Wednesday, December 3, 2008

PODCASTS : The Web 2.0 Medium

Society today has changed from the way it was 100 years ago, and 10 years ago, and even 5 years ago. This fast pace advancement is mainly driven by the powerful entity of technology that we’ve had incorporated into our world and lifestyles. Technology has brought us to the home computer, the motion picture camera, cell phone, and the World Wide Web. Who would have thought the day would come where all of those devices were available on the same piece of equipment that fits comfortably in our front pocket. This evolution of technology and introduction to the study of nano-technology is referred to as digital convergence. This convergence is referring to the digitalization of our media, and the unification of our converged devices, converged networks, and converged applications.

The best example of this process is the new media phenomenon of Podcasts and Podcasting. What is it? Podcasting refers to the distribution of an audio or video digital media file over the internet, which can then be downloaded to a personal computer, and further, to a portable media player. What separates this from other digital media formats which stream the same content or make it available for download, is a Podcast’s syndication, and subscription, which allows for it to automatically download when new content is added from the host. The word ‘Pod-Cast’ was coined from the words ‘Ipod’ and ‘Broadcast’, with the Apple Ipod being the first portable media player in which the first podcasting scripts were developed. These scripts allowed the web feeds to be automatically transferred to the mobile device after downloaded onto the personal computer. The term Podcast has been redefined since the advent of mobile devices on the market, other than the Ipod, which were able to synchronize podcast feeds as well. Today, many refer to Podcasts as ‘Personal On Demand BroadCasting’.

Like some other Web 2.0 technologies, Podcasts were born out of some other experimental digital services designed something else. The funny thing is that Podcasting was actually conceptualized before Web 2.0 theory or the World Wide Web. As early as the 80’s, the RCS(Radio Computing Services) provided music and talk related software to radio stations in a digital format. Educational and Research institutes would use the Mbone multicast network to distribute audio and video files. After the rise of home computers in the early to mid 90’s, websites and jukeboxes provided systems for sorting and selecting music and audio files, and offered subscriptions to audio services.

The popularity and the eventual discontinuation of Napster, the free software which aggregated music while bypassing the service subscription, is what brought the development of downloaded music to a critical mass. This is brought on a rush in the manufacturing of MP3 services and players by many companies. Today, Podcasting is mostly done with the XML based RSS syndicated aggregate format, but these outdated MP3 services are a close precursor. Some of these include the Compaq companies 1999 music download system Pocket DJ, launched as a service for their Personal Jukebox, the first hard disk based MP3 player. The 12Go company, makers of the eGo mp3 player, introduced their digital news service in 1999,, offering daily audio news feeds which could be downloaded to any mp3 player.

“Open the Pod bay door! Ha!” This famous line from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey(1968)was all freelance copyrighter Vinnie Chieco thought of when Apple showed him their prototype for their new line of MP3 players and software. Apple’s original Ipod line played a variety of audio file formats, and later the Ipod photo introduced the ability to display JPEG, and other image file formats. Although with restrictions on dimensions, encoding and data rate, the third and fourth generations of Ipod Classic, and the Ipod Nano held the capability to play MPEG-4 and Quicktime Video formats. The only hump Apple had to hurdle over to fully take over the market is to bring in the PC demographic. Itunes second generation model software launched with a Windows version with a converter for WMA format, making Itunes compatible with their rival Microsoft. This made Itunes and the Ipod, the standard tool for portable digital media. During this era of digital convergence we also saw the birth of blogs, and the expressing of opinions of the common citizen became a commodity to the net world. It wasn’t long until the blogging went audio, broadcasting via RSS, dawning the beginning of Amateur Digital Radio.

How exactly do you make a podcast? We’ll for starters, relatively anybody savvy with computers and audio equipment is capable of making their own Podcasts to be fed to the web, and made available for subscription and download. All that is needed is a computer, a microphone, and a website in which to post your cast. Also, a program capable of recording voice is required, something as basic as Windows Media Player, to the more sophisticated software like ePodcast Creator or Audacity 1.2.3. These programs allow you to modify the sound in which you record. Next of course, is your idea, what you have to say whether it be a story, a how to, or your views and opinions on whatever topic at hand. Lastly, upload your MP3 file to your website. To reach larger audiences, you can publish your audio file as an enclosure on blogging websites like our very own, or share them on large scale sites like or

Like all technological innovations, the questions commonly and appropriately raised for podcasts are why to do it? How did this become such a popular form of Media? What are the advantages and benefits for those who subscribe to podcasts, as well as for those who broadcast them and feed them to the web? For starters, Podcasts are a user based technology which gives the average person a chance to hear, see, and appreciate the vision, views, and content of other net users, who have something either educational, or entertaining to offer.

