Is Inconsistency The New Mass Media?

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Just before recording the latest episode of Six Pixels of Separation – The Twist Image Podcast this weekend, I had two thoughts:

1. What am I going to record this week?

2. What am I going to Blog about?

I record the Podcast every week (usually, sometime over the weekend, and I post it on Sunday). I also Blog just about every day (some days, I simply don’t get around to posting, so I do a little something I call, Retro-Blogging, where I post the Blog stuff on the date it was intended to be read). It all reminded me of the days before Blogs (remember those?), when I would head into the local magazine shop and hope that a new edition of one of my favourite magazine was available.

There was consistency in mass media (there still is). It’s pretty easy to predict when the issue of Wired Magazine is going to hit the stands, or when 60 Minutes will air. You can also tell when the daily news is on TV, and you can set your clock by the arrival of the daily newspaper.

Why do those involved in creating content for the Social Media channels (Blogs, Podcasts, etc…) fall into that same trap of creating a regular schedule? I know, I know, you hear all of the time that the beauty of these channels is that you can Blog or Podcast when you want, and for as long as you want, but those who do not update frequently and regularly, seem to always be teetering on the extinction side of Digital Darwinism. It’s hard to build audience is you’re not consistently Podcasting or Blogging.

Can you really build your community if you only tweet on twitter once every week or so? The norm used to be that you could Blog as infrequently as once a week. Does that still hold true? (I fear not).

To a certain degree, I think we do need to get back that Willie-Nilly vibe of doing it when it feels right, versus doing it because you feel like it’s expected (I grapple with this constantly). Isn’t that the reason mass media bores us? It’s their constant need to "feed the machine."

What if we only Blogged when it was really pent up? What if we only created a Podcast when we had something that had to be said? What if we are, in fact, just creating more pieces of content that have similar traits to the general mass media?

What would Mass Media really look like if it only came out when the media sources had something really important to say? (stop laughing).

I’ve been following a lot of Blogs and listening to a lot of Podcasts (including my own) and, as independent and unique as they all are, they do have many similarities to Mass Media channels – from voice and content, to production schedule and monetization schemes.

Can we break that cycle, or are we trapped in the Mass Media Complex?

And, the last thought (that really sparked this Blog posting), can inconsistency ever, really, become the new consistency?


  1. I think the problem is that we don’t have mass adoption of RSS yet. Many blog readers (even within the social media/digital marketing space) are still checking for new content the old fashioned way — by using their bookmarks.
    After several days or weeks of not seeing anything new, they move along. Blog publisher sees that his hits, comments and links are drying up and panics. He resumes posting on a daily basis, and traffic goes up again.
    As an RSS subscriber, I don’t care how often someone posts, as long as they have something intelligent or useful to say when they do. There’s lots of people who I wish would post/tweet/podcast less, as they just seem to be generating noise rather than value.
    I recently cleaned up my Bloglines and Twitter accounts, and the ones with a high noise to signal ratio got cut. I can’t say I’m missing them at all, and if they really do have something important to say then I’m sure I’ll hear about it elsewhere.

  2. I have been struggling with this question for probably the last two years or more.
    When I started my podcast, I was at university and I had a flexible schedule, so I could do a show a week. I could even do two or three shows a week when I had the time and inclination.
    Now two and a half years later my situation is much different. I work full time, sometimes late and maintaining a regular schedule is difficult.
    Most of the articles I’ve read on the subject and in fact most of the people I talk to tell me that a regular schedule is the most important thing. But where does show quality rank against the schedule?
    I need time to be creative and think about an interesting show topic, I could crank out boring shows frequently, but I don’t feel comfortable with that.
    On the other hand, as a listener of podcasts, I find it annoying when a show doesn’t come out when I expect it.
    Perhaps it comes down to managing expectations. Don’t commit to a schedule you can’t keep. Either alter the schedule or remove it. I worry about how a lack of a schedule can affect the success of a show, but I guess it comes down to how you define success.

  3. @Colin Fast: You make a good point that I hadn’t considered. I treat my blog subscriptions the same way you do but I feel like my media subscriptions should come with a schedule if they promise it.
    I say all of this knowing full well that I can’t keep a release schedule for my own show to save my life.

  4. I second Colin’s comment about RSS. I think mass adoption of RSS would lead to more flexibility.
    Also, just wanted to throw in another view. Maybe we’re still trapped in the mass media complex because we’re still trying to reach the masses. “It’s hard to build an audience if you’re not consistently Podcasting or Blogging”. But well, is it really about building a larger audience?
    I think if your content is good enough, the right people who are interested in it would be willing to wait for it. For example, I’m sure if SPOS didn’t have a new episode every week, there’d still be a number of subscribers – myself included.
    Maybe you’ll lose some people if you don’t update regularly, but the question I want to throw out is this. In the economy of “who” vs “how many” (as Seth Godin puts it), are the people you lose that significant? Maybe they aren’t the right “who” in the first place?
    I don’t really have the answer, but it’s a question I just wanted to throw in there. Hope it makes sense, and sorry it’s not the most cohesive comment.

