MEDIA | Just under the mainstream’s surface, a new media revolution is about to happen, says Ahmad Humeid
“Hey DJ! Are you done mixing yet?” shouts a girl’s voice. “Your DJ has only just begun!” comes the answer in a movie trailer-like voice. That’s what the listeners of the ‘Daily Source Code’ hear at the beginning of the almost-daily show.
The ‘Daily Source Code’ sounds like a radio show. There’s a DJ, lots of talk, some music, promos and sound effects. Except it’s not radio! It’s a podcast. Don’t reach for your dictionary to find out what a ‘podcast’ is. The word has not celebrated its first birthday yet. But search for podcasting on Google you will get a whopping 3.4 million result pages. Podcasting might be the fastest growing technological phenomenon in history.
So what is it? The word podcasting is derived from the word iPod, Apple’s super successful music player. In it’s most basic form, podcasting is nothing more than downloading of audio content, mostly in a radio-show-like form, and listening to it on your digital music player (or your computer for that matter). That’s hardly a new phenomenon though, right?
The ‘magic’ of podcasting, according to Adam Curry, the man behind ‘The Daily Source Code’ and the ‘father’ of podcasting, is more than the mere download. Podcasting came to life when Curry, a former MTV ‘VJ’ and tech entrepreneur, wrote a simple computer script that automatically checks several sources of internet audio defined by the user, automatically downloads new MP3 files and adds them to your iPod or other music player. The result: audio content on your player that is totally customized to your taste and that you can listen to and stop whenever you like. In other words: timeshifted, personalized radio.
Curry’s simple script has evolved into iPodder, a free application for the PC, Mac and Linux that allows you to browse a growing directory of Podcasts covering a wild variety of topics, subscribe to shows (called ‘feeds’ in podcasting lingo) and have the latest episodes downloaded straight to your music/audio collection, which then can be transferred to your portable player.
Podcating comes at a historical moment where producing professional audio (or semi professional audio) is possible on any PC. And it’s the coming together of a number of technologies and trends that are enabling an audio content revolution that has the potential to take the media world by storm.
“Transmitters? We don’t need no stinking transmitters!.” That’s another snippet from Curry’s show intro. There is no broadcasting involved here. Not FM and not even web-based. Simultaneous transmission has always been a huge obstacle for anyone producing audio content intended for a wide audience. Podcasting is not live. Every listener downloads and listens at his or her own pace. This lack of ‘transmission’, coupled with the availability of audio production tools for everyone are the great democratizing factors behind the podcasting movement. Do you have something interesting to say? Now you have the chance to just record it, and upload it to your blog, and hope that listeners will come. It’s internet-enabled self publishing revolution taken to the next level.
While a lot of podcasts are geeky (it’s always those technically inclined early adopters!) there is a lot of other interesting stuff to be explored in the podcast universe. I personally enjoy listening, in my car mostly, to things like ‘Speechless’, a podcast about instrumental music and Benjamin Walker’s ‘The Theory of Everything’ radio programme. Being the Macintosh fan I am, I listen to Macast and Inside Mac Radio too.
Today there are more than 5000 podcasts. Considering the age of this new medium, that is phenomenal. The coming few weeks will witness the launch of a number of companies who are trying to develop the podcast movement into an industry. Adam Curry, along with his business partner Ron Bloom are behind one of those ventures, called Podshow (see podshow.com). Another prominent venture in the field is Odeo (see odeo.com). Such companies want to move podcasting from the semi-underground movement it is today, to a full blown popular media consumption and production industry. Such a shift isn’t without its critics, who want podcasting to stay independent of commercial influences.
Listening the ‘The Daily Source Code’ feels like a behind the scenes peek into something that’s about to explode onto the public arena. It almost has the aura of being there with the Yahoo guys around ‘94, when the whole web was indexed by those two college dudes on their homepage.
In a recent podcast, recorded on the balcony of Bloom’s apartment in Florida, he and Curry discussed the fears of commercialization by some in the podcast community. Bloom maintains that commercialization will not hurt the spirit of podcasting. Bloom and Curry argue that the commercialization of the internet has not prevented blogging from happening. Nor is there a scarcity of broadcast frequencies that can be bought and controlled by big money. They believe that every podcast will find its “own level” of popularity. Someone’s podcast might be listened to by 10 people, while another might get the attention of a million people.
When we consider the explosive growth of digital music/media player sales and the power of the internet as a distribution system, we really might be on the verge of the emergence of a new mass medium. It might not be as revolutionizing as the invention of the web (which enabled everything from personal homepages to eBay to Amazon), but it looks like it will, at least, shake up the radio business and maybe even the music business. Keep listening.