversations features discussions such as “do bloggers have an impact on customer support?” “What’s Sun doing with Apache?” and “Who owns the rights to user-created content on the internet?” Be warned, though: some of the podcasts include jazz.
Another serious site for serious people: IT Conversations features discussions such as “do bloggers have an impact on customer support?” “What’s Sun doing with Apache?” and “Who owns the rights to user created content on the Internet?” Be warned, though: some of the podcasts include jazz.
A UK tech podcast featuring “games, tech, whatever” and dishing out its “cock of the week” award to deserving targets. What’s not to like?
Steve Gibson’s a well-known figure in internet security circles, and for this podcast, he teams up with Leo Laporte for an in-depth discussion of computer security threats. Although it claims to be useful for any computer user, it’s a bit too deep for the average punter, unless you’re really interested in "the security implications and applications of virtualisation and virtual machines."
Like many big-name US podcasts, the science magazine’s programmes suffer from annoying adverts and the occasional story that’s irrelevant to people outside America. But with topics ranging from airline safety to the best new gadgets, it’s still worth the download.
Helmed by august tech commentator John C Dvorak, Cranky Geeks lives up to its name by getting a bunch of jaded tech hacks to comment on issues such as electronic votingcomment on issues such as electronic voting, protecting kids from porn and whether the net’s a haven for hooligans.
The Web Drifter podcast has a fantastic premise: web addict (and .net columnist) Martin Sargent visits his favourite bookmarks, but instead of visiting sites online, he goes there in real life to interview the site owners. The first episode features Alex Chiu, who claims to have found the key to immortality, but sadly he died halfway through recording. Only kidding.
The founder of Lockergnome.com and host of the Gnomedex geekfest seems to be interested in everything, which is perhaps why his podcasts cover a huge range of topics. One day, he’s talking about making money from online music, the next, he’s interviewing the founders of comedy site JibJab. Like the best presenters, Pirillo’s key talent isn’t chatting - it’s knowing when to shut up and let his interviewees talk.
Make Magazine is all about making stuff, and it’s geek central: recent features showed you how to make a spud gun, a programmable LED pumpkin and, er, grocery-powered vehicles. Even if like us, your DIY attempts tend to generate fl ames and screaming it’s still worth tuning in for Bre Pettis' infectious enthusiasm.
Remember Scooby Doo, where every episode involved driving around in a van and solving mysteries? The Web 2.0 Show is identical, although instead of a van, it uses Skype, and instead of solving mysteries, it interviews Web 2.0 developers.
We argue about most things in the .net office, but when it came time to choose the best tech podcast, there was no disagreement: it had to be TWiT.
This Week in Tech is probably the most famous tech podcast online. When host Leo Laporte recently suggested that TWiT’s days may be numbered, users of sites such as Digg suffered a collective heart attack. The good news is that the positive response has re-energised Laporte, a superb host whose podcasts are fast, well-informed and consistently entertaining, and he’s continuing to serve up a mix of informed opinion and fast-moving chat for his hundreds of thousands of listeners.
We asked Leo to share the secrets of his success. “It helps to be the host of a cult cable channel [Tech TV] for six years, have the channel cancelled abruptly and then wait for the pent-up demand to build,” he laughs. "But beyond that, I have no idea. I’m always surprised by how many people listen, in so many countries."
While radio shows benefit from an army of behind-the-scenes staff who research, edit, produce and engineer the programmes, podcasts such as TWiT don’t have that luxury. “It’s a lot of work and we’re doing it uncompensated,” Leo explains. "Ultimately, I’d like to get help doing this, but the problem is that there’s no money in it. I can’t hire people to do a job until we’ve got money coming in. I expect it to be a viable business down the road, but until then, I have to do it myself."
TWiT was one of the first high-profile podcasts to run advertising. With some podcasts charging for downloads (Ricky Gervais', for instance), does Laporte think free-with-ads is the best way to generate cash? “Ricky learnt very quickly that people weren’t going to pay for podcasts,” Laporte says. "He went from 400,000 subscribers for the free version to pretty much nothing for the paid one."
As Laporte explains, there are three ways to make money from podcasting, “or four if you include doing it for free, which is what most podcasters do,” he says. "If you’re trying to make money, you either charge people for the podcast, you put advertising in the podcast, or you ask for donations. People have been very generous, but they were only one or two per cent of the audience. That isn’t enough to pay a salary for me, let alone anybody else, so advertising really seems like the only route. If the advertisers are carefully chosen, and if they’re people we already know, love and use and we can honestly recommend them, then it’s not ideal, it’s probably not even my first choice, but it seems like the only way to make this viable."
So does Laporte have any advice for potential podcasters? “The best podcasts are created out of love, enthusiasm and passion, and that’s the reason to podcast,” he says. "Do it because you love it, not because you want to get rich."