Podcasting: My Take

It appears that podcasting is one of those memes that has taken a life of its own, and fired up the imaginations of a whole lot of bloggers. Just take a look at rate of growth on podcast.net, a brand new podcast directory.

So what is this ‘podcasting’ you speak of? In its purest form, podcasting is simply time-shifted audio broadcasting. Kinda like Tivo for radio, except the ‘programs’ that you’re time-shifting are not generally available via traditional radio (although there are obviously exceptions).

I’ve dipped my toes into the babbling brook of podcasting, and have some good and bad thoughts to pass on about this new delivery mechanism.

Why podcasting is good:

  • It’s like the good bits of public radio, without the crap. There I was, strolling along Queen St, listening to some really quite interesting tidbits from Engadget. My initial thought was: this is just like the interesting science programs from BBC World Service; or the time my wife and I stumbled across an excellent historical program about the Panama canal after dialling up public radio while on a road trip. So often tuning into public radio can be a hit and miss affair. You’re not sure if you’ll stumble across some interesting program, or some inane radio drama.
  • You can listen anywhere. Unfortunately (at least in New Zealand), the decent public radio is broadcast over AM, which precludes one from listening to those stations in the city. On the other hand, I happily listened to podcasts while strolling or driving through the concrete jungle, or even while getting the 3rd highest score on LotR pinball in the local amusement parlour1.

Ok, so now what’s so bad about podcasting?

  • A good blogger does not necessarily make a good broadcaster. So far, most of the podcasts I have listened too have been pretty interesting, and those that haven’t been interesting have at least been novel because of the mere fact that they are podcasts. Having said that, more than once I have got to a point in a podcast (usually after some inane babbling or a bunch of ums and ahs), where I’ve lost the illusion. Hang on a second, I find myself thinking, this is just some geek raving on (badly) about stuff that interests him, not me. I guess this phenomenon is not limited purely to podcasting, but it is accentuated by the fact that it is a lot easier to skip over some bad writing or a boring story when reading a blog, but not so easy when listening to a podcast. Which is a nice segue to:
  • I just don’t have time to listen to all this! The rate of growth of podcasting is huge. I’m pretty sure that there is already a hell of a lot more than 24 hours worth of podcasts generated on any given day. How am I meant to listen to all of this? With regular blogs, I can scan the RSS titles, then scan the stories, before deciding which stories to read, and furthermore which stories to investigate further. With podcasting you only get a title and description. For anything more, you really have to listen to the whole thing. You can’t even skip bits because a lot of podcasts are made up of short snippets, and you may miss a whole item by scanning forward 3 minutes. Not sure how to overcome this one, although I did find that I preferred the podcast style of discussing and expanding on stories that already exist on the blog. That way if you don’t happen to listen to the podcast, you’re not missing anything.

Will podcasting live on? Almost certainly. I think it still needs some sort of ‘killer app’ to get it over the hump. Perhaps some sort of visual tagging of timecodes combined with keyword recognition? I could imagine something that scans the RSS feeds for the blog that originated the podcast, and matches up (using voice recognition) the locations of spoken words that match the titles and bodies of blog postings. That way you could have some sort of combined podcast/rss reader that made it easy to scan for items of interest, then locate further audio content on that item. Who’s up for it?

1. I’ve recently rediscovered pinball – I forgot how visceral and fun it was! However the volume of sound from the latest pinball machines can make listening to podcasts while playing a bit of a hit-and-miss affair.

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  1. What the? Man I can’t imagine anything scarier than listen to some blogger ramble on about their blog in their own voice. I’m pretty sure nobody cares enough to *read* my miniature modelling blog at the moment!

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