Podcasting Is Pretty Much The Same As It Was Back In 2005

Allen Pike writes about how podcasting is on the rise. I’m skeptical.

He uses This American Life as an example of non-geeks getting into podcasts. I’ve often used my sister as an example of how non-geeks listen to podcasts. She’s not a power user. I bought her Instacast years ago. Now I’m trying to get her onto Apple’s podcast app so she can sync with iTunes. She hasn’t budged.

Why not? Because it’s not really that important to her.

I think her, and many others, like the IDEA of podcasts. The IDEA of free talk-radio. But what I end up seeing is a people who spend some time in the iTunes Store1 going through podcasts, picking things out, and never listening to them.

Let’s look beyond the assumption that This American Life was always for geeks/nerds/dorks. If you even know what TAL is you’re not like most people. How many of This American Life’s new listeners actually listen to the show? How many of them just like to declare themselves to be TAL listeners without actually listening regularly?

Pike cites a 65% increase in podcasting growth from 2010 to 2012:

Surely this growth can’t all be from geeks. So the jig is up: podcasting is seriously growing, and it’s not just geeks.

While more people are listening, or at least subscribing to podcasts, I don’t think it’s because non-geeks are getting into podcasts. I think it’s because more people are becoming geeks the way we viewed them 10 years ago. This is why 5by5 has a ton of shows about…well, pretty much the same thing.2

Regarding tools, Pike writes:

As of this writing, a horde of developers are building podcast listening apps. Podcast recording apps, on the other hand?

Well, more about that soon.

I assume that he’ll write a followup about making tools for podcasters, or announce some new software he’s been working on. We need it.

My favorite, back in the early days, was Podcast Maker. It hasn’t been updated since 2011. I use Podcast Maker regularly for the private podcast I make for my friends.3 The most technical you need to get with it is give it an audio file and an FTP location to upload to, and then share the feed.

Most non-geeks don’t have FTP space.

Today, if you want to do podcasting right you need a CMS, maybe a podcasting plugin, and understand how all this stuff works. If you don’t get FTP then you’re already locked out.

Meanwhile, Marco Arment writes:

But I’m not a believer that everyone should podcast, or that podcasting should be as easy as blogging. There’s actually a pretty strong benefit to it requiring a lot of effort: fewer bad shows get made, and the work that goes into a good show is so clear and obvious that the effort is almost always rewarded.

I’m not sure if it’s worth keeping bad shows out, because usually good shows rise to the top and the bad ones go to the wayside. Besides, everyone would benefit from having simpler tools, even the pros.

If you want to see what happens when you make these sorts of tools for non-geeks all you need to do is go to Youtube. There are a HUGE amount of Youtube channels from wannabe makeup artists, guys creating a character obsessed with gaming, Horror Movie enthusiasts, video game criticism. Sure, there is a lot of garbage, and I’m demonstrating what bubble I’m in with what I link to, but some of these are GREAT!

Think of it this way. It’s easier, and more lucrative, for Jenna Marbles to turn on her webcam, hit record, and upload it to Youtube than it is for her to create an entire podcasting back-end. Youtube IS the back-end.

I’ve seen a few channels that are nothing more than a graphic for a video and a voiceover. These are Youtube videos that want to be podcasts.

But they are not podcasts.

I’ve always viewed podcasting as something specific. Podcasts are programs (usually audio) I can subscribe to and have available in one spot on my computer, phone, or tablet. I shouldn’t have to go to multiple places to find an MP3 file to listen to. I want to just open iTunes or podcasts.app and it’s all there the way I left it, plus whatever new stuff that’s been made since the last time I opened it.

If you agree with me that this is the definition of a podcast then you too may not be confident that the medium has gotten much different in the past few years. It’s still mostly nerds talking about nerd stuff.

  1. Here’s another thing to think about. How much of the success of podcasting is attached to iTunes and the iTunes Store? If/when iTunes is no longer the dominant media platform then what happens to podcasts? 

  2. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy and regularly listen to a few 5by5 shows. But there’s only so much time one can, or should, dedicate to listening to people talk about new Apple products. 

  3. The other close friends I have tried it a few non-geek ways. One guy uploads his to Soundcloud, where I have to download it, reupload it, and huffduff it to get it into my podcasts.app. The other two use Podomatic. This isn’t really much different than what blogs used to be: someone’s personal creative output meant for a small audience.