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The blogged wandering of Robert W. Anderson

The xPod

I listened to the Dave Winer / Peter Rojas / Jason Calacanis on their ideas for a podcast player (from CalacanisCast Beta 7).

Several points (as a follow on to my previous post):

  • I better grok why DRM kills this project. It just isn’t necessary for a podcast receiver, the complexity is too heavyweight, etc.
  • I think I’m coming around to the “no synchronization” approach. But only if the device can get all of its own content directly. If your desktop machine has to be a conduit for it; then synch is a necessary evil. That said, I would hate to have to use the device to enter feed URLs. Better would be to address a web server on the device with a UI that you can access from your desktop (or your smartphone) — of course, this opens up a whole different can of worms.
  • Dave Winer calls this device the xPod. I like it. Of course, Apple has shown that they won’t allow products with the word “Pod” in them. Why not call it the xRadio? Dave Winer says that this is like an Internet radio afterall. Or how about myRadio?

There was some discussion of the economics of the cheap device versus the powerful versus the right device. I’m with Dave Winer on this one. We want the right device, but I think that comes down to the software.

So, why worry about the hardware right now? Why not first write the software?

Here is what I think:

  1. Choose the existing software platform. Probably Rockbox, but also could be WM5 or Palm OS or Mobile Linux.
  2. Build the player and recorder software on this platform.
  3. Let hardware geeks get this to run on their existing devices.
  4. Then (and only then) revisit making a hardware reference platform and then (possibly) getting involved in manufacturing.

Like Peter Rojas says: Rockbox could use a champion. These 3 guys could easily be it. Spec out the software for this, get it written (for money or by open source contributors). People will adopt it.

This is one case where I think if you build it, they will come.

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A better audio device

I’ve been following (fellow ex-Gang member) Jason Calacanis on building a better iPod.  This concept strikes home for me because I’m the kind of “power-user” geek that doesn’t own an iPod because it isn’t flexible enough for me.  In the past I looked seriously into other products and decided that nothing out there would handle the things I wanted.

Jason says his key features are:

1. Open source software.
2. Wifi
3. No DRM
4. Removeable media (i.e. Compact Flash)
5. Preloaded with three shows from the top 200 podcasts

My key features are:

  1. Open source software.  Because I think only a community of audio geeks can create something flexible enough for me.
  2. Great tagging support.  I am an “album oriented rock” kind of guy.  I want my music to play back in the right order; and more elusively, I want my albums to be sorted in the right order.  After all, Magical Mystery Tour came out after Sgt. Pepper’s.  Not the other way around.  Tags (specifically ALBUMSORT) can solve this problem.
  3. Full synchronization between the device and a desktop player.  I want playlists, ratings, tags, tracks, etc., to flow between the two.  Of course, this means that there needs to be “don’t sync” and “smart sync” options for tracks / albums / tags so the desktop player isn’t constantly flooding the device.
  4. Recording function.  Podcasts on the go.
  5. Bookmarking podcasts.  It should remember your position in a track even if you play something else and then go back to it.

What I don’t care about:

  1. DRM.  Let there be DRM.  I see that Dave Winer is out if there is any DRM, but I don’t get why DRM kills the project.  I honestly don’t care because I’ll never use it.  The iPod doesn’t force you to use DRM.  The iTunes store does.  I know everyone wants a DRM-free online purchasing experience.  I am not voting for DRM and I don’t desire it, but I don’t see it as a player issue.

Nice to haves:

  1. Wifi.  Yes, it would be cool for synchronization through Wifi.  Sharing podcasts through Wifi cool too.  A must?  Nah.
  2. Removable media.  This would be cool.  I imagine Jason is talking about additional storage (so, it comes with x Gigs, but you can add additional storage with a CF card).
  3. Preloaded with podcasts is a cool marketing idea. 
  4. It is also a PDA phone.  OK, kind of a joke, but I really only want one device.  This begs the question: is new hardware necessary?  How about just a killer mobile app running on WM5?  All storage on removable media (not cheap, but dropping in price all the time).

Anyway, this is really fun stuff.  I just love gadgets.

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Better Bad News Riffs on Gang

Gillmor Gang Smackdown draws a crowd as tech talk gets rowdy at Better Bad News.

I listened to see if my voice of reason made the cut — it didn’t.  Rseason doesn’t entertain.

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Defending Pragmatism

On the recent Gillmor Gang (MidTail Gang), you can catch me disagreeing with Jason Calacanis on rollups. He argues that only “loser” entrepreneurs sell their companies into rollups.

I argued that this is simplistic — that sometimes a rollup is the best choice for a company to make. He conceded that in a weak market (and again, if you are a loser), this might be the way to go.

Interesting that Jason articulates his point purely in terms of the entrepreneur: if you are strong, you find a way to win or fail trying.

Failure is a part of being an entrepreneur, but successful companies are made up of more than just the entrepreneur(s).

What about other stakeholders? What if the options are: “fail” or “rollup”? Your employees all get jobs and maybe the investors get to let their money ride.

I think that this will always feel like losing to the entrepreneur. This will never be the grand vision he or she was working towards. But winning and losing is not so black and white.

Am I defending a loser mentality? No, I think I’m just defending pragmatism.

Disclaimer: I have never been a part of a rollup nor am I seeking one out!

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