Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Podcasting was supposed to be controlled by the little guy

The Internet and Podcasting was supposed to create a widely level playing ground. Anybody with an ability to record and produce digital audio or video could set up shop as a podcaster. Armed with a small set of digital media production tools, and a web site, one could produce their own equivalent to a radio program, air their own ideas, and stand on their own virtual soapbox and tell the world whatever is on their mind. The iTunes service makes it real easy at the consumer end of the spectrum. Inside iTunes you have access to a vast directory of podcasts, in addition to the audio books or music or TV shows that you can buy through the iTunes Music Store. It's a wonderful world, but what if Apple decides they don't like your content?

Apple's flip-floppy stance on sex Podcasts continues: Discusses Apple's problem with SEX. Maybe thinking differently stops when you get into the bedroom?

When iTunes sprouted the ability to automatically collect podcasts, Steven Jobs apparently said: that pretty much every topic was fair game except "you know, we're not—we're not allowing any pornography." ... except, in practice the iTunes Music Store has been indexing some sex-oriented shows, making the producers label them with an "EXPLICIT" tag. Except, as the article linked above discusses, some producers of EXPLICIT shows have had their shows summarily dropped from the iTunes Music Store.

Of course, once dropped from the music store the listenership to the shows drops precipitously.

I hadn't realized this but the iTunes service probably redistributes the podcast's RSS feed rather than directly subscribing to it. By having iTunes redistribute the RSS feed, they are able to determine the popularity of different feeds. But at the same time that leaves the podcasters, and the listeners, in a lurch should Apple decide to drop some podcast from their directory.

So, at issue is the ability for one entity to determine what we can or cannot watch or listen to.

In this case it is Apple. Through selecting what appears in the iTunes Music Store podcast directory, they determine the content we can easily listen to. Yes, we can eaily browse web sites and directly subscribe to the feed published by the web site. In iTunes when one finds a podcast RSS feed they can get the URL of the feed and using a choice in the Advanced menu make a subscription to that feed. But, in reality, how many people do so? Isn't it a lot easier to click on the music store, browse to the podcast section, and search around in there?

It's not just Apple that has this role. For example when Google decides to drop a web site from its search engine that site generally sees traffic fall dramatically. On my web site statistics over half the traffic comes through search results in Google.

There are certain services that act as gatekeepers. If these services decide to not list some web site, then nobody will know about it. If Apple doesn't list your podcast in the music store, how will people hear of you? Similarly if Google doesn't list you in their directory, then how will people hear of you?

Okay, there are alternative avenues .. there are other search engines besides Google, and there are other podcast directories besides iTunes. However the fact is that the vast majority of traffic goes through Google for general search results, and through iTunes for podcasting.

The Internet was supposed to create a level playing field where everybody has the ability to open up a web site and publish to a global audience. This picture is outside the control of Big Media and Big Corporations, supposedly. As individuals we can decide to spend the $5 per month for a website hosting fee, and set up a web site. No Big Corporation is involved in approving our web site, and it's very liberating for the little guy to have such an ability to speak to the world.

But we have Big Corporations, the like of Apple and Google, deciding who is listed in the commonly used directories and search engines. It is they who are determining what we can or cannot read or listen to.

Today the Prudes are telling them to go after SEX-related web sites. Okay, you probably can't find a lot of people who would defend the SEX-related web sites. But there's that story which sprung from WW II, first they went after the Jews and I am not a Jew so I didn't speak up, etc, until finally they came after me and there was nobody left to speak up for me.

In the U.S. freedom of speach is a core principle.

This picture is one of ... you can shout all you want, but if nobody can hear you then all you'll do is get a hoarse throat and zero effect.

The last thought I want to discuss is the Dirty Old Mens Association International. Quit giggling, it is a real organization with a very interesting set of ideals. The concept is that there is great beauty in the feminine form and one should be free to, if not obligated to, enjoy that beauty wherever and whenever you find it. The site features pictures of naked women, but I challenge you to call it pornography. Artists throughout the ages have depicted naked women in their art, and that's the tradition followed on this site. Celebrating beauty through the feminine form.

A few days ago on their front page was a notice how DOMAI was no longer able to accept payments through PayPal. This is because PayPal's acceptable use agreement prohibits payments for nudity. Okay, fine, here again we have a large corporation deciding what is fit and appropriate for others to view. Interestingly at the same time eBay, PayPal's corporate parent, has a large section of sex-related merchandise listed for sale.

There is a huge difference between the typical images in the sex/porn industry, and the images on the DOMAI web site as well as the high-art images that also pictorialize nude women.

Does nudity automatically mean SEX? No! Nudity can very well be an enjoyment and appreciation for beauty. But the typical images from the sex/porn industry are not geared to appreciate beauty, but instead seem intended to inspire raunch and even a degradation of women.

The laws seem to convey an idea that nudity does mean SEX. But clearly that's not the case. And in any case does discussion of SEX automatically mean that something bad is going to happen?