Ruminations on podcasting

So, what is a podcast, anyway? Frankly, the term does more harm then good. It leads people to be confused about what the darned thing actually is. Everyone always says they've not done any podcasting because they don't have an iPod.

I've always thought of podcasting like a general word to describe several things, all of which are related. What do you think of when you think of the word "radio"? Are you referring to the device, the sound-waves, or the people talking or singing through the little speaker? All three uses would be useful.

That's how I think of podcasting, or have thought of podcasting to this point. But, I've gotten in several heated arguments about this, because the term is meeting with a lot of resistance. People tell me an mp3 on a website is not a podcast. When I try to explain that it could be seen that way, they get angry.

Or they tune out, which is even worse.

In the weeks to come, I hope to clear up some of the language on my site, which is much more than a podcast. Sure, there's an RSS feed you can use to synch programs to your mp3 player. But, I find most people access the files by accessing through the website. Or, through embedded players on other sites like the one you see to your right. (courtesy of Odeo).

These might be thought of as two separate audiences, in terms of how they actually access the material, and where. I've sloppily called both of them podcasts, because that's how I think of it. I take the POD to mean "personal on demand" which may be cheesy, but more accurately reflects how I personally conceive of podcasting. Somewhere in here is a disconnect that must be resolved.

A major media executive in town told me last year that if my venture was going to be successful, I would need to follow human behavior. It's not easy to create a new media environment, but I am confident people are moving to the Web for how they get their media. Not just text, but audio and video. The key is to create content that entices people to pick up a new habit.

So, back to the point of this post. Am I truly a podcaster, or something else? At the heart, I'm a believer in the public's need to hear from newsmakers in the raw. I'm a believer in people knowing what's going on in the towns and communities around them. I've been producing features and news stories for radio for ten years or so. What I do now is just an extension of the same thing. I identify myself as an audio producer.

As I've blogged before, there's nothing more exciting than actually being live on the radio, using a medium that has a fairly long history. Generations now about the radio, and it's easy to use. But, it's only easy to use because you're used to it.

I believe people will get used to Internet radio, or podcasting, or "MP3 files uploaded to servers" (as one wag on a board where I post puts it). My job in part is to help people figure it out. My job is to create stories that engage people, and provide services that people will become to rely on.

I'll conclude this entry with one philosophical exercise. My wife sent me a link to podcast I've never heard before. She found it through Bloglines, and at first the link seemed to be broken. Eventually I found the blog for "The Best Podcast You Have" and noticed they don't have an audio player in their entries. For them, it's download or bust.

When faced with the whole "How do you get people to subscribe" question, these folks simply pass it off to feedburner. And just look at the options! Click that one button to subscribe to that podcast in your iTunes, your Yahoo player, whatever. To me, it can't be any easier.

But, most people aren't me.

So, the questions prompted by this exercise:

Are there simply too many choices to expect a large audience for Internet audio in 2006? Are potential users who might enjoy the content be getting confused? Will the local news portals become a mass-media, or simply remain a niche for those in the know? Will Vista increase the popularity and use of RSS? How will this all look in five years?


- PoliticalNoise said...

Sean Tubbs wrote: What do you think of when you think of the word "radio"? Are you referring to the device, the sound-waves, or the people talking or singing through the little speaker? All three uses would be useful.

I think of all three of those work.

Additonally when I think of Radio I also think of a person sitting alone in a closet talking aloud to themselves. Then I think "what an odd job that would be to have- sitting alone in a closet talking to oneself. Yes, I think I might enjoy a job like that in radio."

And frankly I can't stand the local radio here in Charlottesville. So when I'm listening to "radio" I'm dividing my time between Satelite Radio and the stations outside of Virginia that I like which provide online content.

Sean Tubbs said...

Can you be more specific about what you don't like about local radio in Charlottesville? I hear this comment all the time, but Charlottesville is unique in the country in the number of options available. What would you want to hear in local radio?

Brian J. Geiger said...

Yeah, I've noticed that geeks in general get very protective of words, whether they are well defined or not. I suspect some of it is because they're used to programming languages, where words tend to only mean one thing at a time. However, I'm pretty sure most of it is a territorial issue, and they don't like meanings of words to change unless they're the group that changes the meaning. Foolishness, but there you have it.

A bit of history of Podcasting the word, I believe it was coined by Dave Winer and perhaps Adam Curry, and it was meant to specifically encompass a media file delivered by the RSS enclosure tag. Some people have complained that podcasting is nothing new because you've been able to download media from web pages for forever now (as these things are reckoned), but the RSS enclosure ability granted a new form of delivery that enabled people to download the files automatically in a pull manner (where the client software chooses the time and place of download, as opposed to the push method that tried to take off around the turn of the millennium where the server would tell the client when things are ready).

Without the RSS enclosure and client-controlled way of pulling down information in a standard way, Podcasting would not really exist. Streaming and downloading, as mentioned earlier, were well established and basically unused.

All that being said, not that Podcasting is established, there is no reason to limit the delivery methods, except based on time or preference. I allow download of my files and the podcast feed, but I don't have a player on my site. I believe my podcast is slightly more popular than my site, because I was very lucky for the first six months on iTunes to be the top result for the keyword "Food." That's no longer true, so if I want to grow more, I may have to actually do some work on it.

I think Adam Curry does a good job of spreading the word of podcasting in various ways, although his way is not without its controversy. He has some shows playing on Sirius radio that are just the first 30 minutes to an hour of regular podcasts.

