I remember reading an article somewhere online last year that said podcasting as we know it has already largely disappeared from view as attention has increasingly turned to social media over recent years. The author of the article asked why such a popular technology had received such a small amount of attention.
If I remember correctly, the author emphasized that podcasting didn’t seem to offer much that’s different compared to what you get on the radio, in that the common perception is a podcast is just a download of something that has already been made available elsewhere, just another medium to deliver the same content.
Is podcasting different to normal radio?
I look at quite a lot of the podcasts in my iTunes and on my smartphone, and the fact they are on a downloadable medium or in cloud streaming that you can listen to whenever I like doesn’t necessarily change a lot of the content. If anything, I used to think that listening to a podcast was a lot like listening to the radio, but instead of live, it was when I wanted. The constraints of a schedule with live radio made it easier to follow podcasts at my own convenience and leisure.
While such comparisons with mainstream media like radio are inevitable, that’s not a complete picture of the differences. Especially when you look at how the barriers to entry are so low that anyone can create and publish a podcast, but not everybody gets a slot as a DJ on the radio. You don’t need expensive studios or voice talent either. Indeed, you can get started with podcasting for much less than radio–even next to nothing if you take advantage of the instant broadcasting services that are available.
Consider three specific things that comprise the origins of podcasting:
- Technological innovations that have made podcasting possible.
- Cultural demands that have made listening to podcasts desirable and easy to do.
- The desire of individuals to create and share audio and video content directly.
The first point has been proven to be a powerful driver thanks mostly to three things:
- Dave Winer. This is the man who invented the RSS enclosure that enabled the subscription aspect of podcasting and auto-delivery of the MP3 audio files
- Adam Curry, who popularized the medium and created the first podcatcher that lets you listen to those audio files and automatically manages your subscriptions and one company
- Apple. Love them or hate them, they launched iTunes with podcasting support in 2004 which helped really popularize the medium.
Podcasting’s Double-Edged Sword
What of cultural demands and individual desire? Those two links look like the missing ones especially when you consider that podcasting has become even easier than it already was with the advent of “tap-talk-publish” tools and services such Blog Talk radio, enabling users to record and produce live shows from their mobile device. With instant broadcasting tools like these, no longer do you even need to have a computer with a microphone and recording software. Instead, with just an iPhone or Android smartphone– and, in the case of iPadio, even an ordinary landline phone– you can record your words and publish that audio content online instantly, and it’s ready to share with the world.
Yet audio podcasting still hasn’t found its tipping point. Could it also be lack of quality content? This is the double edged sword, as with the world of blogging that provides anybody and everybody the ability to produce their own content–it provides everybody the ability to do it. Including people who make crappy podcasts. There are some really good podcasts but there are a load of terrible amateur ones as well, that have not rocked their mojo and have not risen to the top of the dog pile. Just trawl through the thousands of podcast episodes in the iTunes podcast library or a directory like Podcast Alley and you’ll see for yourself. I cringe when I listen to the first twenty shows or so that I produced in my early days of podcasting.
Still, unless you’re looking for big audiences to compete with radio, does a tipping point really matter? Isn’t this more about niche publishing where it’s just as financially feasible to be able to create content for ten people as it is for 10,000? Isn’t it more about developing a community and getting close to people who genuinely want to consume your content? If you’re interested in starting your show, then stop procrastinating and launch it!