  5. I’ve been podcasting coming on three years now, every weekday for 763 episodes about financial aid. Why do I keep a regular schedule? Simple. People LOVE consistency, routine, and habit. It’s built into our nature and culture that routine is a good thing, from the job we go to, the morning commute, the first cup of coffee, even our most intimate relations. We love routine, and as a content producer, I know my audience loves routine. It’s also part of my brand promise – my company is reliable, regular, and trustworthy, and keeping to a rigorous schedule reinforces that promise.
    If Jerry Seinfeld’s show was on whenever he and the cast felt like it, how popular would it have become? Jerry Seinfeld’s show had great content, but part of what made it a success is that the audience knew when and where to find it, every week, same channel.
    Finally, ask yourself this:
    If I told you all about the taste and flavor of a new fruit, without trying it, do you think I could accurately convey the taste to you?
    If I told you it was just like an apple, only sweeter, do you think I could accurately convey it to you?
    This is the power of routine and the mass media meme. If I tell someone about podcasting and RSS, more often than not I lose them. If I tell someone that I have an internet talk radio show – bingo. All I need to do is give them the details on how to get it, and I spend less and less time explaining the delivery mechanism and more time on my content.
    Should new media be different? It can be – but at your peril, as you’re facing headwinds of expectations from audiences who are accustomed to routine delivery from their favorite mass media outlets.

  6. The quantity of blogs and podcasts out there prohibits us from trying to be in on everything interesting, where as television is still relatively limited. You can theoretically use a dual tuner PVR and record and watch most good shows. Can’t even fathom doing that with blogs.
    I’d rather bloggers and podcasters release new content when it’s good, rather than follow a schedule and force themselves to create content that’s not up to their own standards when they really have something to say, when they are at their best.
    To your point, many tv shows have to deliver and that leads to very uneven levels of quality. Show schedules are planned in suchy a way that they are filmed during the season (for most) and writers work on the actual individual shows and finalize them as the season goes along. How is that better than them taking the time to write all the shows in advance and filming when a show is ready?
    Some bloggers are so good, or some enough time that they can consistently deliver. Most can’t.
    Mitch is really good, but not all his podcasts and blog posts are as compelling. Less is more. 😉

  7. RSS, and for me, Alltop (which in some subjects has replaced RSS), has allowed content originators to be irregular and infrequent.
    But I know I read regularly, in the same little interval, usually daily. If it’s made available “on the stack”, I don’t care how close to schedule it came out, within reason, so long as there’s a clear time-stamp.
    I listen to podcasts more often and more regularly than I read blogs, because I commute in a car. If I get behind, I’ll listen to last week’s podcast if it’s one I enjoy, sometimes immediately followed by this week’s installment. (Yours is one of these, BTW.)
    I think my habits can accommodate a blog or podcast that meets its self-defined frequency pledge by, oh, ±50%. That would be my goal if I were to produce a podcast, or at least those are the terms I’d use to express it.
    The flexibility is dual, on the part of both sender and receiver. On this small scale, and due to the democratization of media, the two are closer to equal in ability to set the terms.

  8. Mitch:
    FINALLY, an excuse for my lack of blogging for quite some time! I’m just doing what Mitch says. 🙂
    Seriously, though, Christopher Penn said something interesting that ties to my thought.
    “If Jerry Seinfeld’s show was on whenever he and the cast felt like it, how popular would it have become? Jerry Seinfeld’s show had great content, but part of what made it a success is that the audience knew when and where to find it, every week, same channel.”
    That’s true…early on. But, once he gained the popularity he had in later years, I’ll bet he could have put out a show when and how he wanted (and NBC would have let him!) and people would have loved every minute. He had EARNED the attention.
    Sure, he couldn’t have done one show a year, but he could have been inconsistent and still kept a strong audience, I’m sure.
    I think the same goes for blogging. For someone like me, I would have to be very consistent and regular, with killer content to get and keep attention. But, were I to get to your level or someone like C.C. Chapman and suddenly I could be a little more inconsistent. You guys have earned our attention, paid your dues and made us realize that whenever you choose to post it will be great content so we are happy to wait for it to come.
    Again, this is all within reason, but I think a lot of it comes down to proving yourself. Once that happens, there’s a great amount of flexibility.

  9. @CS Penn — To extend your TV comparison a bit further, let’s imagine that Tivo was free for anyone to use. Does it matter then if Seinfeld broadcasts his show every week? We’ll all see there’s a new episode when we check the Tivo.
    RSS is free Tivo for the web.