I would love to be able to do something like that in local radio. Take segments of podcasts or whole podcasts that are potentially of interest to the broadcast area, throw in some interstitial information, grab some advertising or sponsorship revenue, and just see where it goes. Try to use the existing media to promote the new medium, that sort of thing.

To answer some questions:
1) Too many choices? Yes and no. It's possible to get a show with a million listeners, but it'll take time and work. I believe the saying goes that most overnight successes take about 7 years. On the other hand, if you can limit your focus enough (presuming that's the sort of audience you're going for), then you can still be successful without a large audience.

2) Potential users getting confused? Absolutely. The iTunes Music Store helps in some ways, and hurts in others. As time goes on, the technologies and interfaces mature, and the audience becomes more savvy, this will change. With proper evangelism from the podcasters and proper motivation from the audience, it will change faster. Without that, it'll take several years.

3) Local news portals niche or mass-media? Done right, local news podcasting could hit upwards of what other local news sources are (or will be in the future, they may go down), but it means taking advantage of the medium more. I'll discuss this later, as it's a potentially large topic and I've already written a lot.

4) Will Vista increase the popularity and use of RSS? I doubt it, but maybe. It will be interesting to see. I know apple's RSS-in-Safari is worthless, but their RSS-in-iTunes is great, so who can say?

5) Five year outlook? Better. Still a lot of players, but a lot of different players. Most of the people podcasting now won't continue, the serious or successful ones will continue, and you'll get more major players, plus some better ways of finding and accessing content. Look for people who are giving new options for filtering content towards your preferences. People who stick with it and have a quality product will naturally rise to a certain level, because the continuing word of mouth as more people become comfortable with the medium will increase listeners. The ones that are newer won't have as much momentum, though with proper work or luck they could also build an audience.

maiaoming said...

I think, Sean, that too much choice IS prohibitive. I recently got this article from web guru Stephen Mischook (of killer websites)

about this very issue. When you put imbedded players on CPN - and Bloglines does this, too - I suddenly found it very simple, quick, and easy to listen to 'podcasts' or 'audio' - whereas before, there were too many options, too many steps, too much work to get going.

You're absolutely right to follow human behavior, even as you try to shape it. I think the more you think in terms of content instead of the format of it, the better off you will be. Does that make sense? A blog that has audio, video, and text about a specific subject might generate more users / audience than a site broken down by format with several subjects.

For instance, I like visiting the Project Runway site, where I can find blogs and podcasts and videos about one of my favorite shows. Instead of a fractured audience for each format, this website has developed a unified audience.

If you are a journalist or reporter, using the new media for the content itself might be a better way to go (providing raw content, as you said you liked) than limiting yourself to the format...

Just a thought. I really liked this entry, and maybe redinked.com will blog about it soon.

- PoliticalNoise said...

Sean Tubbs wrote:Can you be more specific about what you don't like about local radio in Charlottesville?

Sure, I'll try to be more specific.

First gripe- I don't live within city limits so I can't get the signals for most of the stations. They just aren't strong enough. And even when I'm in town and driving around they're hard to find. And the only local radio show I've been tempted to listen to would be the Coy Barefoot show.

Second Gripe- I generally don't like listening to music radio, it's the same "stale" play lists from station to station. While I do occasionally enjoy "Country music" I hate what passes for it now days on commercial radio- and where I live those stations are the only ones that come in clearly. Those and the bible beating Christian stations- and don't get me started on those.

Third Gripe- Local public radio is lacking (on the rare occasion when I am in town and if I can even find the station, it's either Jazz or classical music. I can't stand jazz- big band 'swing' is the exception, and classical is okay but not something I want to tune in the radio to listen to.

Radio from region to region has a distinctive flavor- it's difficult to explain and the closest I can come is that it's like making a comparison between a Stephen King Novel and one by Charles Dickens. Even without a bookcover or author name, one isn't likely to get the two confused. Broadcast Radio from region to region is like that.

I have radio links to some of the stuff I enjoy on my blog page Political Noise

For Public Radio I reccomend two stations: 1) KCSN.org (I enjoy their Saturday programming- Twang and Chuck Cecil's "The Swinging Years".) and 2) KPCC (L.A. Theaterworks is the program of note on this station, and with 3 different broadcast times of Prarie Home Companion to choose from. Also of note Sandra Sing Loh's radio bits- the Loh life.)

For Morning AM drive time radio you should sample Bill Handel. He's irreverent, offensive, and funny while incorporating current events. You definately won't here anything like him in Charlottesville. And he streams live at the KFI640.com website from 9am to 12 noon Eastern Time).

And I mentioned Religon- try The Jesus Christ Show. It's on 9am to 12pm Sunday. And KFI640am also offers podcasts of their shows(requires registration but is otherwise free).

That's just a sampling of what I prefer in radio, and why local radio just doesn't do it for me.

I hope that answers the question at least a little.

thebestpodcastyouhave@gmail.com said...

Aw, I thank the wifey for bringing TBPYH to your--and thus your readers'--brain stems.

Wait, there's no way I can prove I'm its creator, is there?


Ah, here's a solution--you get the exclusive, then...I'll title Episode 13..."Must Be Alive".

Since the older episodes are not available on the site I'll soon be sending them to interested parties in excelsior versions on CD.

You've got a lucky face