Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: The Pipeline

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Vital stats:
Format: one-on-one interviews with people who create and maintain internet things
Duration: 25m-47m
Frequency: weekly
Archive available on iTunes: all

There's this particular breed of internet person. I run into them in pretty much all my usual lanes on the Information Superhighway. I've managed to hand-compile an extensive, Darwinesque catalog of their characteristics. They tend to wear glasses, though not classically dorky ones. (Usually black- and chunkily-framed.) Their interests include design, especially of the graphic variety. (They're likely to possess opinions on font kerning.) They are, through thick and thin, Apple users, though they know several orders of magnitude more about how computers actually work than most Apple users do. They have their hands in a confusing array of internet projects, and would almost certainly find the phrase "intenet projects" redundant. They seem bohemian, but they're also deeply embedded in operations that are undoubtedly businesses — often lucrative ones. They seem artistic, but they know a little too much about Python for that. They have Buddhist leanings. If they haven't attended TED, they've at least attended SxSW.

The enterprising Dan Benjamin seems to be of this breed, and his newish podcast The Pipeline [RSS] [iTunes] sounds as if it's under a mandate to interview all his brethren. Bannered as the talk show that spotlights "innovators, designers, geeks, newsmakers, and people who create things," it follows a simple but trusty format: Benjamin Skypes up to his guest of the week and asks them about what they do on the net, how they came to do it, how it's going now and where they plan to take it.

If you nodded in solemn recognition at this review's first paragraph, you're almost certainly familiar with several of The Pipeline's guests. Max Funsters will, of course, know 43Folders founder and reformed server-upper of productivity tips Merlin Mann [MP3]. Those who pay attention to Maximum Fun's sponsorship situation have surely encountered the work of Matt Haughey [MP3], the man who built MetaFilter. And if you're not already reading the "fine hypertext products" blogging pioneer Jason Kottke [MP3] has been putting up at Kottke.org, then jeez, I don't even know what to tell you.

Benjamin's a clear, solid, straightfoward interviewer, and the program itself shares those qualities. If he's as good at what he lists as his other lines — software development, entrepreneurship, Ruby on Rails usage, blogging about quality, efficiency, and mindfulness, and something called "screencasting" — he's set. I do find, though, that as good a production as he puts together here, it occasionally stokes an almost debilitatingly uncomfortable cognitive dissonance within me. As both an interviewer and as someone with an insatiable interest in other people who make stuff, The Pipeline spends a lot of time driving straight up my alley, but it also veers dangerously close to the abyss.

It might have something to do with the opening sponsorship plug, which promotes software meant to manage "e-mail campaigns" and do something or other with "powerful analytics," tracking "clicks to sales" and "conversions." This sort of thing gives me the sinking feeling of inner dread that, somewhere along the line, something went badly, terribly wrong with the internet. The magic of the 1990s web seems to have given way to a farrago of bewildering mini-applications, weird portmanteaus, social networking squirreliness, search engine optimization and the poisonous culture of "monetization." While Benjamin's guests are definitely engaging and possessed of a formidable creative spirit, a lot of the lingo they casually drop and the stories they tell remind me of my own saddening streak of net.disappointment. I feel like some tattered issue of Wired from 1994 promised me more — promised us all more — than so many mobile phone apps and passive income stream hacks.

[Got a podcast to suggest for Podthoughts? Got any suggestions as to how to take Podthoughts to the next level, no matter how wild? Send it all, without hesitation, to Podthinker Colin Marshall at colinjmarshall at gmail.]