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What The Heck Is Podcasting and Why Should We Care?


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Slides intended for a 30-minute presentation at Podcamp West in San Francisco, November 2006; the actual presentation was a 10-minute panel discussion without slides.

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What The Heck Is Podcasting and Why Should We Care?

  1. 1. What the Heck Is Podcasting? (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 understand. 1
  2. 2. 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. 2
  3. 3. We’re Drinking the Podcast Kool-Aid 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. 3
  4. 4. But Many Still Suffer from Podcastus Ignoramus Podcastus Ignoramus 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 are. 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. 4
  5. 5. 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. 5
  6. 6. 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. 6
  7. 7. 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. 7
  8. 8. 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. 8
  9. 9. 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 everything. 9
  10. 10. 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. 10
  11. 11. 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. 11
  12. 12. 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. 12
  13. 13. 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. 13
  14. 14. 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 all anymore. 14
  15. 15. 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 magazines. 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. 15
  16. 16. Conversation 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. 16
  17. 17. Permanence 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 complete methodology.) 17
  18. 18. 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 picks.html. And if you discover any podcast-related syndromes that aren’t on our site already, please e-mail them to 18