Podcasts were popularized for the common net users from out of the blogosphere, which we have discussed in great length and which I am a part of right now. The last decade has brought on a considerable change in the media sources in which people receive their news. We as a society have come to appreciate the convenience of the Internet, as well as the freedom to personally deliver news and express ones view, as well as see the views and expressions of others. The word podcast stuck to the new medium after Ben Hammersley’s coined the phrase in an article of The Guardian, in reference to the surge in amateur internet radio. "...all the ingredients are there for a new boom in amateur radio. But what to call it? Audioblogging? Podcasting? GuerillaMedia?(2004)"

The convergence of Podcasts has come into our lives at the same pace that the blogging world has, and is simply a continuation of our democratization of society through the online community. Aaron Barlow(2008) discusses this in his book Blogging America, in relation to consumer control in mass or popular culture, that it was inevitable for consumers to eventually take an increased, more active role in the consumption of their products(pg. 116). Consumers have grown tired of the same old broadcasted media content controlled by large corporations. Podcast, unlike other Web 2.0 applications like Youtube or flickr, was designed out of and for convenience. However, what it has done, like the other Web 2.0 technologies, has unified the world and brought people together on personal and entertaining levels.

Take for instance this article by Scott Sigler published in the November 2008 edition of Writer. Scott Sigler was a struggling author, who’s novels had been rejected well over 100 times by publishers. Throwing the publishing industry a serious curveball, Sigler decided why not just give the things away? Using a $200 microphone, and a $300 mixer running into a Mac, Sigler recorded his novel into audio chapters, later editing out any stoppages or mess ups. Earthcore, a horror/thriller, was released in 2005 in 21 weekly chapters, running 30 to 45 minutes long. By the books end, he had 10,000 people listening, and a print deal with Dragon Moon Press. Sigler’s audience grew to 30,000 a week with his second novel Ancestorin 07, but it was when the book went to press that it reached No. 7on the charts without Sigler spending a penny on PR or advertising. By the time he finished Infected this year, Sigler had a bidding war for the right to publish, and was signed to a 3 book deal with Crown.

What happened? How did a man with over 100 rejection letters after 15 years of submissions and conferences have a bestseller and a book contract? “I had made a connection with an audience. These people listened to my voice and stories weekly, developing a connection that went far beyond me simply reading aloud to them. They heard about my hopes and frustrations. They interacted with me via blog posts, e-mails, instant messaging, and even voice mails that I'd put into the podcast. The podcast meant I wasn't just another author; I was a friend who wrote good books. And those books were exactly the kind of stories my regular listeners wanted to hear--they created fans who wanted to help me succeed (pg. 14)

Better than fictional novels for free, Podcasts offer free education and information. For instance, a site like, offers offer 1,500 lessons on how to read and speak the Chinese language. EPN, the Education Podcast Network, bring together a wide range of educational podcast programming under one forum, to help teachers looking for content to teach with and about. site navigates to the link for Apple-Education providing to you thousands of educational podcasts from K-12, and higher educational content.

The last thing which must be discussed is how Podcasted Media has changed and affected the bigger market companies and media conglomerates. Today, Podcasts have shifted from being an additional commodity for some networks websites, to a professional necessity for all. All the major news networks across America, such as CNN, ESPN, and MSNBC, hold thousands of web feeds on their sites, and offer daily and exclusive podcasts from the majority of shows and anchors. ABC and NBC have a link to ‘Mobile’ on the homepage bringing you to downloadable episodes of your favorite shows. These networks also web feed deleted scenes, outtakes, mini episodes and cast interviews. Newspaper companies hold online podcasts for their readers to listen to, such as the New York Times or online Slate magazine. This is all done in order to compete in the open market. Once one networks podcasted their media the rest followed in dominos, hiring more producers and web programmers, adding additional to additional work assignments to staff, shooting extra footage, and programming more to the Network website. ESPN for example has just introduced a strictly online show, no television required. The hands of the publishing Industries were forced by people like Scott Sigler, to level the playing field and offer audio novels for online purchase.

Picture this scenario. Your friend, bored in class one day, uses his garage band application on his IPhone and records a funky beat. After class, he goes home to his laptop and uploads that beat from his phone to his blogging website. You, currently sitting in class, feel your IPhone go off. You, having already subscribed to your friends blog, has just received the automatic download of your friends garage tune. After listening, you go to your friend’s site right from your phone, and respond to his post, telling him how bad his tune was perhaps. This is an example of the full circle chain of events that reflects the growth of digitalization in this generation.

We started this course discussing things like the virtual commons and early chat groups that began to bring us closer together through the new Web world. We end it with a complete understanding of the new age media concepts of Web 2.0, Hypertext Markup Language, and Digital Convergence, which have all helped turn our society into one in which people are never completely disconnected from one another. Podcasts, along with all technology, are surely to continue evolving quickly, and the day is soon to come where society will have changed from the day I wrote this. Let’s just hope it continues to change for the better.

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