An Update on the Podcasting Dope

Back in March, 2005, I wrote a short essay entitled Why I’m Not Smoking the Podcasting Dope (and a follow-up post). It garnered some attention from the technology community, and had both supporters and detractors.

I wrote the piece to debunk some of the hype around podcasting, and to articulate my reasons for not being particularly excited by the format. As often happens with these things, I became a bit of a podcasting antichrist, when really I was just "skeptical about who’s doing it, who’s going to do it, and who’s going to listen to it".

Last month I got to chat with Eric Rice, who was on the faculty with me at Blogs
‘n’ Dogs
. As you probably know, Eric’s hitting the podcasting and video-blogging bong pretty hard these days. Given that I’ve been on some podcasts and created
one for a client
, it seems like a good time to re-visit this topic. [more]

This follow-up was also prompted by a watershed moment. The other night, I was talking to somebody who didn’t know much about my involvement with technology
and the web. He was talking about how he was listening to a play on the BBC. I asked if he downloaded it, and he replied "no, it’s not a podcast or anything–it’s streaming." This was the first time I had personally heard a Regular Human (as in a non-geek) use the term ‘podcast’. I had a similar experience at a party about 18 months ago with the term ‘blog’.

When I wrote the original piece, I structured it as a rhetorical discussion. I’ll do that again, but this time I’ll look at how my arguments sound nine months later:

The mainstream will be all over podcasting

This seems to be true. Of the top 20 podcasts in the Apple podcast directory, 15 come from mainstream media or already-public personalities (I’m ignoring
video blogs for the moment). The same trend looks to be true at the Yahoo directory. Lest we forget, Paris Hilton started a podcast.

When I compare those directories with the Technorati Top 100 or the Feedster 500, I see the opposite phenomena. At least 75% of the top blogs still look to be self-made, in one way or another. And I don’t see popular blogs from the O.C. (they call it, gulp, ‘Foxcasting’) or ESPN.

How much does this mainstream adoption matter? I’m not sure, but it’s an indicator
that podcasting isn’t as grassroots as blogging. If a Regular Human comes to a podcasting directory for the first time, they’re likelier to choose what they
know, particularly when it’s suggested to them as the most popular option.

Compared to blogging, podcasting’s tail is relatively short

This is purely speculative, and pretty difficult to prove. Technorati tells us there are nearly 25 million blogs out there (I suspect about two-thirds of them are active). Has anybody seen the numbers for podcasts? Obviously, we’re much earlier in the adoption cycle for podcasting, so we could only compare growth trends.

Until we can bend time (as opposed to just shifting it), we’ll still only have x hours in the day to listen to podcasts. Hopefully we’re getting closer to natively searching audio and video (though I see we can embed chapters now, as Rocketboom does)–that will make life easier.

Podcasting is more difficult than blogging, and appeals mostly to geeks

Tools are emerging that simplify the process of podcasting (for example, Audioblog). Speaking from experience, it takes much more time and effort to produce a professional-sounding podcast. One of the broad appeals of blogging is its low barrier to entry. I look forward to the day when we can replicate that low barrier in podcasting (and then video blogging).

Then there’s the subject of talent, which forms another barrier to widespread adoption. What I said still applies:

Everyone learns writing in school, so the barrier to entry is pretty small. However, nobody (or very few) learns how to be a radio broadcaster. Like it or not, that takes ability, practice and, ideally, a great voice. I try not to read poorly-written blogs, and I don’t have the patience for dead air and mumbling.

All of the podcasts I listen to regularly come from the mainstream media or established personalities (check out the screenshot of my podcasts). The only dodgy-sounding one comes from Cory Doctorow. I only put up with his hurried, weary delivery because I really enjoy his writing. He’s recently wisely outsourced some reading to Wonderland’s Alice Taylor, who sounds more enthusiastic and has a brilliant accent. You should listen to Anda’s Game–it’s a good story well read.

As for geek appeal, I did a few illustrative searches by category in the iTunes podcast directory. These are the number of podcasts in a given category:

  • Technology: 1474
  • Movies & Television: 740
  • Travel: 433 (though it’s somewhat polluted by regional weather feeds)
  • Food: 172

Hopefully if I do these searches in 6 months or a year, that’ll change.

Radio listenership is in decline

Clearly there’s plenty of eager listeners for podcasts. I haven’t seen any
numbers which the most popular ones receive, so I can’t compare them to mainstream
media, blogs or any other information medium.

The vast majority of podcasters are white, male geeks

It’d be hard to prove this, but anecdotally this seems to be the case. If we
return to the iTunes top 20 again, we find that only a couple podcasts are recorded
by women. Judging by the predominance of technology and sports podcasts in the
top 20 lists, there seems to be no question that the majority of podcast listeners
are male geeks. Has anybody seen any viable surveys on the gender of podcast

Tod Maffin is running a survey,
which may help. Unfortunately, it’ll be limited by Todd’s readership, which
no doubt has a preponderance of white males.

Podcasting will be the college radio of the 21st century

It’s too early to tell.

