Oh no, not another Next Big Thing!
Yes, I’m afraid so. The pace of change indeed appears to be accelerating. As with email, ecommerce (now de-hypenated and de-capitalized), Napster, TiVo, and blogging, podcasting follows the hype cycle, a term coined by Gartner, a respected internet research and reporting group. What we’re finding, generally, when it comes to all these so-called disruptive technologies (in a way, any technology can be seen as disruptive— remember what the luddites were against?) is that before the hype cycle peaks, exuberant enthusiasts proclaim the technology will change everything. After the hype cycle troughs, a lot of consolidation and abandonment takes place. After that, a peculiar thing happens: Life is changed even more profoundly than first predicted—it just took longer than people thought.
So keep that in mind as you research and explore this new phenomenon bursting onto the scene known as podcasting. Keep a cool head regarding the hype. Do not dismiss a technological phenomenon merely because of the hype. Truth is, we’re just at a certain point in the hype cycle, that’s all.
OK, so, what is podcasting?
Simply put, podcasting is when someone provides a digital sound file to another person using RSS (Really Simple Syndication). The name podcasting comes from the fact that these sound files are often played on the world’s most popular mp3 player, Apple’s iPod. iPods are not a requirment for creating, distributing, or listening to podcasts. I don’t own an iPod or even any kind of portable mp3 player. I listen to podcasts on my desktop pc using Windows Media Player 10. In fact, I’m listening to one right now as I write this.
Using software tools designed for the purpose, podcasts are subscribed to using RSS. More and more people are discovering the benefits of RSS to keep up with news headlines or posts from their favorite bloggers. By "wrapping" an mp3 sound file in an RSS "envelope", sound files can be transmitted via RSS to subscribers. Subscribing is usually free. It’s like signing up for a free email newsletter.
The software used to subscribe, manage, and download podcasts is usually free and/or open source. Often the software is set up to automatically check for new podcasts and download them. Subscribers then synchronize or transfer the podcasts to their portable mp3 player if they want to. Podcasts are not radio. They are not listened to as they are being recorded or put together; they are listened to later, at the subscriber’s convenience.
How are they made?
A lot of us don’t realize it, but just as the personal computer has changed the way many things are now accomplished (like publishing and accounting), it has also changed the way recording is done. Instead of building a recording studio using expensive and bulky hardware and equipment, you can have a recording and mixing studio on your computer using only software and some microphones. So it’s possible for people to create their own shows, record them with sound studio software onto their computer’s hard drive. They engineer, remix, and edit the digital sound file, and then upload it to a webserver. From the webserver, subscribers’ RSS feeds acquire the file. Web-based services are now offering specialized services to podcasters for very reasonable rates.
What are podcasts about? Are they worth listening to?
Like 90% of all personal blogs, most podcasts are horrifically amateurish garbage. Many of them are about computer-related topics, since most early-adopters are tech-savvy and often work in computer-related fields. But more and more of them are more like actual radio shows—even with sponsors. Topics cover nearly anything imaginable. As with blogging, many of them are self-referential. Just as there are many blogs about blogging, there are many podcasts about podcasting.
What does this have to do with my business?
Well, I guess that depends on your business, your Clients, and your imagination. If your business thrives on a highly-educated clientelle, providing regular, useful information designed to display your skills and authority on a subject matter is always a good thing. Traditional methods such as writing articles for print or web have always been good for this, but now podcasts offer a new way to do that. Tech-savvy commuters, for example make excellent recipients for podcasts. Just as in blogging, your personality, your passion, your knowledge, and your integrity matter a great deal. Your subject matter is all-important, because if you’re not providing anything of value that leads to new or increased business, you are wasting your time as well the time of anyone who listens to your podcast. If your business is the kind that benefits from public speaking, then it could potentially benefit from podcasting, as well.
What is the long-term impact of podcasting?
Nobody’s really sure, but many people are drawing a comparison between podcasting and the PVR (Personal Video Recorder) phenomenon. Those of you in Vermont who receive Adelphia’s digital cable service probably have a DVR (Digital Video Recorder), which is pretty much the same thing. TiVo was one of the first players in this space, and is still one of the biggest. The idea behind these devices is that they allow for time-shifted recording. Really, it’s hardly different in concept from a VCR, but you don’t have to wait for anything to rewind or fast-forward. You can easily record all episodes of a program, and pause or rewind live TV. The effect of all this is that it’s taking the "prime" out of prime time. When your show comes on or when you watch it doesn’t matter anymore.
Now, imagine the same impact, only applied to radio. That’s the effect many people feel podcasting may have. If that doesn’t seem like much of an effect to you, I suggest you ask someone you know who has any kind of PVR device or service if they’d be willing to give it up. They will probably look at you like a dog who thinks you’re trying to steal its food. If podcasting migrates to the automobile (which it is indeed doing), it may do an end-run around newly launched satellite radio services (after all, podcasting is cheap or free). Podcasting also completely cuts out the entire big recording industry. It won’t be long before the next wave of this also hits: videocasting via RSS.
Resources and links for podcasting
Article: And Now for the Next Internet Craze: ‘Podcasting’
Article: Stage two of the podcasting revolution
Article: Adam Curry Wants to Make You an iPod Radio Star
Software: iPodder (podcast subscription/management for all platforms)
Software: Audacity (recording/mixing software for all platforms)
Services: Odeo (podcast recording, mixing, and distribution—coming soon)
The above list is meant to provide an easy start for someone new to the concept of podcasting. It is obviously not exhaustive. You know where to go for that.