There's an elephant in the podcast room

Dan Farber has a great point about podcasting being a lousy name for Internet-delivered audio files. Podcasting as a moniker has been useful as a starting point for moving from a niche medium to a medium medium.

Dan Farber has a great point about podcasting being a lousy name for Internet-delivered audio files. Podcasting as a moniker has been useful as a starting point for moving from a niche medium to a medium medium. Can podcasting make it to a mass medium? Yes, but alas the name may not. Podcasting as nomenclature will certainly become less and less accurate over time, beginning quite soon.

"Podcasting" only works if we limit the the role of myriad syndicated audio creations to portable file players. Yet, in the latest Gillmor Gang, when Podshow honcho Ron Bloom talks of 100 million listeners, we need to consider how limiting "podcasting" really is, and not just because the files can be accessed by PCs and non-Apple iPod players too.

Indeed, there's an elephant in the podcasting room that is not getting as much attention as it should. After all, who wants to wait around until there are 100 million portable audio file players in use beforerecognizing and actualizing the long-tail potential of unfettered mass audio distribution, and the nascent associated social, cultural, knowledge, and commerce benefits therein? Not me; no way. I'm not sure I want to wait for iTunes, as great of an accelerant as it is, to be the only coordination conduit for podcasting, either.

I suspect that "podcasting" is destined to be a global mass medium much more quickly than any of its current constituent parts can scale up. Not individual shows, mind you, but the medium in total in all its garrulous and granular glory. In order for the medium to scale to its potential, the endpoints for accessing and managing these audio creations need to expand in numbers faster than MP3 players, portable PCs/PDAs, and iTunes can.

To Farber's point, we may need to soon drop the "pod" part of podcasting in favor of "mobile"- or "cell"-casting. Because despite the phenomenal growth of iPods, the ultimate device for listening to podcasts will soon be cell phones. The only way the iPod will remain true to the podcasting name is if it gains wireless broadband IP support, in which case it's a trussed up cell phone anyway. And someone other than Apple will run the network, no doubt. (Here's a thought: News Corp. buys Apple and SkyiPod is born! Steve Jobs takes the reins from Rupert and Pixar gets a new distribution partner to boot! You read it here first.)

This could finally be the carriers' revival, err ... dominance play. The mobile device makers and carriers have been waiting for a killer data application for years. And while I've always been tipping off the edge of my seat waiting for the next $3 riotous ringtone to download, the killer data app need has not yet been met. And, yes, while a few rather weighty things need to happen before my cell phone-as-IP-audio-time-shifting-endpoint vision is realized, it is nonetheless inevitable. The only question is who actually puts the whole package together in a consumer friendly way at reasonable cost (and gets an acceptable advertising model in there).

By gump! Give me wireless broadband, a better battery, a 250-GByte hard drive, and an easy interface through which to find, subscribe to, and manage my audio in my cell phone, and I'll give you, Verizon Wireless, another $20 a month. I'll need unlimited air time too, so I'll probably upgrade not just my handset but my service plan too. Oh, and I'd like a USB port and/or bluetooth so I can use my PC for something, in this case to ... Well, screw the PC all together. Just let me hook up my handset to a keyboard, and monitor -- as well as my car! -- when I want to.

Yes, I can hardly wait to watch over the next few years as IT vendors, handset makers, media companies, and mobile carriers court and confound one another. They will dance and spin trying to make my vision a reality. Some providers will cordon off content (ala AOL of years past), others will offer you the entire audio world while calling the other solution a crass commercial loser. May the best wireless broadband IP audio solution win!

This is shaping up as one of the best media-IT business ballets to watch since the portal wars of '97, and tell Tchaikovsky the news.