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.
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.