What The Heck Is Podcasting and Why Should We Care?
What the Heck Is
(And Why Should We Care?)
“Professor” Sallie Goetsch (rhymes with “sketch”)
PodCamp West 11-18-06
My name is Sallie Goetsch and I’m co-founder of the Podcast Asylum. I’m also
probably the only person presenting today who isn’t a podcaster. I’m not going to
presume to tell you how to podcast. What I want to do instead is talk about the
bigger picture of podcasting. Outside of this room, if you tell people you’re a
podcaster, a lot of them are going to ask you just this question: “What the Heck Is
Podcasting?” And the more expert you get at podcasting, the more time you spend
on the details of producing the best sound and buying the best equipment, the
harder it’s going to be for you to answer that question in a way the uninitiated can
Does This Sound Like You?
Bipod: Animal that moves about on two
feet with wires trailing from its ears.
Ken Braly, SpeakerNet News
This is definitely me, though when I’m at home I actually use wireless headphones,
because the wires kept getting caught on the knobs of the kitchen cabinets, and I
got tired of having to buy new headsets. That’s actually the MP3 player I have; I
don’t own an iPod. I have nothing against them, but right now there’s nothing I want
from an MP3 player that only an iPod can provide me with. I also really dislike
iTunes, and if you have an iPod you’re pretty much stuck with iTunes. So I use a
Sansa for listening and an iriver for recording.
One reason I’m talking about this is that one of the great myths about podcasting is
the belief that you can’t listen to podcasts without an iPod. I had someone come up
to me after a presentation once and say that he’d been in IT for 20 years but he
hadn’t known he didn’t need an iPod to listen to a podcast until I said so. When
you’re dealing with people who haven’t listened to podcasts before, it’s important to
tell them that they don’t have to have an iPod to listen to podcasts. You can listen
on your computer, on your PDA, on your cell phone, on your GPS unit, and if you
really want to you can burn podcasts onto CDs and listen to them that way. I
personally don’t like to be chained to my computer in order to listen to things, so I
never leave home without my MP3 player, but it’s not a requirement.
We’re Drinking the
Is there anybody here who has never listened to a podcast? I didn’t think so. We’re
all drinking the podcast Kool-Aid. And I don’t know about you, but I get pretty
wrapped up in it. We take it for granted, and we’re already sold on it, and we don’t
have to justify it to each other. You don’t have to sell podcasting to the people who
are already listening to your show, and if you’re an independent podcaster, you
don’t have to sell it to anybody else in order to start podcasting.
But if you offer podcasting services—anybody doing that?—or you want your
company to start podcasting, then you’re going to have to deal with people who
aren’t on the podcasting bandwagon yet.
But Many Still Suffer from
A horribly debilitating disease
that ravages the body and
mind of the victim. Sufferers
lose cognitive coherency and
start to believe that podcasts
are either not relevant to their
lives, or else pretend they
don’t even know what they
Despite all the buzz about podcasting in the blogosphere and even the mainstream
media, there are a lot of people who have never heard of podcasting. Or they’ve
heard of it, but they really don’t know anything about it. These are the people I
usually give presentations to. Unless someone explains podcasting to them, they
can’t take advantage of it. That would be a real shame, because podcasting has
something for everyone. It’s like the Internet that way. No matter who you are,
there’s something in it for you.
Ask the Man on the Street
But, as I said, most people still don’t know about it. If you don’t believe me, ask Tim
Bourquin, the organizer of the Podcast and Portable Media Expo. Tim is a volunteer
police officer, and he asks everyone that he arrests whether they’ve heard of
podcasting. Sometimes they have, but usually they haven’t. He figures that when
everyone he collars knows what podcasting is and listens to podcasts, then
podcasting will really be mainstream.
You’d Be Surprised…
You might not expect the average mugger to know what podcasting is, but
podcastus ignoramus is much more widespread than you’d expect. When I was at
the Podcast Expo, my roommate at the hotel was Heather Gorringe from the Wiggly
Wigglers podcast. If you haven’t heard of it, go check it out. It’s about organic
gardening and farming, and it’s very funny and interesting. I listen to it and I don’t
even have houseplants.
