(You can listen to the MP3 audio of this entry, too.)
Back in May I blogged about how blogs are different from the conventional process of putting up content on a website. I have a similar sentiment about the up-and-coming phenomenon of podcasting: people have been putting sound clips on the web for a long time, but a certain set of environmental factors have emerged that are really making this particular incarnation take off.
1) The increasing use of content syndication technologies by website content producers AND the average end-user; even if they don't know it, their desktop newsreader probably supports (or will soon) managing audio enclosures, making it as easy as e-mail attachments. Podcasting is probably just the first of many multi-media benefits that the increasing prevalence of RSS feeds will bring.
2) More people have portable digital audio players. The iPod itself remains a pricey little gadget, but you can get a great, compact, fully-featured MP3 player for under $100 at pretty much any place that sells anything electronic. This means more folks are carrying around the potential to be listening to content downloaded from the web, and with it comes an interest in fulfilling that potential.
3) A surge in the number of sites and entities devoted to supporting podcasting; sites like PodcastAlley and IT Conversations are just making it so much easier to find and obtain content that you want. Apple's iTunes Music Store just released a Podcast directory, which had one million subscriptions after just two days of use. If you build it, they will come.
4) The technologies involved in creating podcasts have become easier to find and easier to use. Free audio editing software like Audacity makes it a snap to put together your own show, and most recently made home computers have plenty of hardware resources for producing high quality audio. You can spend a few hundred dollars at Radio Shack and get everything you need for an even higher quality home studio.
I feel like the phenomenon is really taking off recently; in June I think I saw the term "podcast" mentioned once or twice in mainstream media; now I tend to see it referenced just about every day. The skeptic in me is waiting for the other shoe to drop; the major media advertisers will launch their podcast advertising efforts that insert jingles into your favorite programs; someone will capitalize on the skyrocketing bandwidth usage when bloggers start recording their many long missives, and so on.
But I'm not as curmudgeonly about this trend as I am about blogging; I've been reaping the benefits too, from finding fun and thought-provoking film reviews from some random guys in Chicago, to having my favorite NPR shows just appear on my iPod now (instead of the ten click process it was before). So I'm not complaining, and I'm probably just joining the throngs of people holding this up as The Next Big Thing, but I'm excited about what it represents: another positive use of the Internet for knowledge exchange and personal expression.