Friday, October 14, 2005

Podcasts facilitate meme transmission

Podcasts, basically non-music audio files, have gone mainstream. There are two main types of podcasts: an audio replay file of content that was delivered (e.g.; lecture, conference) or broadcast (e.g.; radio shows) elsewhere, and content that was created specifically for the podcast alone. It will be interesting to see how many of this second type of podcast will be re-broadcast over radio or other media, though perhaps not many.

A rough history is that podcasting began circa 2003 with IT Conversations and others making conference audio transcripts available. Then a continually growing number of commentators started making daily or weekly podcasts; these are basically individual talk radio shows. Traditional broadcast media then got involved, making radio shows available in audio files and creating specific podcast material like CNET's Podcast Central. As many traditional media companies have now incorporated blogging (though with underwhelming quality) as an imperative delivery format, they have also adopted podcasting; Newsweek, the Wall Street Journal and nearly every other major publication now podcast. Now even some corporations have convinced themselves of a podcasting imperative as Forrester's Charlene Li cites Whirlpool's podcasting activity, though this is more likely part of the corporate marketing trend towards more subtle advertising.

As with nearly anything, there is quality dispersion with a small percent of material being relevant and interesting to any particular person, but further underlining the individualized media trend with potentially a different set of podcasts being relevant and interesting to each particular person.

Early podcast aggregators like Podcast411 and Yahoo Podcasts (launched Oct. 2005) are not particularly useful yet because both the specific content and quality of listed podcasts is unknown. Like other sites, Yahoo plans a user-based ranking to help identify popular podcasts but another level of tagging is required to stratify the body of podcasts in more meaningful ways. A more helpful tagging system would identify attributes such as the level of erudition, degree of memes vs. personal blather and depth and breadth of focus of podcasts. At least it is now possible to search audio pod streams per PodScope and Blinkx.

Podcasts have gone mainstream because 1) a large number of people have portable MP3 players devices on which to play podcasts, although some percent of podcasts are still consumed via computer stream, 2) it is relatively easy to subscribe to an ongoing stream of podcasts, 3) podcasts are cool, the tech savvy have to be involved in the phenomenon either or both as creators and listeners and most importantly, 4) podcasts are useful and informative, a fantastic meme transmission technique in this day of the actualization hungry creative class.

Waxing McLuhan-esque for a moment, do we now consume more media since there is more? Probably only to the extent that consumption tools make it easier to consumer more media; there are still the same number of hours in a day. With more radical adjustment of humans and life activity organization, meme consumption will likely increase in the future. Now, it is clear that MP3 players offer more efficient consumption than broadcast radio with the capability to forward through ads and slow portions. Yahoo is apparently offering a setting for speeding up the transmission speed (although largely useless given that only applies in the Internet Explorer browser). Since nearly all podcast material is under Creative Commons licenses, humans or hopefully some more automated mechanism can create MetaCasts, a higher level summary of the key points in a category of podcasts such as a conference, topic area or segment of time. The efficient meme compression in MetaCasts would allow more media to be consumed and other mixing techniques should also be explored.

Vive podcasting and bienvenue aux techniques for increasing the quality identification, compression and transmission of memes via podcasting. Hopefully a similar revolution in video content searchability, accessibility, mixability and creatibility will follow shortly.