Odeo: Engineering Against Customer Loyalty

GigaOM discusses “How Odeo Screwed Up”. Odeo is a service I want to like. I promoted it to others when it came out and I frequently use it as an example of the Richer Plugin pattern as it uses an effective combination of Flash and Ajax.

However, I had to stop using Odeo six months ago, due to an astounding oversight in their central architecture for doing what they are meant to do best: manage podcasts. The problem is simply that Odeo places all podcasts into a single RSS feed. You can probably imagine the consequences.

The feed inevitably grows and grows, and suddenly you have 5000+ multimedia items for your podcatcher to fetch and sync. ITunes simply gives up. Juice/IPodder hangs for about 30 minutes and might then start updating if the stars align with the moon. Under some circumstances, like after a (likely) crash leading to a corrupt record of what you’re downloading, Juice will start downloading all 5000 podcasts.

So the architecture is kind of flawed from the get-go. A single ever-growing feed. What tools does Odeo offer to tame it? Well, you can manually chop the beanstalk down one podcast at a time. This used to be rather difficult because of overzealous use of a Yellow Fade Effect, which meant you could only delete an item every two seconds or so. Now, Odeo offers a checkbox-driven interface, but you must still manually click on each checkbox, you only have 25 checkboxes per page, and there’s no keyboard shortcuts possible in Firefox AFAICT. So still unpractical. And the beanstalk keeps growing as you slowly chop it down at the other end.

What’s blatantly obvious is that Odeo needs an auto-delete feature, e.g. delete feeds older than 1/3/7/30 days or keep a maximum of 10/100/1000 podcasts in your feed. It’s such an obvious thing, it’s almost breathtaking that it doesn’t exist. I keep double-checking as I write this, but the fact is that I’ve previously mailed support about it and there’s no such feature. I don’t really understand what’s going on, as it’s hardly a niche request; it’s something that affects every users.

Odeo will work fine for new subscribers, but as soon as you’ve been subscribed for a few months, it’s impossible to use. I mean impossible! As I say, I like the website a lot and I wish there was a way to get it working. But it’s simply not possible. Way to encourage loyalty! I can understand when this happens with a small startup, but Odeo is high-profile, VC-funded, and continues to roll out completely orthogonal products like Twitter, Hellodeo, and podcast recording. Meanwhile, their core feature has remained impossible to use for twelve months!

The GigaOM article points to an interview which illuminates how these problems have come about. (Note: updated the list numbering from the original article.)

Williams went through a tidy list of the top five Odeo screw-ups: 1. “Trying to build too much” – Odeo set out to be a podcasting company with no focus beyond that. 2. “Not building for people like ourselves” – For example, Williams doesn’t podcast himself, and he says as a result the company’s web-based recording tools were too simplistic.

The first point highlights that Odeo might be better off looking at why subscribers like me have stopped using it. I realise they are probably building services like Twitter to produce a better revenue stream, but why throw away core users?

The second point makes me wonder how many Odeo staffers actually use Odeo at all, let alone to create podcasts. Like I say, Odeo has an unusual property for a website, in that it virtually forces you to give up after using it for several months. Maybe the internal staffers rely on cron-powered SQL delete commands to flush their feeds, but there appears to be no solution for the rest of us.

I want to use Odeo again. Please let me know if anyone has a solution to the Amazing Indestructible Odeo Feed That Knows No Satiety.

4 thoughts on Odeo: Engineering Against Customer Loyalty

  1. Pingback: Working Pathways’ Work Better Weblog / Pruning the Beanstalk - Feedreaders Need to Grow With Us

  2. I gave up on Odeo a long time ago for a related reason. I hated the fact that all my podcasts were shoved into a single ‘Podcast’ entry on itunes. That meant they were all listed under a ‘podcasts’ feed in my ipod, making a large list of podcasts a huge pain to manage and find anything in.

    I’ve since switched to the itunes podcast directory, which means each podcast gets its own space on the ipod – much easier and simpler.

  3. I’ve encountered the same problem with Odeo. It was particularly bad last Winter (2006) when a bug in their system caused the entire back catalog of any podcast feeds you were subscribed to to be added to your inbox.

    I solved this problem the way I solve most problems with inadequate web sites – I used a Perl script. I downloaded the m3u playlists, sorted, removed duplicates, and then use LWP to download the mp3s.

    The script actually evolved from one I had written earlier to resolve the redirect URLs Odeo puts into the playlists. (The URL for every podcast hits an Odeo server, then redirects to the real podcast URL.) Their servers were frequently slow to respond, and WinAmp was timing out, and had no option to extend the timeout period. Resolving the redirects before loading the playlist into WinAmp solved that.

    It’s been months since I last downloaded a batch of podcasts, and so I will be repeating this procedure again shortly…probably with some manual splitting of the sorted playlist, as I now have 4300 items in my inbox. The nice round number makes me suspect they have been trimming the older stuff or otherwise capping it at some limit.

    Of course this doesn’t solve the problem for most Odeo users.

    One solution to this problem is letting users create multiple inboxes or feeds. I suggested that to them a few times last year. That way you could split off stuff that is short and published daily from long format stuff published less frequently. I though they finally added this feature, but looking now I don’t see evidence of it. I guess one could always work around this limitation by creating multiple accounts…

    -Tom

  4. Rob, I still have that problem no matter what I use, as I find it unwieldy to have dozens of playlists on my ipod.

    Tom, it’s good to know I’m not completely insane and this problem affects others. I’m still completely staggered that an entire high-profile startup could miss a showstopping flaw like this, and they haven’t even bothered to reply when I asked them for feedback on this post. Meanwhile, lots of negative press for Podshow and Linkd also seems to work the same way as odeo – one big feed. No wonder people are content with ITunes, which I personally find too slow to navigate around and add new subs. I’m sticking with Podnova for now, even thoug the two-way sync process makes it difficult to delete anything. Will anyone get it right?

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