May 27, 2005

Podcasting Gains Momentum -- Is It Here To Stay?

There are likely differing opinions regarding Podcasting: Is it just a fad or a disruptive technology with a bit more staying power?

Many of the same comments were said about blogging, and it's still expanding after its humble beginnings from around '98-'99. Well over five years in Net time isn't a fad, in my opinion -- it's a breakthrough. RSS feed technology helped blogging to skyrocket. Why? Because it vastly improved the delivery mechanism. No longer did we need to visit many sites manually to get our information fix. We subscribed to content, and it came to us. RSS readers allowed us to aggregate, slice, dice, clip, search, and organize it to our desire. It allowed us to reach larger audiences, and to integrate content across site barriers.

While podcasting is definitely a bit newer, I'm seeing the same types of discussions online -- both in blogs and in mainstream publications. For instance, check out BusinessWeek Online's recent slew of articles on podcasting. Big business has already gotten into the act, but some are discovering that the copyright laws haven't yet caught up with the technology, and are understandably skittish.

The misnomer of podcasting is that you don't need an iPod or even a portable MP3 player to listen. A software-based player such as Windows Media Player, Winamp, and numerous others do the job nicely. But taking that route is a bit more manual.

However, combine all the above, and you've got something, well, revolutionary. Take the RSS feed technology and use it to improve the delivery mechanism. Use a good RSS reader like FeedDemon, which includes a tool like FeedStation to automate the process: After you subscribe to a podcast RSS feed, FeedStation can automatically download the podcasts and transfer them to your iPod -- all while you sleep. Pick up your iPod for your morning jog or drive to work, and you have a convenient way to timeshift an audio broadcast. No wonder it's being compared as Tivo for radio.

Returning to the blogging corollary, blogging made both web publishing and reading easy -- really easy. It made web publishing and content management as easy as sending an e-mail to your web site. RSS feeds made it just as easy for consumers of the information. Right now, podcasting is easy on the end users as I described above. However, creating commercial-grade podcasts still takes significantly more effort, and requires a number of production tools. Basic blogger-talk podcasts are somewhat easier to produce. I've listened to both, and while content is still king, adding commercial-grade polish is definitely appreciated and easier on the ears.

It's still too soon to say where Podcasting will end up, particularly with respect to copyright issues when music is added to the mix. However, it's definitively picked up both momentum and a fairly large following within the past 6 months alone. By name, it carries the cachet and mystique of the iPod itself, which has definitely contributed to its popularity and ease of use. It's caught the attention of big business, has hit mainstream journalism, and can be a relatively low cost method of marketing. Indeed, it has the earmarks of another media revolution, much like internet and satellite radio have caught on.

There's a convergence factor at work here: Perhaps the best podcasting user experience occurs when all of the above blogging, RSS, music, and iPod revolutions are combined. In other words, perhaps Podcasting isn't all that revolutionary once one sees what it's built upon. It's the next piece of digital media evolution utilizing the tools of what came before, and extending them with new tools, such as iPodder. But give the innovators their due credit -- it's certainly a creative approach.

With all that said, like blogging, podcasting still has uncertain terrain to traverse. Unlike the text contained in RSS feeds, podcasts are audio content in typically MP3 format. As such, the consumer basically has to listen to it to benefit from the content. I've been waiting to see if anyone develops a podcast speech-to-text application for archiving the content in searchable form.

There are definitely first-mover advantages to be gained. Some podcasts will likely do well, and again, like blogging, some will not. There's room for both broad-podcasting and niche-podcasting. As something that's new and exciting, it will likely draw in the advertising dollars. It's still in search of a business model, which is why advertising is a quick win for podcasters. I've found some Podcasts a fair waste of my time, and others entertaining and/or informative. I'm intrigued where it's headed, but I'm going to reserve judgment for awhile yet. In the meantime, I find the momentum encouraging.

Topic(s):   Blogging Tips
Posted by Jeff Beard

To answer your question about searchable podcasting, there is a crowd out there called PodScope, who are working on exactly that. It's a pretty neat tool.

Posted by: Anthony at May 31, 2005 12:09 AM