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malevolent design weblog

This blog is now defunct, but you can find more stuff over at my personal site

Podcasting Miscellany

I’ve been following the progress of podcasting over the past six months, and jotted down a few observations:

Bandwidth

This issue hasn’t been given enough thought so far (didn’t anyone do the sums?), but after Adam Curry’s problems with delivering the Daily Source Code from his own server it’s already getting more attention. BitTorrent currently looks most promising (although I recall Adam saying 30 or 40% of his listeners get the MP3 file via their web browser) (update: now he says it’s more like 75-80%), and hopefully one day we’ll have a universally-supported successor to MP3 with improved compression.

Authoring

As authoring software improves, more and more people will be able to create a podcast, but it won’t be as widespread or accessible as plain ol’ blogging. Apart from anything else, not everyone has a voice they’re comfortable with, and audio requires additional hardware in a more controlled environment.

There’ll be two types of authoring tool - web-based applications (such as the imminent Odeo) that work through a browser using Flash to handle audio, and software the user runs from their own computer. It’s another great web v desktop clash.

Commercialisation and Popularity

Businesses, deals and commercial podcasts are sprouting up and the backlash has already begun. It’s similar to the simmering resentment many enthusiasts felt at the commercialisation of the web in the mid-90s, and similarly futile, but it’s healthy to be sceptical. After all, the web’s big influx of money, greed and stupidity in the late 90s didn’t quite work out.

Don’t expect traffic to be spread across podcasts in a happy meritocracy; of course there’ll be a small number of superstars and some kind of power law distribution. As with blogging, if you’re not firmly established early on and connected to the right people then it’ll be hard work to get noticed.

Access

Podcasting needs to be more tightly integrated with the rest of the web to avoid becoming a large collection of isolated audio files. Better show notes (aided by ever-improving software) will help, but we also need automatic transcripts and quoteplay-type linking to excerpts.

Time

There’s a big, unavoidable limitation: the amount of free time listeners have. In the time it takes to listen to a typical podcast I could keep up with dozens of weblogs, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable subscribing to shows I might never have time to listen to (whereas I’ll happily dip in and out of music or radio). Perhaps that’s just me, or maybe listening habits will adapt.


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