Calling time on 'Clockwise' - a review of the latest TechHive podcast

I listen to a lot of technology-related podcasts, especially those that discuss Apple products and the wider apple ecosystem. So it was a shoe-in that I would give a new podcast from TechHive a listen. The new podcast is called 'Clockwise' and was announced on twitter by its co-hosts Jason Snell and Dan Moren.

You can listen to the podcast here. This particular episode is the pilot and subsequent tweets by @jsnell suggest that the podcast might evolve in response to feedback. I really hope so, because I find the format of this show to be awkward. Painfully awkward.

Tech-related podcasts often take the format of either having two seasoned co-hosts (e.g. Mac Power Users), a main host and a guest host (e.g. The Talk Show), or a rotating cast of panelists with one main host controlling events (e.g. The Macworld Podcast). Clockwise fits into the latter category and if you were expecting it to feature intelligent, but sometimes humorous, discussion of current technology news, then you'd be right. So this all sounds good right?

Not quite. I say this because Clockwise tries framing the podcast with a game show-esque mechanism that is as clumsy as it is unnecessary. Rather than just having two erudite guests (Phillip Michaels and John Phillips) join the two co-hosts for 30–40 minutes of intelligent, round-table discussion, the show has been straight-jacketed with various rules that become increasingly bizarre.

These rules start with the requirements that a) each panelist introduces one discussion topic in turn and b) panelists discuss each topic but get a sum total of seven minutes to use across all four topic discussions. Should any participant exceed his or her seven minutes or talk time, they will then have to — and you might want to sit down at this point — remain silent!

The discussion proceeds clockwise, but the participants also need to keep an eye on the time, so they also need to be clock-wise. Geddit? This gripping format had me on the edge of my seat (though admittedly this was because there was a sleeping cat sharing the sofa with me). The podcast doesn't quite go so far as to add a ticking clock sound effect to add tension, though they do ring a bell when a participant finishes their discussion in each round. Otherwise, how would we know when someone else starts speaking?

While listening to the podcast, I was initially unsure whether these timing rules were just a private joke, but then Jason Snell explained the grim fate that would befall each participant who ran under their seven minute limit. They would have to — and again, you really might want to sit down before you read what follows — speak on a subject of their choosing to use up their remaining time! This 'Extra time' round is almost exactly like the tense finale at the end of Star Wars as Luke Skywalker races against time to destroy the Death Star and save the Rebel Alliance...except that it isn't.

I'm not sure whether these rules are meant to make us excited and/or nervous for the participants as we listen along ("Will they overrun?", "Are they sweating under the horological-induced pressure?", "Can Jason Snell really cope with having to speak for 1 minute 32 seconds on a subject of his own choosing?"). It feels at times that Clockwise is trying to be both an intelligent tech podcast and comedy game show all at once. However, in my opinion it ends up achieving neither.

At least the show gives us the thrilling 'Extra time' segment to look forward to. After 30 minutes or so of some relatively informed discussion, what topics would the panelists choose to speak about with their remaining time? One participant used this time to enrich our lives by revealing that he's recently been watching 'So You Think You Can Dance'.

After the 'Extra time' section, the show concluded with another segment which had some sort of theme but at this point I had lost the will to live and so my memory of this part is somewhat hazy. At an early point in this pilot episode, Jason Snell reveals that "We don't want to waste your time". Too late me thinks.

In my next post I'll be discussing my new panel-show podcast called 'McMacMac', a podcast where guests discuss the latest news from Apple, but must use a Scottish accent when naming any Apple hardware product. Failure to do so means the contestants must immediately eat a Big Mac.

Update: 6:33 pm, 5th June
Jason Snell has made it clear to me on twitter that 'Clockwise' should very much be thought of as a rough idea, a work in progress that is still being experimented with. It is not yet an official TechHive podcast and may never be; to quote @jsnell "The podcast literally doesn't exist". He expressed surprise that I posted a review of this podcasting experiment but in my defense:

  1. In a tweet posted to his 35,000 twitter followers, he included a link to an MP3 of the show and also explicitly asked for feedback
  2. He did refer to it as a 'tech podcast' (see previous link)
  3. He subsequently tweeted a link to the "official Twitter account of TechHive's Clockwise podcast"

Later asked whether he would be proceeding with the podcast, he may or may not have said "No we're not going to f***ing do Stonehenge"