Ponderance

(May 2003 - March 2007.) Tama's thoughts on the blogosphere, podcasting, popular culture, digital media and citizen journalism posted from a laptop computer somewhere in Perth's isolated, miniature, urban jungle ...

The PodCasting Revolution (for some...)

Monday, December 06, 2004
David Weinberger at the Personal Democracy Forum has a good round-up article on podcasting called "Lift Every Voice: PoliCasting on the Rise". Weinberger makes some pretty standard points, but makes them well:
... just as the toppling of Trent Lott doesn't get at what's really important about blogging, podcasting the next Rodney King-ish video isn't what's so exciting about podcasting. More important will be the emergence of voices outside of the broadcast media. Podcasting enables us to find audio and visual commentators who will become a part of our lives. It's easy to imagine broadcasting losing some of its drive-time to podcasts by people who come to us live from the grassroots.
However, the point that is most strongly made is the not-so-talked about drawback of podcasting:
... it feels to me like podcasting is one genius short. And not just because podcasting is still pretty geeky; I'm sure the technology will get even easier and more pervasive. The real problem is that because it's easier to skim print than multimedia, aggregators are going to have to get much better at helping us find what's worth listening to. As podcasting spreads and more people create multimedia files, the situation will become more acute. Solve that piece -- social software to the rescue? -- and podcasting can begin to shake apart the broadcast networks. With a rearrangment of the means of multimedia production there surely most come at least some rearrangement of the political order as well. For the better, we hope.
That point, that you can't skim and summarise audio (as yet) is an important one. Sure, the podfather Adam Curry is trying to get around this with OPML and HTML show notes, as are others, but that still doesn't quite go beyond, say, being comparable with the blurb on the back of a book: useful, but not quite enough to decide whether you want to listen. Whether to listen is a larger consideration given the file-sizes of many podcasts. And, sure, many, many people are on broadband now so it's not a huge issue, but some poor souls are living on dialup (!!) and, let us not forget that billions of people don't any 'Net access at all. So, touting podcasting as revolutionary may be true in some contexts, but I do think it's important to cater for those who only really have text-access for the time being (and, of course, to try and assist those who aren't yet part of the web to get access if they so desire). Matt May puts the problem more eloquently in his post "Google is a deaf user" wherein May argues that while the podcasting energies are being used by many with a political agenda, it's important to remember they automatically exclude all deaf users by not having textual summaries. And while the technology is still a bit primitive, similar issues arise when using an online translation matrix: using these rudimentary services, you can often at least get the general sense of a text-post, but the same simply isn't (yet) possible with audio. Thus, while I am a huge fan of podcasting, I do think the revolutionary and/or political uses need to be balanced with textual sources so that podcasters don't become too inaccessible for many of those netizens who'd like to be hearing the message of the podcasts.

And let's not forget the warnings of the AudioBlogging Manifesto, available here as an MP3 or here as text (if you've the bandwidth, listen to the audio, it makes the point far more effectively!).

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