By John Gruber
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Ben and I have been noodling on this idea for a while. (Working title for my autobiography: This Took a Lot Longer Than I Thought It Would.) Ben, in particular, has long been convinced — correctly, I obviously believe — that paid subscriptions are a natural fit for podcasts, but yet have been almost entirely untried.
So, we’re trying it.
If you enjoy The Talk Show when Ben is my guest, you should love Dithering. You know me, you know Ben, and you know the stuff we enjoy writing and talking about. But at the same time it’s a very different show. Episodes of The Talk Show are — depending on your personal taste and available time — either famously or infamously long, and appear on a somewhat irregular schedule. Episodes of Dithering are very regular, both in schedule (every Monday, Wednesday, Friday) and in length (15m:00s).
Reader / listener / member-supported subscriptions to support independent media producers are not a new idea — not even for me. When I first tried earning some scratch here at Daring Fireball, all the way back in 2004 — George W. Bush was running for reelection and my now-16-year-old son was five months old — I launched a membership program here at Daring Fireball. Members got access to full-content RSS feeds, and access to my then-new Linked List posts 24 hours before they appeared on the website for everyone else. To render a long story very short,1 member-only RSS feeds did not play well with Google Reader, and Google Reader was extraordinarily popular. Even people who used standalone RSS readers like NetNewsWire often used Google Reader as the back end for syncing. Rather than fight the tide, I went with the tide, and made the full content feed free for everyone and decided to try monetizing it through weekly sponsorships instead of subscriptions.
I hit the 2 million written words mark by the time Daring Fireball turned 15 in 2017, and have written some number of additional words since then. I’ve published 283 episodes of The Talk Show, totaling well north of 500 cumulative hours (on top of 120 episodes of the show’s two previous incarnations). Not one word, not one minute behind a subscriber paywall.
But I love and believe in the idea of reader / listener / member-supported subscriptions, and I’ve been looking for something I could offer that feels right. That’s Dithering.
Dithering is subscription-only but it is entirely built on plain-old wide-open RSS, and is designed to work with any and all podcast players. There is no Dithering app and never will be. Sign up at the Dithering website and you’ll get a link you can use to subscribe in whatever podcast app you already use.
From a medium-is-the-message perspective, I think we’re doing something neat with Dithering. Episodes exist only in the feed, and thus, from a listener’s perspective, only in their podcast player.
The back end is built on Ben’s membership system for Stratechery. If you only care about Dithering, you won’t notice that, other than bouncing over to Stratechery during the sign-up process. But if you are already a Stratechery member (or want to be — trust me, it’s worth it) you can upgrade to add Dithering at a discount, and if you’re already subscribed to the Stratechery Daily Update podcast, Dithering episodes will appear in the same feed. You don’t need to add a new subscription.
We’ve been recording episodes since mid-March on the same Mon / Wed / Fri schedule we intend to keep going forward. Our original plan was to use those “beta” episodes just to get our sea legs under us — I, for one, needed some practice to get in the groove of 15-minute episodes. But they turned out good enough to keep, so we’re launching with 20 episodes in the feed. (My sincere thanks to our small group of beta testers, who were listening and providing feedback as we went.)
The Dithering branding brings warmth to my cold heart, and is the work of my and Ben’s good friend Brad Ellis. Hell yeah, Futura. Every designer agrees I’m easy to please and don’t let Brad tell you otherwise.
The Talk Show isn’t going anywhere. In fact there’s a new episode dropping tomorrow, with a first-time guest whom I’ve wanted to have on the show for years. Dithering isn’t replacing The Talk Show, it’s in addition to The Talk Show.
If that sounds good to you, I hope you subscribe — and when you do, I hope you enjoy listening to Dithering as much as I’m enjoying making it.