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Podcasting Is Dead. Long Live Podcasting.

I'm mildly surprised that in the storm of mutual annoyance over podcasting, there hasn't been a clearer statement of where, how and why podcasting can succeed and fail. I suppose I shouldn't be, since clear-headed analysis doesn't generally sell trackbacks, but I think it's a really interesting phenomenon that will teach us a lot if we baseline and understand it correctly. And that can start with etymology.

As it is:

podcasting = [i]Pod + [broad/multi]casting = "multi-casting to people's iPods"

As it may be:

1: [private] podcasting = pod + [narrow/multi]casting = "narrowcasting to my pod"
2: [public] podcasting = [i]Pod + broadcasting = "broadcasting to people's media players"

Podcasting "as it is" currently understood is a short transitional phase. As a popular blogging modality, it won't last beyond 2005. Yet by 2006, something or things called "podcasting" will be extremely popular, and might even drive some interesting and powerful changes in the distribution of information.

Podcasting will very soon split into two distinct types of output: One that's highly personal, targeted at people you know and who hence know your voice (and hence don't require high production values), who are in tune with your interests (and hence don't require extensive meta-data to get your point). Personal podcasting will serve to cement bonds among groups of people who are not immediately and intimately connected. The second form, pro-podcasting, will be the kind of stuff David Berlind is talking about: Professionally or quasi-professionally produced output, primarily from media outlets but also from people for whom it's cost-effective to produce output that's essentially promotional.

The reasons are really simple and kind of rock solid, and they are simply that it's just not cost effective for either the 'caster to produce a high-quality podcast unless you've got facilities, skill and time at your command to do so; or for the listener to spend a lot of time listening to something that s/he could apprehend a lot faster and with more flexiblity by reading it. A podcast of sufficient quality that even interested strangers would want to listen to takes time to produce; furthermore, on-air reading is not something everyone can do well enough to make for a tolerable listening experience. Podcasts are also more or less invulnerable to full-text indexing (which makes it seem ironic to me that many of its proponents are also strong proponents of letting Google traffic arbitrate on the importance of a resource). It's arguable that software solutions will be found to these problems, and I think there's merit to those arguments. But that's not to say that people will then actually use those solutiong to blog as podcasts.

Typical "pro-podcasters" will range from Bill O'Reilly to Al Franken to Dave Barry. I wouldn't expect it to include people like Glenn Reynolds and Markos Moulitsas, because too much of their value comes from nimbleness and textual integration with the blogosphere. It may include people like Wonkette or Drudge, who could use their pro-podcasts to drive spiral traffic to their website, and vice-versa. Pro-podcasting will have a market-mover effect in terms of driving progress toward "radio TiVo" and pushing media players (and media players of all kinds, since it will rapidly start to include offline video content).

But it's the personal-podcasters who will have the most interesting effects. The obvious market is distributed groups of friends and families -- people will be able to send narrowly-targeted multicasts to groups of people with whom they share an emotional connection. But there are also tremendous potential business applications for personal-podcasting. Personal podcasting could be used to facilitate workgroup solidarity, send what amount to persistent offline voicemails, even facilitate something like non-real-time audio chat.

And I find it interesting that I haven't heard about these uses, yet. Perhaps it's that for the first-movers and strong evalngelists like Curry, Searls and Winer, there really isn't a separation between the business and personal pplications. Which would also be interesting, if true. But more on that another time.

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