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Podcasting By Any Other Name

People like to find arguments. It gives them a place to plant their intellectual flags and say "I was here first!" For example, there's apparently an argument over whether "podcasting" is "significant" from an investment perspective. David Berlind weighs in on his ZDNet blog. Berlind's answer is quite oblique, and while making some very important points implicitly, I think it will be accused by the podcasting faithful of 'not getting' podcasting; I'll accuse him of the same thing, for different reasons.

Basically, as far as I'm concerned, "podcasting" borders on being a hoax, of sorts: It's a name concocted more or less with the sole purpose of counting coup in the blogosphere, that's been blown up as something important and significant, and in blogospheric terms, it is both, but not on the scale that's presumed on its behalf. Podcasting as practiced in blogland will have very little impact on what the thing that will be called "podcasting" will look like in the future. It's one of those things that's important for the impact it's said to have, and not for the impact it actually has. It's important, in short, for the same reason that Jessica Simpson is [sic] important: Because people say so. It's got nothing to do with her singing.

The spur to Berlind's meditation was a question from a fellow reporter, working on a story (and hence, kept anonymous -- and no, I do not find anything sinister in that). "Old media" blokes, it seems, are still wondering whether blogs are "significant", and -- here's the curious part -- what that means for "podcasting". "His perception is that the blogger phenomenon is insignificant," Berlind's colleague supplies, "making podcasting negligible." From an investment perspective, of course.

Well, it's a terrible analysis, of course, as far as it goes: Major acquisitions and strategic investments are being made that are directly motivated by the idea of blogging, and so blogging is by definition "siginificant", and so we have to wonder what the heck this expert really means. Even if the raw numbers of new bloggers (tens of millions in the last year alone, similar to the boom-period growth figures for internet use) don't impress him, he's myopic if he doesn't understand that blogging per se isn't the issue; it's just the nascent stage of new modes of mass-personal communication. My own nutshell evaluation of this particular analyst is that I suspect he doesn't actually know what he's talking about.

Nevertheless, there is a grain of truth in the analysis. Personalistic "morning coffee notes", produced on an ad hoc basis by random bloggers, will never be significant in this "investment" sense. (Though I can see some interesting possibilities, there, for things that will be significant.) Why? Because the medium sucks; podcasting will never, ever become popular in the way that blogging is popular. On the other hand, as Berlind rightly points out, the rather old idea of media-shifting print content to voice (which used to go by the name "radio") and then mode-shifting that from a stream to an offline file, not only will be big, but has been going on for a while. In fact, it's older than the web, even on the Internet. The only things that're new about it are, first, doing the notification and distribution through RSS, and second, automating the media load onto portable devices.

Those are important things, sure; but the podcasters didn't think of them. They just took their particular process public. And the particular "open" modality that they specified will be important during a transitional period -- but it's not where the money will be made or most of the traffic will happen. That will be on satellite. Podcasting in its current form is merely an interim step to the full realization of potential of satellite radio. "[U]sing the technology to audio-tivo satellite" would be just a start; wait until Apple or XM really get going on these ideas.

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