Miker

17th level Hacker

Podcasting, Radio, Sirius, and an Existence Proof for Media Model Experimentation

There’s been quite a bit of buzz about Adam Curry starting a podcasting show on Sirius. Doc picks up the thread and says:

Second, what Adam will be doing at Sirius, and what Howard Stern will be doing as well, is restoring radio to what it used to be, and should have been, all along. But it’s not podcasting. It’s new life for an old sphere.

Okay, I’m not going to argue that what Adam is doing in this case is broadcasting and not podcasting, but I have a completely different takeaway. Sure podcasting is a fundamentally different system than broadcasting was, and needs to be treated as something different if it’s going to progress. But I don’t see what Adam is doing as leveraging the new medium of podcasting to prop up radio. I think the radio folks might see it that way, and that’s why they put him on the air. I think what Adam is doing is introducing people to podcasting through a medium they already consume. He’s raising awareness for the medium and giving people a way to sample from it without a technical investment.

I know it’s hard for some of us technical people to understand, but let me lead you on a very quick romp through the progress of podcasting. At first there were some quick people who really groked the whole concept and built it, nod to Dave and Adam, with some really fast followers picking up on the casts and what they meant right away. But even among the technical folks there was a bit of hesitance. Some of them said “yea, interesting, but do I really want to listen to some guys just talking?” and “I would really rather read my information” and “sounds like just a whole lot more crap, just in a different encoding now”. But a lot of those folks came to the other side pretty quickly. Podcasting attracted great content, and the tools got better, and the word of mouth network and blogosphere spread the information necessary to get the right content in the right hands. Lots of the people who were hesitant tried it out anyway, and once they actually tried it they found out that they liked it. The influx of new users drove a new set of users, and it snowballed very quickly. It seems like it spread all over because it’s hit all the geeks and the media and info junkies. It hasn’t.

I’m sitting on Caltrain on my way into San Francisco, traveling from Palo Alto up north. You don’t really find a more technically savvy area than the one I’m in. There are 26 people in this train car with me. I just asked all of them if they listen to podcasts or not. 5 of them said yes they did, 2 said that they know what they are but don’t really listen to any casts, and the rest all said something along the lines of “what’s podcasting?”. Now granted, for a new movement, to have 7 out of 26 random people aware of the medium is great. Kudos on the job done so far. But you know what, when I asked those people if they listen to radio, not a single one said “what’s radio?” People know what radio is, they know how to get it if there’s something there they’re interested in, and a lot already have the skills necessary and the vocabulary to understand it. That isn’t true for podcasting. Not yet at least. And if we are to make it so we need to engage in that most horrid of technical efforts, customer education. The word has spread like wildfire through the technical community because we have a distribution network for information that we actively go out and crawl, we seek out the info and try out new things. If podcasting is going to cross the proverbial chasm, there needs to be a way to get the folks on the other side aware of what the benefits are and how to get there. This isn’t my idea by the way, Eric Rice rants about this all the time. And he couldn’t possibly be more right. Podcasting is a cultural and social revolution, not a technical one. So technical hacks and tools aren’t really going to carry the medium to the capacity at which it becomes transformative on a global scale. It’s going to take cultural and social hacks instead. If you want podcasting to change the world, get out there and teach someone nontechnical how to get podcasts, teach someone without a technical background but with a great message how to create podcasts. I really think that’s the next step, and I think Adam is right on the mark with what he’s doing.

And just in case this should be misconstrued as hero worship, I actually don’t listen to the podcasts that Adam does. He’s just not my kind of audio. Not a problem, I’m sure if I were to do a podcast he wouldn’t really be interested in me either. So I’m speaking from the detached viewpoint of someone interested in podcasting and aware of what Adam has done from the technical side. I just really think this is the right move. And a radio person who groks the new medium is a perfect way to introduce the new to the existing listeners.