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The Sad State of ‘The Talk Show’ Archives

Posted 30th August 2016

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John Gruber’s The Talk Show podcast – self-described as “the director’s commentary track for Daring Fireball” – has had no less than four separate homes over the years:

As this piece is published, that’s a total of 282 episodes. Of those 282, a total of 80 are missing – all of the first 27 originally hosted at thetalkshow.net, and 53 from the Mule Radio years. (Depending on what you define as “missing”, of course – but more on that later.) That’s a full 28% of episodes which have disappeared.

Lets take a look at what’s up, shall we? Firstly, let’s take a look at the first incarnation of the show, published at thetalkshow.net, and the recent chain of events which inspired me to write this piece:

27 episodes – gone. The entire first run of the programme. This is a fairly large thing just to yank off the net.

And an especially strange decision in light of what we discover as we move onto the second incarnation of the show: the 5by5 years. Although it’s going to be an extremely quick stop. In stark contrast to the above, all 90 episodes of the show from the 5by5 years are online. We’ve gone from absolutely no archive at all for the first run of the show, to an immaculate archive for the second. Which is odd, but nonetheless welcome. You can even relive one of the most awkward podcasts ever recorded.

Onto the third incarnation of the show… where things get rather more complicated. In May 2012, Gruber took The Talk Show to the Mule Radio network, in a move which was endlessly picked over at the time, and which I have precisely no interest in revisiting. Suffice to say: here’s what John Gruber said at the time, and here is Dan Benjamin’s side.

What I do have interest in looking at, however, is what’s happened with the 80 episodes of The Talk Show which were on Mule Radio. Mule Radio downsized in 2014, but remained online until this year, where it suddenly disappeared. (The Wayback Machine’s last archive is from January this year. Whether going offline still counts as “dying well” is an exercise I shall leave for you, dear reader.) So, does this mean that all 80 shows have disappeared? Not quite.

Unlike the previous incarnations, which started the episode numbering back at #1, when The Talk Show moved to its current home on Daring Fireball, the episode numbering continued – and some episodes are also in the RSS feed. The first 30 episodes are missing from the feed entirely, and episodes 31-53 point to defunct Mule Radio links. From episode 54 onwards, however, the audio was hosted by Soundcloud and is still online. So out of the 80 Mule Radio shows, 53 are missing, and 27 are still present.

All of which means that from a podcast which started back in June 2007, only episodes dating from 19th September 2013 are online. Now, episodes disappearing from 2007 with the first incarnation of the show are one thing… but episodes disappearing within a three year window is really quite peculiar to say the least. To put that into context, all episodes of a podcast I’ve been involved with since 2006 are still online.

(Needless to say, once we get onto the fourth incarnation of the show, hosted on Daring Fireball itself, all episodes are present and accounted for.)

The obvious question, then: of those missing 80 episodes, how many can be rescued via the Wayback Machine? In terms of the 27 thetalkshow.net episodes, the answer is: 25 of them. Episodes #13 and #14 appear to be missing from the archive.org servers. (If you manage to coax them to appear, let me know.)

Of the 53 Mule Radio episodes, it’s even better news: all 53 are available on The Wayback Machine. Sure, it’s not nearly as user-friendly as just being able to listen to them on iTunes or an RSS feed. But with a bit of pissing about, it’s doable.

Conclusions? It’s worth pointing out that I don’t think anybody involved here hates their listeners. In fact, the very opposite is true. Much like with Jeffrey Zeldman, the fact that 80 of these episodes can disappear from the net despite the calibre of people involved goes to show just how difficult it can be to keep this stuff online. Daring Fireball has archives online stretching back to its very first post, after all – Gruber clearly gives a damn about this stuff.

Some might wonder why any of this is worth talking about. So stuff disappears off the net all the time – big deal. My answer: Because we’re not talking about some scruffy little unimportant podcast here. The Talk Show is a long-running, well-established, popular show. The fact that this can happen to such a high-profile podcast is something which is worth noting.2 Archives are both extremely important… and extremely easy to fall offline.

Finally, it’s worth pointing out that yet again the Wayback Machine saves everybody’s ass, and if you plan on using any of the above to catch up with The Talk Show‘s early days, then a donation is probably in order.

I have way too much time to write this article considering I don’t even listen to the bloody thing.

  1. Episodes #9, #23 and #27 were skipped in the numbering. 

  2. And hey – considering Soundcloud’s financial uncertainties, what’s the guarantee that any of the current episodes hosted there will be online in five years? 

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