Well, the much anticipated mainstreaming of podcasting has begun in earnest with iTunes 4.9 supporting direct subscription to podcast feeds. For a complete how-to, the iPodLounge has a detailed guide to accessing podcasts from within iTunes, but if you're just looking to grab a few podcasts, you won't need it: the process is very easy (or, as Richard Giles suggests, "From a user perspective it?s just magic."). Having downloaded and tried out a few subscriptions, the process of downloading podcasts is greatly streamlined and I can't imagine I'll need to use iPodder or any other podcast-specific downloading software again in the near future.
From a podcaster's perspective, Richard Giles mentions that to list podcasts with all their details in the iTunes directory, you need to add a few iTunes-specific tags to RSS feeds, and while this annoyance will probably mean the directory takes a while to have full details on current podcasts, I imagine this process will get automated by some clever programmer in the near future.
Since so many podcast listeners use an iPod (keeping in mind you don't have to use an iPod to get podcasts), the integration of iTunes with podcasting should push the popularity of podcasting, as well as cement the "pod" part of the podcast name.
Of course, podcasts via iTunes isn't perfect, and in the next iTunes update, I'd love to see:
* While fetching podcasts, a "time remaining" on download estimate - there is currently the slider icon which gradually fills as you download, but this is imprecise if you want to know exactly how long is left.
* Integration of the iTunes stars system with the directory - while there is a top 20 and top 100 podcast listing within the Apple Store, I'd like to see what other subscribers think of the podcasts in the directory in a similar style of Amazon's recommendations. Since iTunes already uses the five stars (albeit not widely utilised, I suspect), integration of this with the directory to give user ratings would be a good indicator of popularity beyond simply number of downloads.
* Integration of ShowNotes with podcasts - lots of podcasters add shownotes, so it would be nice to be able to read them along with the podcasts.
In terms of mainstreaming podcasts, though, I suspect we're about to see a great deal many more commercials embedded in podcasts. One only has to see how self-styled "podfather" Adam Curry appears in the iTunes directory to see the emerging commercialisation of the podcast:
(and while I know Adam did a lot to kickstart podcasts along with Dave Winer, why does he have to look like such a egocentic plonker in this picture?)