Anyway, Heather ran into an Apple employee down in the hotel lobby. His job was
distributing iPods to retail stores. He ships thousands of the things a day. She
asked him whether he was in Ontario for the Podcast Expo and he said “What’s
Podcasting?” Heather about fell off her bar stool. I wish I could imitate her accent
properly, but what she said was “I’m a farmer from England and I have a podcast,
and you’re an iPod distributor and you don’t know what podcasting is?”
People who should know what podcasting don’t. Not everyone who has an iPod
listens to podcasts. If you look at the ads, all those people seem to be listening to
music, and you can bet that Apple wants them to be buying the songs from the
iTunes store and not listening to podsafe music.
They Should Know Better
Photo by Mermaniac.
Speaking of people who should know better, how many of you have seen this
billboard? Obviously AT&T doesn’t quite get it, if they only think there’s one podcast
out there for them to deliver.
The RSS Difference
One mistake that a lot of people make is that they confuse podcasting with either
streaming audio or downloadable audio. I’ve had people tell me they want help with
podcasting, and what they really mean is that they have one or two audio files that
they want to put up on their website.
There are two distinguishing features of podcasts relative to other internet media
files: the RSS feed and the serialization. While a podcast doesn’t have to be
something that continues year after year, one MP3 file does not make a podcast. It
has to be a series of some kind.
You also have to be able to subscribe to it. Some people find the word “subscribe”
problematic, because when you subscribe to an e-mail newsletter you have to give
your name and e-mail address, and when you subscribe to an RSS feed, you don’t.
But subscription is still what gets your newspaper delivered to your door so that you
don’t have to go out and pick it up, and that’s what podcasts let you do that
downloadable audio doesn’t. I like to think of the “pod” in podcasting as the
enclosures in the RSS feed that contain the media files. You can actually send
anything through your podcast feed, not just your audio or video file, and I know
podcasters who send PowerPoint slideshows and PDF files out to their subscribers.
So What Is Podcasting, Really?
Have you all heard the Ninja’s definition of podcasting? It’s “A factory making apple
pie for whales.” As frivolous as it sounds, that definition actually covers pretty much
And Why Should We Care?
The technology itself isn’t what’s important. It’s what we can do with the technology.
Most potential clients aren’t going to want to hear how excited you are about your
new microphone. They’re going to want to know what podcasting can do for them,
and particularly what it can do for them that their current methods don’t. Whether
you’re trying to make friends or trying to make money, the question is the same:
why podcasting? Why take all of this time and trouble to record and edit and upload
and create show notes?
One of the big reasons to care is that almost anything you can do as a podcaster,
you can also do as a podcast listener, if you get involved.
The Direct Brain Connection
From the Functional Brain Imaging Laboratory
Speaking is more intimate than writing. The brain is right between the ears, and the
effect is enhanced by wearing headphones or earbuds. 85% of what we learn
comes to us through our ears, but we only pick up on 25% the first time around. If
you miss something the first time in a podcast, you can go back and play it again.
You can’t do that with a radio show.
Reach Your Niche
Podcasting provides a platform for people to talk about what they care about without
having to worry about whether they can get a large enough audience.
The Internet has always been a great way to reach niche audiences. It lets people
who have obscure interests connect to each other. My first involvement with the
Web was starting an electronic journal about ancient Greek and Roman drama in
modern performance. That is such a niche area that I got to know personally pretty
much everyone who was involved in it.
The static web was pretty good for this, but think how much better it would be with
video clips from performances or audio recordings of lectures. (Gee, maybe I should
talk to the current editor about that…)
There are now podcasts on just about any topic you can imagine, and some you
can’t. That means if you’re a potential advertiser with a niche product, you can
reach the people who are most likely to buy. And if you’re a person with a passion
that not many people around you share, now you can find people to share it with.
Time & Place-Shifting
Podcasting lets you do with audio and video what people have been doing with text
and images for the last decade. You can create communities and you can locate
communities. You don’t have to worry about the cost of radio transmission or filling
up airtime. No matter how specialized it is, you can create a podcast about it, and
someone else out there will want to listen, and they can get to you. They don’t have
to be within reach of your signal. They can be anywhere, and they can listen to you
anytime, and they can listen to you any place.
