It's all spinning wheels and self-doubt until the first pot of coffee.

Frustrations in using iTunes and iPod to capture podcast listening behavior

Update (15 Mar 2007): So, long rant, but I may have found my problem - I had set podcasts in iTunes to sync only "unplayed episodes" to the iPod, which also seems to imply that they never sync / record data about having been played. Or ratings from the iPod, for that matter. I just changed that setting to "all episodes", and podcasts seem to be showing up in my Recently Played smart playlist again. Hopefully this gets me back to where I want to be.

Update (19 Mar 2007): Hmm, nope. Recently Played playlist seems to be updating now, but the iScrobbler-to-last.fm bit seems to be ignoring my iPod-played podcasts. Bah.

Is it just me, or has iTunes been gradually losing podcast tuner functionality with respect to the iPod?

I'm seriously thinking of ditching it for Juice or something else. Recently, the podcasts were completely segregated from the rest of the audio files, stuck into a much harder-to-manage interface. Related to that, my main gripe at the moment is that I just can't seem to get my podcast listening behavior posted to last.fm. Maybe I'm weird, but I like to capture and publish that attention data from myself.

I listen to a lot of podcasts on the commute to and from work, which is part walking and part bus. In fact, I probably listened to about a dozen episodes of various serials yesterday — but none of them show up in my iPod's Recently Played smart playlist. So, subsequently, none made it to last.fm.

On the (increasingly rare) occasions I happened to listen to music on my iPod this week, those tracks showed up just fine. And while at my desk, in iTunes itself, I don't seem to have these issues. I seem to remember this working better in the past year or so. For what it's worth, my podcasts are auto-synced with iTunes, but the rest of my library is manually managed — because I don't want 20GB of music on my iPod duplicated on my laptop.

At one point, I remember that the "Last Played" criteria changed from just starting a podcast to completely playing it through. This made clean up of old podcasts nicer, such that partially-played episodes didn't get clobbered when I still intended to finish them. But lately, I've stopped podcasts before they finish, because many have lengthy themes at the end or runs of promos I've already heard during the day. So, there go the "Last Played" and "Play Count" fields.

But, I just tried manually fast-forwarding a few podcast episodes to the end on the iPod. I tried playing the last few seconds in an attempt to force the play count to trip. It seemed to work on the iPod itself - but when I reconnected to iTunes, no dice. The "Recently Played" playlist shows nothing new, and the episode itself reflects no play counts in iTunes. I'm either very confused, or things are getting more broken.

So, I thought, maybe I'll just rate the podcasts about which I want to publish my listening behavior. Kind of like giving a "digg". Seems hackish and not as effortless as simply capturing my behavior - but, nope, I can't rate podcasts on the iPod. There goes that idea, and another feature missing.

Ugh. So yeah, this is an semi-inarticulate rant about a problem whose issues and solution I don't quite yet have a handle on. It's just frustrating that I don't seem to be able to easily track my own podcast listening behavior with iTunes and the iPod the way I thought I used to be able to do.

Archived Comments

  • As long as you're ranting about iTunes' podcast management problems, let me mention one of my pet peeves: I subscribe to a mix of time-sensitive podcasts (news programs) and other podcasts that are not time sensitive. If I don't listen to today's news podcast today, I'm not going to listen to it tomorrow. I would prefer to have my news programs 'expire' after a day or two and get removed from my iPod, while the non-time-sensitive podcasts stay on my iPod forever waiting for me to listen to them. Unfortunately, iTunes only allows you to set a global expiration policy for podcasts.

    This is the single thing that is going to push me over the edge to try non-iTunes solutions for podcast management. If you find a good one, please blog about it.

  • Damn, you must be waiting for the new Rush album with baited breath. :)

  • "Damn, you must be waiting for the new Rush album with baited breath. :)"

    Why, yes, yes I am. I guess I have had Rush on heavy rotation this week. :)

  • I recently switch to trying to use iTunes for all podcast subscriptions, bit yeah, it's got some issues, yours seems far worse than mine though. I do remember reading that when you connect the iPod you need to do the Last.fm sync first before doing anything else, or it won't work. I feel like it's all very close to just falling over and not working at all sometimes...

  • Maybe you implied that with the mention of the other field names, but I needed to update my smart playlists with the "Skip Count" field in order to have the old behaviour I achieved with "Play Count" earlier. I also remember downgrading the iPod firmware from a friend a while ago, because with the latest Firmware the iPod forgot how to rate songs and dynamically make smart lists.

  • Not sure I have a handle on this either, but it sounds more like an audio scrobbler rant than an iTunes rant to me. I think the point of preventing the fast-forward trick is to avoid gaming your last.fm counts.

    My recollection is that when uploading from the iPod the recently played must have a time block sufficient to have listened to the whole track, while when you're listening in iTunes it uses some other metric - perhaps uploading when you've played half the track?

  • I see Mike's point, but it may not be all last.fm's fault either.

    Do you have some additional gripes with the iTunes podcast behavior changes that you haven't voiced yet? I'm not seeing features in Juice that will help in this instance. I can't help with iSproggler, not a user. I use the iTunes Agent to manage syncs of smart playlists to non-iPod devices. So I'm no help on the iPod firmware issues either.

    If there is more to your comment on switching to Juice than emotion: I did switch from iTunes to Juice about 6 months ago for most of my podcasts. I kept a couple of feeds behind so I could keep tabs on the changes in behavior. Since I'm not an iPod owner, I switched to get per feed archive management and preprocessing before import into iTunes. The default behavior of Juice is to import podcasts into the Music portion of the Library, not the Podcast portion. That may or may not be a feature for you. But most of this is likely no news to you.

    You're not alone at feeling like there are changes going on behind the scenes in iTunes/iPod. Since we all know that Apple can/will change behavior regularly, and some of the behavior changes are subtle, we get spooked easier/more often?

    OT: Over on the PlayListMag forums there are folks swearing that the changes in behavior for iTunes 7.1, in the CoverFlow viewing mode, that play-selection navigation is not consistent...

    Emotion is good, use the energy...

  • i don't speak from experience, here, but would songbird help the podcast situation at all?

  • I have had nothing but headaches from itunes, thats why i switched to juice for podcasts. It still doesn't do everything i want but it lacks all the other itunes related headaches so i think im coming out way ahead. b.t.w dude I love your blog. Started reading it a few months ago and i just cant get enough. keep up the great work. hasta.

  • Wow, are you me? I've been ranting about this exact thing and trying the same workarounds for months now, and stumbled across this blog entry whilst searching for a solution, or at least some proof that I wasn't alone in this universe.

    I just people on last.fm to appreciate that I'm an intellectual, doncha know?

    tso - listener to many, many Radio 4 podcasts.