Podcasting (Social Phenomenon) and Podcasting (Technology)
Last week I linked to An Attempt to Demystify Podcasting. I was attracted to the post because it was one of the relatively few occasions where I’ve seen musings about “podcasting” that acknowledge that there are two parts to consider: the social phenomenon and the actual technology behind the phenomenon.
As we’ve seen before with personal home pages and then with blogs, the gee whiz factor of the technology currently bolsters the perceived value of podcasting (creating the social phenomenon): people will listen to “podcast” audio content that they would probably ignore if it were just streamed or downloadable on the Web, or broadcast on a community radio station.
I won’t deny that the ease of creation means that some good content that wouldn’t get mainstream distribution gets attention, nor that the “timeshifting” factor — being able to just sync your iPod overnight and walk out the next morning with the content you want — is great for some people; I will question, however, whether just being a slightly different distribution mechanism for the same old content is where podcasting will make a signficant impact.
Why do I think this? Because Marc Hedlund and Wil Wheaton told me so. (Well, sort of. The linked posts are what helped crystallize some of my thoughts on this topic, but they really can’t be held responsible for what happens inside my head.)
They both pointed out that the SciFi Channel is offering a podcast of commentary for each episode of Battlestar Galactica. Consider it a DVD commentary track, but without having to wait a year or two for the season to be released on DVD.
What I find incredibly cool about this is that there’s an actual benefit coming from the fact that this is a podcast: if you’re a fan of the show, the commentary itself adds value to the show, and distribution as a podcast means that you can be sure of having the commentary ready whenever a new episode is released — no “oh shit, I forgot to download this week’s commentary.” (It also seems to me that podcast distribution should help avoid ugly bandwidth/load spikes on scifi.com, since you don’t have everybody trying to pull the file down either (a) as soon as it’s posted, or (b) five minutes before the show starts.)
Now that someone has done this, “providing supplemental content for scheduled broadcast media” is an obvious and intruiging use for podcating, and it goes without saying that more such uses will pop up. The down side, of course, is that for every innovative use of the technology, there will be ten craptastic efforts to put the same old garbage into a shiny box labeled “Now! Improved! With! Podcast!” Just google “podvertising” if you don’t believe me.