Podcasting is exploding in it's use and both public service radio employees as well as individuals with something to say is participating in this frenzy. More and more people respond and rather downloads podcasts to their MP3 players rather than turning on the radio. It is like the pirate radio of the 21:st century, but now it is on a global scale and it is peer-to-peer which makes it scalable and soon ubiquitous.
Fueled by technologies like the Web, MP3, RSS, broadband connections and the soon ubiquitous MP3 players in the shape of mobile phones or small matchbox sized gadgets the audio media is being completely revolutionized. Broadcasting schedules is replaced by release dates. A mass medium with geographic limits is turned into a niche medium with global reach. Traditional radio, which for the most part today is controlled by the record industry and plays the same tracks lists on all the channels, is replaced with a myriad of small individual audio shows. Controlled by no one!
The theory of the long tail states that new communication technology will open up the market for all these small niche products and services, which in the past wasn't possible to provide widely or to have in stock. Amazon.com used to be the major example of this phenomenon, a book store which provides millions of titles instead of the few thousand you have in your local bookshop. I think podcasting will take the role as the major example for the long tail phenomenon.
For public service radio podcasting means a huge opportunity to reach all those listeners who are interested in a specific subject but has a packed schedule, an intellectually demanding work and maybe is on the move all the time. The traditional listening patterns for this growing group has been related to car travels to and from work every day. But even there the available time is step by step being invaded by phone calls and the need to relax or concentrate in the transition between two places. With podcasting the interested listener can subscribe to the programs they want to listen to and bring them along in their pocket until the right moment suddenly appears.
When MIT started to publicly publish their lecture notes on the web it was a revolution. Prepared and packaged knowledge became available to universities and individuals all over the globe. When podcasting now is entering the scene complete lectures is the next step. Soon everybody on the globe will be able to "directly" listen to lectures of the academic giants, when they like and how often they like. Stanford took this step a number of weeks ago but choose to make their lectures and other speeches available in Apple iTunes (http://itunes.stanford.edu/) which basically is the same technology as podcast but a different distribution technology.
There are also emerging podcasting versions of knowledge hubs based on different subjects. ITConversations is a site collecting, promoting and producing audio recordings from conferences, interviews and speeches, and provide them free to the listeners. Everybody is welcome to participate and record an event and provide it to the database.
The reason why podcasts is increasing so quickly is the availability of cheap and easy to use infrastructure, widespread knowledge about recording but probably most of all because the listeners are ready to pick their favourite audio input themselves, listen when they have time and pause the program when they are interrupted (which everybody increasingly is). All this without having to surf the radio for a specific program at a specific time only to listen to the currently promoted songs by the record industry.
In a conversation in the Summit on the Information Society in Tunis the other week I heard an African man talking about the importance of technology convergence and was using podcasts as an example. The point was how important it is that what is produced in the west is possible to distribute to the other 5 billion people on the planet. A podcast is nothing else than an audio program, but due to it's niche nature it has a wide range of subjects which can be more diverse but also more concentrated and filled with both more knowledge, perspective and culture than traditional radio ever will be. This knowledge is due to technology convergence possible to transmit to a whole country in the poorest part of the world, and there being listened to by millions of people just using a radio costing a few dollars.
Podcasting is spreading exponentially and since it will be more easy to speak to the computer than produce a blog posting, I think the written blogs will soon be outnumbered by audioblogs a k a podcasts.
On a larger scale i think podcasting (and possible videocasting)
- will further fuel the emergence of the horizontal society where groups of likeminded people are having meaning creating conversations with each other in stratas or closed groups
- will broaden the knowledge chasm between those who already have knowledge and those who already have turned of the knowledge society
- will be a great enabler for spreading knowledge globally and more specificly to the poorer parts of the world
- will be an important driver in the process of lowering the threshold of Internet technology even more and make the online society available to a wider group
- will drive people further from the traditional broadcasting media and punish both the model of online advertising as a mean to finance the production but also the broadcasting medias as tools for marketing other stuff like music and clothes