Archive for March, 2010

Some things we learn because someone told us what they are. Other things we learn from experience, and we give that experience a name — in fact, the people who told us what things are might have learned them this way.

The question at hand, of course, is “what is podcasting”? What do I mean when I ask that question? Why does it seem even interesting?

First attempts at answering this question are usually something like what Wikipedia currently cites (and the first definition I cited in my presentation):

A podcast is a series of digital media files (either audio or video) that are released episodically and often downloaded through web syndication.

A later section cites work that I’ll look into further where a four-part definition of podcast is used:

A podcast is a digital audio or video file that is episodic; downloadable; programme-driven, mainly with a host and/or theme; and convenient, usually via an automated feed with computer software.

I have a problem with these definitions: they don’t actually answer the question — except in a very surface way.

Or, as I have come to call it: these things are the mechanic definitions of podcasting.

It’s understandable, really; from what I’ve learned about learning styles and the process of cognition, humans generally move from the more concrete descriptions of the world to the symbolic and abstract. It speaks not to the skills of the definer that these definitions lack any sort of real meaning, but rather to the newness of podcasting itself.

But this mechanical definition really gets us very little, and it’s not the question I’m asking anyway. One could have made a similar description about a car, describing the elegant dance of hardware, instrumentation and control that gives this hunk of plastic, metal and chemicals its forward mobility. It would be accurate, at least for a while — when the technology changes, this mechanical description either gets broader, changes, or simply gets abandoned.

But the “real” meaning of “car” is far more than the particular make and model, the parts and the construction, the history and the price. A car means providing vast mobility in a world previously ruled by rail and horses. A car means transforming cities to wrap them in ribbons of concrete towers to allow traffic to flow in a semi-orderly manner. A car means giving independence to millions who would have otherwise depended on the services of others to provide them with goods, and choices of where goods and services can be bought. A car means an increase in the use of and reliance on fossil fuels — or at least some energy supply. A car means having a portable office to some, a mobile house to others.

I could go on, but I think my point becomes clear: it’s much more than simple mechanical definitions that I’m after here: it’s that deeper meaning that I’m curious about. What is the impact of podcasting? How has this very young medium already shaped things (if at all)? How can it continue to do so? What should we seek to do with it, and how can we bring about such a future? Does podcasting deserve a seat at the big table with older, more established media, or is it resigned to the kid’s table alongside Youtube, flickr and Twitter?

That said, I will probably cover the mechanics of podcasting, both in a basic way (“here’s how a podcast is created, delivered, consumed”) and in a more explorative way (“how can we deliver podcasts differently?”).

But I see podcasting as much more — or at least, potentially so. Podcasting has, for me, entirely changed my pattern of media consumption. Podcasts are probably close to 80% of my media intake on any given day. (That’s a rough guesstimate; I’ll try to actually work out a proper number later.)

Have I answered my own question? Probably not. 😉 You may find that my inquisitive nature tends to raise more questions than it answers…

“Understanding Podcasting”, the presentation

I had the opportunity to give my class/presentation on podcasting this past Saturday. I think it went over well, although I ran out of time — there’s a lot of information I’d like to share, and I probably choose too much to include.

I’m going to start podcasting over the next month, but until then I hope to write down some of my initial thoughts and observations most days. I’ve got a small trip to take soon which will busy up this week, but I’ll try to get 2-3 posts up anyway.

In the meantime, here are the slides I used for that presentation. There’s no audio (it’s just a PDF), but I think I might record an audio track and make the original presentation into a video episode — we shall see.

Understanding Podcasts (2010-03-27)

What is this?

Hi there!

This is a blog dedicated to understanding the media of podcasting. (Ok, that was the obvious part..)

I am interested in getting beyond the mere mechanics of podcasting and into the deeper meaning behind this emerging medium. I want to explore what makes the medium unique, what makes it the same, what it does well and what it does badly. I want to raise and attempt to answer questions like “What is so important about this podcasting thing, anyway?” and “What should the future of podcasting look like?” and “Is podcasting dying?”.

The inspiration for this site is two-fold: first, it’s simply one of my fascinations that I keep talking about and wondering about, so I figured I’d try to do something about. Second, I’ve been taking a course on teaching, and it mandates that we teach a 20 minute session about something we’re passionate about. I’ve always found that when you combine your strong interests, you tend to perform better and get something more satisfying as a result, so here we go!

I have been a podcaster for a few years now (go see my main solo show, The WEIRD Show, or my occasional show and blog, Encaffeinated!; I’m also elsewhere) and have been a massive podcast consumer as well. I have been known to subscribe to over 300 shows, and podcasts are my main media to consume.

I have been in volunteer radio for over a dozen years as well, which gives me another perspective to throw in..

I am planning to produce occasional audio podcasts on this topic, which will be found here. I don’t know exactly what those are going to be on, just yet, so suggestions about topics to cover are welcome.

Oh.. and yeah, the base design has got to go.. Suggestions about that are welcome as well! 😉

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