As an amateur musician and recording geek, I've been following the recent "podcasting" discussions with some interest. I think it's interesting for two reasons -- one reason is the application of an existing technology (RSS or syndicated news feeds) for a new purpose (binary enclosures, usually some form of audio). While this is merely evolutionary (nowhere near revolutionary), it has the potential to be one of those watershed points when the average schmoe gains the ability "to be heard". It happened in the 80's with desktop publishing programs. It happened in the 90's with inexpensive digital recording gear and the proliferation of MP3 as a "universal audio format". More recently, it's happening with blogs.
But with podcasting, how much is really new? What barrier to entry has been lowered? What long, cumbersome process has been overhauled? The ability to record audio? Nope... if you're on the go, you can get a handheld digital recorder dirt cheap these days and many PDAs have the ability to record audio and put it in your computer for upload. For the less mobile, a cheapo microphone plugged into your soundcard and a free audio program does the trick.
Is it the ability to get your audio out to a wide audience? Nah, anyone can put up a web page for free these days and make audio files available for download (some even get sued for it when the files they post don't belong to them). You could argue that it's hard for would-be consumers of that content to find the producers that interest them -- but that hasn't changed here. I still have to go out and find the podcaster or audio-blogger I'm interested in. And we can look back to the late 90's incarnation of mp3.com as a better example of bringing producers together and making it easier for consumers to find what interests them.
So what is new? From my perspective, the "new" part is combining RSS (a pull mechanism wherein I subscribe to what interests me) with portable audio players that continue to drop in price while features and capacity rise. With podcasting, I can get the audio content I want when it becomes available. No more reminders to check a web site. No more subscribing to email newsletters and then surfing to a download site. It just gets to where I want it, as soon as it's available. For me, Rory Blyth describes it well when he says that it's just a way to syndicate binary content -- a description I completely agree with. And in that sense, I think the name "podcasting" does this "next step for content" a disservice because it focuses on audio.
The enclosure tag that makes binary content possible could just as well contain pictures (piccasting? gifcasting?), video content (vidcasting? porncasting?), or chapters of an e-book (novelcasting? fictcasting?). In each case, I can think of an example that excites me more than "the audio blog":
PicCasting - There are some great photographers and amazing digital artists out there. I'd love to subscribe to a few "image feeds" that highlights their latest work on a regular basis. Even if your intent is to sell them, put up a feed with smaller images or subtle watermarks.
VidCasting - Please, Mr. Scoble, let me subscribe to a Channel 9 video-only feed. As the Channel 9 crew puts out a new video, my aggregator pulls down the WMV and jams it into a local directory. As prevalent as high-speed access is, sometimes the streaming video just isn't practical. Later: Woo hoo, looks like the feed on the Videos page does have tags!
BookCasting - Again, there are a lot of great writers out there who do some amazing short stories and/or in-depth technical articles. Turn your novel into a series of PDF chapters and let me subscribe... if it's good, I'll watch my aggregator anxiously for the next chapter.
Ok, so the "casting" suffix has run its course.
Finally... back at the top of this post I mentioned that the podcasting "phenomenon" interests me for two reasons and, no, I didn't forget the second reason -- it's the hype. It's the breathless regurgitation of how THIS is the next big thing! THIS is going to change the playing field! THIS is going to start a revolution! Ugh... just when the bubble-hangover was subsiding.
Here's where my interest really starts to wane. Scott Hanselman, prior to being called a Luddite, puts it well when he says "you can't speak as fast as I read." I think the blogs (or other content) that DO work well as audio are few and far-between.
Understand that I've been downloading .NET Rocks and listening during my commute since its infancy. That show works and I plan to listen to the new one as well -- for the content. I tried a couple of episodes of Adam Curry's "Daily Source Code" recently -- that show doesn't. As Greg Hughes said in this post, a medium that talks about itself feels a lot like MLM (multi-level marketing). For whatever media reputation Adam Curry brings to the plate, the Daily Source Code comes across as a guy sitting in his basement talking to, and about, his own personal ecosystem. Well, except for when his wife walks in to tell him dinner's ready. Or the dog barks because it has to go out and piss. In between, we're treated to an echo chamber wherein the media's podcasting darling talks about... well, podcasting.
So yeah, I think podcasting syndicating binary content has a lot of value... for now, it's largely unrealized value.