In Closing

I recognize (as Roland remarked a while back), that future generations are going to be as (if not more) literate with audio and video as we are with text. I recognize and applaud those who are putting great, original content on the Web for free, regardless of the format or source. As I wrote in March:

Of course, if all that podcasting really achieves is providing eager listeners with time shifted content, then that’s a great victory. Of course, you might want to credit TiVo for that innovation–clearly it popularized the concept.

I certainly appreciate being able to listen to Ebert and Roeper’s movie reviews while working out on a Tuesday morning.


  1. My main problem with podcasting is that I am limited by number of podcasts I can listen to in a day and it uses my resources. For example I can read 40-50 blog easily while working and listening to the news at the same time. But for podcasts I need to find a free time and etc. Btw, is also a great service for podcasting.

  2. I’ve never listened to a podcast and have no real interest in starting.

    Of course, I also don’t listen to the radio, other than some staticky morning crap for about 30 seconds in the morning before I hit “snooze”. Only time I ever did was when I owned a car and only had a crappy tape deck. A random bunch of self-important people rambling incoherently about… whatever, just doesn’t seem interesting to me.

    But hey, I also like books. (anybody remember books?)

  3. What I do like about podcasting is the specificity. You can often find a podcast that specifically addresses one of your interests. For instance I listen to:

    Digital Photography: Tips from the Top Floor
    Inside Mac
    CBC Radio 3 Podcast
    LDS Voices

    The Conservative party sort’of has a podcast and videoblog and I don’t think the other parties in Canada (Green party anyone?) have as yet. Since I don’t often watch t.v. it has been interesting to see all the t.v. adds they are running and the various campaign speeches (mostly of the raa raa type but often filled with a regional policy discussion) I’d love to hear a Jack Layton podcast.

    Lastly, I listen to my wife’s podcast for Boutique Clothing and related topics for her audience. Her last show was actually on blogging interviewing a momblogger from Calgary. I’d be interested in hearing what you thought of the show which is produced strictly “in-house” from start to finish. Website and all.

    Sorry for the long post!

  4. I have to add in on the specificity of podcasts that can make them appealing to those who want to listen. It’s all about where you want to get your information from, and for those who are interested in portable media aiding in that process, podcasting is a great fit. TiVo just made this medium a matter of time.

    And just like blogs, the beauty of podcasts is that you can go back and listen to them anytime you want to and fast forward over the parts you don’t want to hear. The medium is new, and it’s bound to keep growing into an animal that much different than it is now.

    Just my quick thoughts. I’m a guy with hardcore radio roots turned podcaster myself.

  5. Good post. I have to point out what I see as a flaw in the podcasting paradigm that can probably easily worked out. Podcasting uses a LOT of bandwidth. A popular pod- or video- cast would be unaffordable for a non-financed independent producer, as the bandwidth charges for terabytes worth of media would be in the hundreds of dollars or higher.

    I subscribe to a number of audio and video podcasts through Itunes. A 1-hour video program ends up being about 250Mb, not an insignificant amount of data. My iBook was busy downloading an episode of Diggnation when I realized I had to leave the house and didn’t want to leave my computer on. Closing down iTunes kills the download, even if you have already grabbed 240Mb of a 250Mb download.

    I start iTunes up again, it begins the whole download process over again.

    Yikes, think about this happening with repeated users and you can imagine the waste and cost.

    Unlike a Torrent or p2p download iTunes (I don’t use any other application for receiving podcasts) the file download is not merely picked up where it left off.

    I don’t know what other applications do, but Apple would be wise to find a way to allow users to ‘interrupt’ their podcast downloads yet be able to continue where they left off. This will go a long way toward making the cost of podcasting more affordable.

  6. As podcasting and vidblogging are still infants, I must keep telling myself that the producers of both are infants as well.

    Oh I can’t wait until they both start walking!

    Well, I’m not a podcaster, but I listen online; I am not a vidblogger, yet I watch online.

    What I am, is a programmer. Specifically, I develop web-based applications. I must be pretty good at it, since I’ve owned a small business for the last 4+ years.

    Well, wouldn’t you know it, but I developed two such recent online applications.

    The first is audiomerge, at It allows the syncronized display of mini-web pages during the online streaming playback of a podcast…..well, so far only 12 people have taken the time to sign up and try it out…..

    The second is based on the same concept, but is for FLV video files (yes, the kind which play nicely in a Flash player).

    The process is something which I call ‘Syncrocasting’. A demo is available online at

    Maybe I need a new demo? Maybe the one up there now doesn’t do the system justice.

    Maybe I need to find out how to contact Ted Turner? My pockets are not very deep at all, but I think that both of my systems are based on sound judgement, yet I fail to understand how I am having such a hard time getting the word out there.

    Someone help…?

  7. Search. Sample. Subscribe.

    It doesn’t get any easier to find audio and video content which you’ll want to subscribe to.

    Simply visit

    There’s always The Random Twelve displayed on the main page, or use the search feature to sift through tens of thousands of video and audio titles and descriptions.

    The site was created out of one individuals desire to find all of the audio and video content available. Well, that has now grown into something so large that it would be impossible to listen or watch it all.


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