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The podcasting revolution

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

2 thoughts on “The podcasting revolution

  1. James

    Podcasting is really overhyped as some new wonderful technology, when in reality it has been possible for many years. What seems revolutionary about modern podcasting is the rights management, and how institutions are embracing it. Contrast this with the PVRs, where the industry is fighting tooth and nail to stop the recording (and more importantly the advertisement skipping). I think as podcasting player software incorporates advertisement skipping the industry will begin to look unfavorably on it too. The reality is that the end user is NOT the media production companies customer, but instead the advertisers are. The end user is the product they are selling.

    In regards to podcasting being used as a communication tool between end-users, such as blogs are today, this doesn't seem realistic. It is clumsy to use time-shifted verbal communication, as opposed to text. Text is easier to engage as a whole very quickly, and requires less bandwidth to exchange. Something to note is that simple programs to download webpages (such as news outlets) onto a laptop for later reading have been available to years, and yet have never really taken off or revolutionized anything.

    I think podacsting will end up being looked back upon as simply a fad. And while it may be part of a greater social change we are seeing which will have profound affects on society and the world, I don't believe those affects will come from the communication aspect of the technology, but instead the rights and social views associated with it, similar to what the open source movement is doing.

  2. Martin Börjesson

    Thanks for an interesting comment!

    I have since you wrote this comment read a number of comments on that podcasting will be a fad. There are a couple of strong arguments for the fad side: audio vs text point (yours) and lack of business models (Peter Schwartz?).

    I think pure text blogging will step by step be replaced with photoblogs, videoblogs and podcasting. This resonates well with

    - the increased media transformation of the computing devices (see CES this year)
    - it also follows the noticed transformation from a text society to a talk and picture society
    - the increased focus on mobility in social situations will make text very impractical to use for really providing the really juicy stuff - short coordinating messages like SMS will probably prevail though

    The behaviour we can see on the streets when teenagers where they use cell phone cameras to show pictures of each other and friends in funny, interesting or compromising situations are moving rapidly onto the net. So maybe the podcasting will be overrun by videocasting (if these two technologies are competing) but I don't believe that we will stay in the text world for much longer outside the small well educated elite.

    The public media people is one group of the strong belivers in the podcasting technology. At least here in Sweden public radio have been reinventing itself tha last number of years. Podcasting is one of the ways they seems to use. Audio is the perfect information medium when you are on the run, are driving or your hands are occupied with something. With this MP3 explosion everybody will have a cell phone which at least have en MP3 player included.

    Commenting on the lack of business modell I hear the echoes from 1995 when the Internet would never take off because it lacked a business model. What drove it was that so many more people than expected were interested in publish information on the web. The same driving force seems to be driving the blogging hype (which doesn't have a straight monetary business model either). The urge to publish thoughts and experience evidence will coincide with the lower threshold in just clicking on "record" on your cell phone than transforming an experience to text.

    Commenting on your last point I agree that the rights and social views associated with communication technology will be very important in changing the world, but I think it is a very complex issue which requires many more pages.

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