The audio service known as Audible.com, which has been around for a number of years and — to be fair — was way out in front of the downloadable audio game, set off a bit of a firestorm when it announced a service that would allow podcasters to distribute their content in its proprietary .aa format, which would make it easier for them to track it and insert ads into the audio stream. Dave Winer of scripting.com, who helped pioneer podcasting along with former MTV video jockey Adam Curry, jumped on the company for using a proprietary format, and said that they were “trying to make podcasting into a replay of previous media.” Om Malik of gigaom.com said that Audible was trying to “hijack a popular trend.”
So far, so good — fair comment and all that. And both men have a point: Audible’s service may have useful features that MP3s do not, such as tracking, but it’s still a proprietary format controlled by one company. Convincing others to use such a proprietary format instead of an open standard is something Microsoft has caught flack for, and quite rightly. In any case, Mitch Ratcliffe — who helped Audible develop the service — waded into the fray and the debate quickly got personal. He responded that Om and Winer were either missing the point or being deliberately unfair to Audible, and then he called Winer a thief for downloading audio without paying for it, and said that he could have sold his weblogs.com service for more than the $2.3-million he got if he had only invested more in it along the way.
Both Om and Dave responded quite reasonably to these unfair jabs, but Ratcliffe has refused to back down. Meanwhile, Nicholas Carr of roughtype.com has taken a refreshingly middle-of-the-road stance on the whole affair. Why do such debates — which are theoretically about the technology — often descend into ad hominem attacks? That’s one for the psychologists to answer.