Podcasting and the future of everything

Podcasting and the future of everything

: Adam Curry and others have been doing great work pioneering Podcasting — creating content intended to be heard on our schedule and on the move, on our iPods or equivalents, distributed in some cases with the help of RSS (read: subscription radio).

But it was Doc Searls who really put his finger on the cosmic significance of this on his own podcast, an online radio show that Adam, in turn, quoted on his online radio show (that’s where I heard it, listening in my car, on my iPod).

Doc said that the transistor as an enabler and the transitor radio as a platform really created the medium of radio we know today. Similarly, he said, the iPod is the prototype for the next platform and the next medium.

Right. The iPod is just a prototype. It can be replaced, in time (not much of it), by spectrum: Rather than downloading a show while connected to hear while unconnected, we will always be connected and will get what we want when we want it. But it’s still the iPod that shows the potential and changes habits.

I once thought that audio and then video would be a next big things online after web content. [Minor irony: I’m writing this at the very same time that I’m listening to NPR’s Next Big Thing show on my iPod.] But in the case of audio, it’s hard to listen to shows while sitting at one’s PC because it can be distracting.

But it’s an entirely different thing to download things to listen to while moving around.

The next big thing is audio you listen to offline. That’s what the iPod has enabled. Well, duh.

It also helps that radio sucks.

If Howard’s not on and if NPR has on some dorky sounds-of-the-spirits show, I want something else to listen to. Now I can get it thanks to my iPod.

At the same time, I’m too damned busy and thanks to my iPod, I now like filling the white space in life — running, driving, and otherwise commuting — with things I would not have time to read or things that I can’t fit into my schedule. So I listen to This American Life and Studio 360 (which my kids won’t let me hear even when I happen to be in the car when they’re on) and audio books from Audible (and a reader has suggested I should be listening to Bittorrents of Howard, though I’m a bit of a stick-in-the-mud about copyright, given my employment).

So right there, we have the start of a new medium: Content created to consume offline — whatever we want whenever and wherever we want it.

But it gets better. For now we add the magic of the link and the data links create. So now we can create a dynamic, personalized radio guide that helps us find the shows we’d like, thanks to recommendations from creators and listeners of other shows we like.

And it keeps getting better. For once we find shows we like, RSS lets us subscribe to them and have them home-delivered with muss, no bus.

But that’s not the best of it. The best of it is, of course, that anybody can now create content to add into this amazing metanetwork. And that has just begun.

As was the case with blogs, the first content is mostly technical. Curry’s own shows are a communion of geeks. Ditto Dave Winer. There’s a show about weblog news. And there are shows I’d never understand.

But that will expand quickly. I envision shows about as many interests as there are blogs — well, almost as many. I can imagine shows about politics, pets, relationships, history. I can imagine recycling university lectures and comedy club acts. I can imagine talk shows filled with podcasters podcasting.

I wouldn’t listen to those shows on my PC; too busy. But I will listen to them on my iPod; too bored. Doc’s right, of course: The iPod is the prototype for the platform for a new medium.

And that’s just audio. Will the same thing happen to video as we get portable players and phones that will play video anytime? Maybe. Not sure. Can’t watch it while driving. But the guy in the seat next to me just watched his own movie; I download flicks from Movielink for long rides all the time.

All of this follows one simple rule — my first law of media:

Give the people control of media, they will use it.

The most important invention in media is not, I’m fond of saying, the Gutenberg press, which created media for those who could afford to own one. The most important invention in media was the remote control, for it gave the people once known as consumers control over their media. Add the VCR. Add the cable box. Add the internet. Add the web. Add personal publishing tools. Add personal multimedia tools. Add RSS. Add the iPod portable platform. Add spectrum to give you anything anywhere, anytime. Add more and more of what we used to call content. Add interaction. Add data about that interaction: who likes what and what’s hot. Add new ways to make money, leading to new ways and means to create what we used to call content. Blur the lines between content and connectivity, between media and masses, between consumer and creator. Stir. Shake. Bake. And you have a new media world.

Give the people control of media, they will use it.