  10. This is some of the best comments and back-and-forth I’ve ever had on this Blog – so thank you.
    A couple of more thoughts:
    1. I don’t think this is about mass media as much as it is about creating consistently great content (but maybe with an inconsistent publication schedule ;).
    2. I took a course on persuasion and why persuasion, generally, works is because of routine. No one wakes up wanting to be “erratic” – we are human beings and we do need routine (this could be core to the Blog postings’ question).
    3. RSS is a problem too. I subscribe to a lot of Bloggers and, trust me, when it’s multiple days of nothing new or just links, I start loosing respect (and patience).
    4. I think it’s hard to have quality if you’re publishing so infrequently (just my own feelings here).
    5. I don’t think we’re talking about building a “large” audience – it could be any sized audience… people want great stuff – the more, the better (or is less more?) – I think I just disagreed with #4.
    6. “Earned through reputation” is a big idea – I’m willing to cut someone some slack if they’ve produced some brilliance but it’s fairly inconsistent in terms of production schedules. I’m thinking about the brilliant Podcast, American Copywriter, which comes out “as deadlines permit.”
    7. Ugh. More question. Different directions. Flip-flopping. It’s ugly for me.

  11. I’d hate to be in a situation where “earned reputation” was the currency I was spending. Colin – you’re absolutely right that RSS is the Tivo of the web, and that’s part of the adoption problem. True, RSS doesn’t cost money like TiVo does, but it does time shift and archive for you.
    For some people, RSS is just another barrier to entry, another hurdle. It’s easy to say “Just use Google Reader” but for someone who just uses email – like my parents – Google Reader is far off in the future. They are much more comfortable visiting every Monday than trying to configure even something like Google Reader.
    Quality over quantity to me is a false choice. You can do both, and yes, you’ll have uneven quality or uneven quantity from time to time, but the choice from my perspective is to back up your promises. If you promise an audience sporadic, infrequent posts or daily incoherence, as long as you deliver on that promise, you’ll get the audience you earn. The bigger problem is when you break the promise.

  12. American Copywriter is a great example. They’ve only put out 7 episodes in the last year, but there’s no way it’s leaving my iTunes.
    For me, The BS Report from ESPN’s Bill Simmons is the same. He tries to do one episode a week, but sometimes it’s none, others it’s three. The content is always great though.

  13. @CS Penn: While you say you’d “hate to be in a situation where ‘earned reputation’ was the currency you were spending,” you certainly fit into this category.
    I don’t view it as a currency to spend or you “build up” a bank account of reputation. I guess what I mean is that people know that they can rely on you for good content. Knowing that, they are far more likely to “cut you some slack” if you don’t post every day, or something comes up that prevents you from posting.
    Given your reputation and the respect you have earned, you are allowed a bit more flexibility. American Copywriter (like everyone says) is a great example of this.
    To me, it’s not about numbers or anything like that. That is a separate issue. But if you have built the reputation as “worth listening to” people will be far more likely to stick around.
    I also don’t think that we’re talking about someone who was doing great work on their blog and then suddenly disappear for months at a time. To me that moves from inconsistency to consistently absent. Inconsistency to me means maybe next week, Mitch can’t post a 6px, or you can’t post a Financial Aid Podcast, but you’re back the next week. I think you are both respected enough to be able to that type of inconsistency with no penalty.
    I do agree with you that RSS is a barrier to entry, but that’s another, more difficult issue.

  14. While driving to work today I thought about how great AM 680 news is because its consistent. I know that every hour on the ones, there will be a traffic and weather report. I kept thinking and took it a step further. People go to McDonalds or any other restaurant more than once because it’s always consistent. I kept thinking and realized people want consistency. When relating this back to Mitch’s comment on will inconsistency be the new consistency? I don’t think it will go that far but in a Social Media world there is nothing wrong with consistently proving readers with content and once in a while giving them the cherry on top with additional content.

  15. I have always thought the BBC is brilliant- they run short series, for a limited number of episodes, and often let the show go after a few seasons. Monty Python, Vicar of Dibley, Coupling, even things like Are you Being Served?- these often silly comedies are well constructed, hold up over time, and are milked for residuals for YEARS, especially here in the US. But they also know when to say enough is enough- and we are canceling things before they get old and worn out. This is essentially what they did with Seinfeld- quit before things started to fall apart.
    We get this residual effect automatically on the web- as most of us can see by the number of people who download back episodes of our shows.
    I mention this because in podcasting, I think we can find ourselves in a schedule trap, or a format trap, and for the sake of consistency and copying the main stream model, we don’t like to experiment as much.
    I know I sometimes rely on interviews because they are easy content- and I am more nervous about just talking by myself, for fear of boring my audience to tears. This is unlikely to be true, especially since one of my most downloaded shows was one where I was talking by myself, so go figure- what do I know?
    So to keep it fresh for me and the audience, I am going to start trying some new things and experimenting a bit more- more regular shows, but more varied content- to see what works and what doesn’t. Falling into traps of same old-same-old leads to podcaster boredom and ultimately podfade.
    Keeping it fresh for you and the audience are key, and maybe we need to be able to schedule season breaks for ourselves as well, so when we turn on the mike again, we bring the enthusiasm our audience deserves.

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