May 19, 2012

Further Musings On Gruber's Split From 5by5

I wrote a small piece about John Gruber taking his podcast, “The Talk Show,” from its home at 5by5 to Mike Monteiro’s Mule Radio Syndicate yesterday. Since then there’s been a flood of Twitter traffic and a couple of web discussions dissecting it. If you’re an Apple geek, this is kind of a big deal.

Most of the talk revolves around a couple of possibilities.

I think the most likely reason Gruber exited 5by5 is his then-co-host Dan Benjamin’s announcement of new “The Talk Show” t-shirts for sale. Though a seemingly inconsequential topic, it appears to have blind-sided Gruber.

Give the last 2:42 of episode 90 a listen. Dan begins by saying that they have to mention “the t-shirts,” and Gruber replies “what t-shirts?” Dan goes on to say that Gruber approved a new t-shirt. He then takes a step back, saying Gruber approved last year’s t-shirt and the new one is no different, just as Gruber replies “did I? I don’t remember that.” Gruber says little after that, signing off awkwardly. Those were his last words on 5by5.

Gruber put his own “The Talk Show” branded [that should be “Daring Fireball” branded. My mistake.] t-shirt on sale at Daring Fireball shortly before the show appeared on MRS. Given the more elaborate design on his new shirt I’d say he had it in the works for a few weeks, and Dan’s announcement of a competing product set him off.

Another conjecture involves Dan’s sale of the 5by5 iOS app for $2.99. Maybe Gruber expected a cut of the price, given his share in the success of 5by5.

It’s hard to believe Gruber would object to selling the app, or expect a cut of the profit despite its inclusion of “The Talk Show“‘s live stream, when Dan had openly discussed pricing it at least twice with Marco Arment on Build And Analyze. Dan explained, as well, that the profits pay for the (expensive) streaming fees. Maybe Gruber doesn’t listen to the other shows at 5by5.

Gruber’s move is disappointing, because 5by5 has become a hangout for geeks, where Dan has actively encouraged a friendly atmosphere. Sure, 5by5 is a business, but it’s become more than that for many, the very people these podcasts address.

Gruber’s leaving 5by5 is like a popular TV character quitting a favorite show. It lets down the fans.

That he took the show name and re-started it elsewhere without at least a nod to its former home or a word of explanation to the fans assumed something about the audience. It assumed they would search him out, that he didn’t need to make any effort at explanation, that his success is assured regardless.

That’s the trouble with this move: it fully disregards the fans. And that’s a low-class act.

Neither Gruber nor Dan have had or will have anything to say publicly about this. I think Dan’s co-hosts will let it lie, though if anyone were to broach the subject it would be Merlin Mann. I’m a fan of his “Back To Work,” so maybe I’ll hear something there.

5by5 still has a bunch of great podcasts. My favorite is John Siracusa’s “Hypercritical.” John is a geek’s geek: well prepared, fully engaged and passionate about technology and what he has to say about it.

I like Marco Arment’s “Build And Analyze,” too, regardless of his topic-of-the-day. His keen interest in whatever is in front of him makes even a discussion about a new wall thermostat interesting. He’s got a good sense of humor, too, and doesn’t fall into the easy trap of thinking too highly of himself despite his success with Instapaper.

There are many more podcasts at 5by5, and Dan’s latest, “Big Week,” will appear soon. Worth checking out.

I wish Gruber good fortunes at MRS. I’ll listen for a while, at least. He showed a renewed energy and interest during his first MRS outing, so who knows, maybe there will be a silver lining to this cloud.

Jason Snell, editor of Macworld and a podcaster at 5by5, correctly put this brouhaha in perspective:

May 18, 1980: Mount St. Helens erupts violently, causing widespread destruction. May 18, 2012: A podcast changes servers and co-hosts.

It’s admittedly a small thing, but it’s the small things we do that people remember us by.