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Podcasting Ideas at the ThinkSpot

Podcasting was the topic for the fourth Idea Day, held last night at a cool meeting space called the ThinkSpotAlex Williams and Matt May gave a very informal, informative and interactive presentation on podcasting, the practice of making audio or video files available for subscription via the web, so that one can automatically download the latest audio or video from a site simply by updating one's iPod.  I admit that I had not been paying much attention to the increasing popularity of podcasting (both producing and consuming), but Alex and Matt, and others in the audience, helped me recognize that this really is a Big Thing (and, I believe, a Good Thing).

Among the interesting tidbits I picked up:

  • The word podcasting was named New Oxford American Dictionary "Word of the Year" ... even though it was not even included in the 2005 print edition of the dictionary (which was published earlier in the year).
  • Podcasting is an instance of the Long Tail phenomenon, dimishing the importance of traditional media market leaders and creating new opportunities outside the mainstream ... so that instead of a few $100B media companies, we might have 100,000 $1M media companies, and instead of a few megastars and blockbusters, we may have a far more equitable distribution of popularity ... and wealth.
  • From a podcast consumer's perspective, as the number of podcasts grows, it becomes increasingly important to have effective ways of finding the podcasts in which I am, or might be, interested.  There are already podcast directories (e.g., PodCastAlley) and podcast-specific search engines (e.g., Podscope), but podasting is likely to greatly enhance the importance of word-of-mouth marketing, and people are already discovering new podcasts via links and [other] references on blogs they read.
  • From the podcast producer's point of view, it is just as important to "get found"; Matt suggested that it will become increasingly important to seek out and become members in online communities.
  • Podcasting may radically alter the notion of advertising and sponsorship.  Podcast consumers do not want to listen to traditional advertisements (e.g., 30-second spots), so advertisers will have to forge relationships with podcasters who are willing to explicitly promote their products or services (e.g., "I like X"), but doing so effectively (i.e., without losing podcast audience share) will require a high degree of trust, openness and authenticity ... offering a whole new dimension [for me] to the topic of social marketing I blogged about a year ago.
  • The cost and complexity for producing and publishing podcasts will decrease drastically this year, greatly reducing the "barriers to entry" for people who are creative, have good communication skills, and have an ability to connect with their audiences.  A big step toward media meritocracy ... and away from plutocracy.

I started wondering if these trends would eventually apply to sports as well, affecting the viewership -- and salaries -- of not only individual players but entire sports ... perhaps podcasts of kayaking or mountainbiking will become as popular as football ... with the attendant adjustment in salaries of the athletes.  I have long been bothered by the salary differential between great athletes and great teachers; maybe podcasting will provide a mechanism through which good teachers will finally start earning salaries that are commensurate with the value they provide to their communities ... especially since their communities can now be much greater than the classrooms in which they teach.

Speaking of communities and places, I have a special place in my heart for the name ThinkSpot, as the new author photo I uploaded for my weblog was taken at a contemplative place with a small sign reading "Thinking Spot" at the Capilano Suspension Bridge and Park near Vancouver, British Columbia.  ThinkSpot ("a meeting space with attitude and purpose") was a fabulous place to hold this event -- with large projection screens along three walls, good multimedia support, lots of light and ventilation and a general feeling of openness.  I look forward to returning there for next month's Idea Day, to hear about Doug Rushkoff's latest ideas ... and to attending the Podcast Hotel event that Alex is organizing later in the month (Seattle location TBA).

Finally, at a bar several of us went to after the presentation, I was sharing my perspective on academic research vs. entrepreneurship (or interestingness vs. passion) that I recently articulated in a Biznik interview.  A woman sitting next to me summed up entrepreneurship in a concise, compelling and very pithy way: passion in action.  Amen.

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