Friday, April 11, 2008

1998 called: it sure likes the sound of podcasting

In a recent post entitled ‘"Push" technology is so 1998’, my friend Craig Turner writes:
Back in the late nineties there was a fad called "push". Pre-Internet media is threatened by the pattern of consumers being in charge. "Push" was an attempt to redefine the emerging online space to something they were comfortable with.
I remember it well. It sucked. Craig was apparently blogging from an alternate universe at the time, though, as he goes on to claim:
More recently, "podcasting" emerged as a fashionable word. This struck me as strange because to me it essentially the same dynamic as push content…
Craig continues as if the truth of this claim is self-evident, but I'm not buying it. I suppose you could argue that for a certain model of podcast consumption, there are some rough similarities: someone that ‘subscribes’ to a particular podcast in, say, iTunes is in some sense having regular content pushed to their desktop. But you could make the same claim about a mailing list. About Usenet. In any case, I can't speak for anyone else, and I haven't seen any data, but that's not the way I consume podcasts. There are very few podcasts that I subscribe to. (In fact, at this very moment I think the number is zero.) There are a handful whose description lists I'll occasionally browse over, and even more occasionally pick out an episode and download it. (A consequence of this is that if a podcast doesn't provide decent descriptions of its episodes, the likelihood that I'll ever download any is pretty low.) Doesn't sound much like push to me.

As evidence for the thesis that, like push technology, podcasting is on the way out, Craig cites a single article, ‘Why podcasting is failing’. Let me summarise that article here: ‘Making a podcast is quite hard work, and there's no easy way to make money out of it with advertising.’ The translation of this is not ‘podcasting is doomed’, it's ‘Big Media hasn't worked out a way to monetise podcasting’—in my opinion, a significantly less interesting conclusion.

Finally, Craig comments on the MP3 format:
I sat around a geek computer meeting in 1995 discussing mp3s. Everyone there knew that the techonology was revolutionary and would change the world. Thirteen years later we're still waiting on a massive transformation, and the delays to it are not remotely technical - people are just taking ages to adjust to a new understanding of their own interests.
Exactly how massive a transformation are you waiting for, Craig? Thirteen years ago, I could buy what the music store had for sale, in the formats it was offering, and more often than not bundled with some other stuff I specifically didn't want to buy. Now, if I want a single track from a single album, all I need is $A 1.69. I can fit 10,000 of them in my pocket. If that's nothing, I can't wait for your transformation.

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