Category: Podcasting Means…

Headhost In The DarkDragon*Con 2014 was a very busy, very fun convention, and I’m very happy to have had the chance to participate not only as a wide-eyed viewer but also as a big-mouthed podcaster & presenter. :)

I was one quarter of the “Podcasting: Present, Past and Future” panel, along with good friends Chuck Tomasi and Kreg Steppe who collectively come from Technorama and individually podcast with Freestyle and Look What I Found, respectively. Also on the panel was someone I was not really familiar with, but will definitely change that in the future, the host of Nobody’s Listening and creator of the NLCast Network, James Kennison. The panel was set-up and moderated by Charles McFall, who I met last year.

Here’s the audio recorded by the good folks at Alpha Geek Radio, who were also live-streaming the entire event. I’m very happy to see this kind of support for the podcasting track, so they have my own thanks as well as bigger and better kudos.

We could have easily spent an entire panel on any one of these time eras, past, present or future. I think we spent a little too much time talking about the past, but it’s also the easiest thing to talk about. We gave some advice about podcasting, lessons learned and supportive slogans, but that was probably more effectively covered in Podcasting 101-type panels (which I did not attend this year).

About the present we spoke only a little. There are eminent things on the horizon of significance to podcasting, like the podcast patent wars, the release of new devices like smart watches, the rise of the fourth (or is it fifth?) wave of podcasters (who think they invented everything), the influx of professional radio and television productions being released as podcasts. Despite all this, we moved quickly into the future, in part (I believe) because there is some sense of frustration and urgency, and it always feels more useful to be a bit ahead of the current activity rather than reacting only to the present.

The future of podcasting is somewhat in question, and generally has always been. We’ve had some great leaders who have contributed those initial steps, and some great innovators along the way, but we are in a period of plateau. We, the podcasters, have become complacent with what has become established technology, and have ceased to truly innovate.

Instead, we see some motion in the bigger players like Apple. Despite my love-hate relationship with Apple products, they largely lead in podcasting support, from iTunes and its introduction of podcast “station”, to the Podcasts app for IOS, to the directory at the heart of iTunes which dictates certain rules, regulations and guidelines upon podcasts.

I’m not comfortable with the podcasting medium being defined by corporate or government interests. As a technologist, it offends me that we would not seek the best technological solution and possibility. As a broadcaster, it offends me that we might stifle the exciting prospects of a brand new medium by indifference. As an academic, it fascinates me that we have something which its own unique features and surprises me that we haven’t studied it properly.

So, I am revisiting this blog and podcast. The perpetual danger that always accompanies people who cry out “Why doesn’t such a thing exist?!?” is that someone will point the finger back at the speaker and say “But why don’t you do it?”.

I am not alone in this journey, and I’m going to need more time than a single hour to do it. So I’ll be blogging here, podcasting when I can, and enlisting others along the way to answer, from a philosophical standpoint: What Is Podcasting?

Are Podcasts Dying?” asks a blogger for Stuff online.

The evidence (paraphrased):

  1. The New York Times is getting out of podcasting.
  2. People the author’s age (youth?) aren’t listening to podcasts (but his parents love them).
  3. Most people listen to podcasts of shows that they missed on radio.
  4. Podcasts are hard to make.
  5. Podcasts are hard to monetize, and have “smallish” audiences.
  6. Podcasts are hard to get/manage.
So, let’s look at this closer…

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…

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