It’s amazing to me that 60% of people listen to podcasts at their computers. When
I’m at my computer I want to work, and I can’t listen to a podcast and work at the
same time. I want to listen when I couldn’t do something else: when I’m driving,
when I’m cooking, when I’m shopping.
Podcasting gives you a way to deliver audio (and video) in a timeshifted format.
IBM’s supply chain organization used to have a weekly conference call for seven
thousand employees. That kind of thing is a nightmare to arrange, and it costs a
fortune. And with a group that big, you can’t have any kind of real discussion, so
there’s no advantage to doing it live. IBM replaced its weekly call with a weekly
podcast, they’re saving piles of money and everyone is much happier.
Education & Training
More and more universities are jumping on the podcast bandwagon. If you miss a
lecture, you can download the recording instead of trying to read a classmate’s
handwriting. There are even one or two professors who aren’t having live lectures at
Market Your Business
The Wiggly Wigglers Podcast is a great example of a small business using
podcasting for marketing. Heather Gorringe (rhymes with “orange”) decided to take
part of her company’s advertising budget and use it to create ten episodes of a
podcast about organic gardening and farming. All the employees get in on it, so it’s
great for morale and bonding. It’s also a really fun show, with thousands of listeners.
They’re now on episode 58 and they’ve gotten much more business and publicity
from the podcast than they did from advertising in newspapers and trade
I’m not suggesting you replace all your advertising and marketing with a podcast,
but it might get you more bang for the buck than some of your other options. And if
you put some thought and effort int it, you can market your own business on other
people’s podcasts, either by commenting or by getting interviewed, or even by
recording short contributions on a regular basis. My favorite story about this is that
when I submitted my “Two-Second Statement” to Heidi Miller at the Diary of a
Shameless Self-Promoter podcast, she spent 8 minutes talking about it, and I had
several people contact me to ask about work.
Podcast audiences are more likely to get involved than radio audiences. This is
partly because it’s easier to do. Podcasters provide lots of avenues for feedback
and audience participation. And because you don’t have to call in at a certain time,
as you do with radio shows, it’s a lot easier to respond to a podcast. Plus, since it’s
not live, you can edit your audio contribution, or at least do several takes until you
get one you like.
Commenting regularly on podcasts is a great way to increase your profile and make
connections online. If you have expertise to share with a show’s listeners, the hosts
will welcome it. Just remember, though, if you have a difficult last name like
“Goetsch,” to make sure you tell the hosts how to pronounce it.
Alex Barnett’s RSS-Thickened Long Tail
Radio is ephemeral. Podcasts remain on the web for some time—indefinitely if the
podcaster doesn’t have to worry about storage costs. That means that new
subscribers can get old episodes. Also, RSS feeds and podcatching software mean
that once people subscribe, they keep downloading automatically. That doesn’t
necessarily mean they’ll listen, but the podcast you produced, or advertised in, or
commented on a month or a year ago is still going to be working for you, particularly
if there are good show notes that make it easy to find that episode in a search. This
diagram shows what having an RSS feed did for Alex Barnett’s web statistics over
time. The bottom line is a typical example of the Long Tail; the jaggedy top line
shows hits on the RSS feed. (I don’t know Alex Barnett from Adam; I found him
when I did a Google Image Search on “long tail.” Hop on over and read his
Visit the Podcast Asylum
For slides and handouts, go to
So, in summary: podcasting is serial internet media (usually audio or video)
delivered through an RSS feed. We should care because it’s portable and it has so
many uses: education, marketing, connecting with people, personal and business
development, internal corporate communications, self-expression. But one thing
podcasting is not is a get-rich-quick scheme. You can make money podcasting, but
it takes work, the same as any other business.
You can find my personal podcast picks at http://www.podcastasylum.com/sallie-
picks.html. And if you discover any podcast-related syndromes that aren’t on our
site already, please e-mail them to email@example.com.