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A Sideways Glance at Podcasting

Moira Gunn, the host of TechNation on PBS, asked me today what I might talk about on her show if she booked me as a guest to discuss the podcasting revolution as I see it. Responding to that allowed me to jot down some of the things I've been thinking about, and some of them aren't too...revolutionary.

Previously: David Lawrence's Personal Netcast - 4/9/2005 >>
Next: Housingmaps.com, Yoo on stuff and Pirillo podcasts >>

It's simple: on a couple of fronts, I've been watching and participating in the podcast thing, having done one of the very first of these types of personalized broadcast deliveries, long ago, via email with the Personal Netcast. Once email became impossible to deliver, I stopped doing it, and have recently started them up again. And I have some pretty strong opinions, having been in both worlds (radio and tech) for nearly 30 years, on why this "revolution" is really cool - but it's not cool for the reason most people think, and it's certainly not because traditional terrestrial radio is getting old and tired and people don't like it any longer.

Radio in general, and commercial radio in particular, always ends up being the punching bag for new technology: first, the Web was going to kill traditional media, including radio. Then, RealAudio spelled the death of radio. Then, Live365 spelled the death of radio. Then Shoutcast. Then Napster and Kazaa. Clear Channel's McRadio approach. And now, it's podcasting that will be the harbinger of radio's doom, because radio isn't responsive. Radio is cookie cutter. Radio doesn't care.

I'm here to tell you it's all a bunch of crap. For a vertical segment that seems hellbent not to make the same corporate mistakes that other segments make, to be more socially and environmentally aware, more liberal in its politics and more friendly and cooperative in it's approach to competition, the tech space has fallen flat on its face when it tries to predict the demise of things, over and over and over. And it's doing it again.

Podcasting is what it is. It's a cool way for anyone with a mike, an Internet connection and a blog to get their message out. It's also a great way for Radio Shack to sell a bunch of cheap mikes to amateurs. But just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should, you'll be good at it, or you'll continue to do it once the novelty wears off. Podcasting right now is where desktop publishing was in 1986. Anyone could do it, so everyone who catches the bug does it. And we're then subjected to some of the most awful productions ever heard (remember the font wars of the late 80's? {{{shudder}}}), unfortunately gushed over simply because they exist, and because there are people in tech who fear criticism of anything new will abort its wide acceptance.

Adam Curry's Daily Source Code is a joy to listen to - I'm an old DJ at heart and Adam is an MTV hero of mine. But it's not because DSC is a podcast, it's because Adam is a great performer. He can do 5 things at once, and all the while he's VNCing over to his Windows machine from his Powerbook, adjusting his father-in-law's homegrown matchbox, taking a Skype call and adjusting his cup of Senseo coffee, he's one of the rare breed of people that can simply keep talking and describing and explaining and...entertaining you.

That's him. Unfortunately, it's not everyone. And many of the experiments we're hearing today will fall by the wayside due to apathy, boredom, or just plain lack of skill. I've said this a lot during many of the more publicized tech "revolutions": go ahead. Let a thousand flowers bloom. You'll soon have 990 dead flowers to clean up. But a lot of people would rather concentrate on the blooming, in the hope that we find something cool.

We have.

The cool thing is we now have a great standard, RSS 2.0 with Enclosures, to rely on as a free option for guaranteed rich media delivery and communication in the future between publishers and their audience, with no spam to interfere with the system, no gatekeeper to stop the presses, and virtually no barrier to entry.

We also have yet another entertainment and information source to choose from, that will, at the same time, increase the exposure of talent that might have gone unnoticed, confirm that some people shouldn't really be heard on mic, and naturally degrade the overall ratings that radio and other traditional media enjoy. What we do not have is the next radio killer.

Let me spill the beans on why radio music programmers think like they do, play the playlist games that they do, play the arbiton game like they do, and how all of that will remain the way it is until the rules change with the ad agencies (and your underwriting staff): they do it because that's what advertisers want, numbers. People Meters aren't going to change things. And McRadio is nothing new: Gordon McLendon and Todd Storz did McRadio with their stations when they invented Top 40...back in the *Fifties*.

No, podcasting is still Cool. It's just going to end up being another way we get what we get - informed and entertained. Let's not attribute death of another medium to it just yet.

Your comments are welcome below.

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