The newest thing in the RSS universe is something called “Podcasting,” which is, when you think about it, just what it sounds like: distributing audio programming to peoples iPods (and other devices) for on-demand playback.
At one level, this is blogging for people with even larger egos, folks who think they need to be heard as well as read. On another level, RSS feeds are a good way for commercial audio producers to make their programming widely available via automated downloads for offline listening.
For example, XM Radio has a new program featuring former NPR host Bob Edwards. But its on at inconvenient times for me to listen. Wouldnt it be great to have the program automatically loaded onto a portable player each day?
This functionality is already possible for customers of the Audible service, which offers its audio book customers paid subscriptions to NPR and other radio programs. Audible provides desktop client software capable of automatically downloading content from the companys servers and loading it onto customers portable devices. The software also offers optional automated disk space management capabilities that store only the most current edition of specific programs on the portable.
While Audible is clearly a “pay for play” content provider, Podcasting opens the door to a much larger universe of content offerings, available from the producers own servers. Podcasting seems particularly well-suited to free content downloads, and I look forward to a day in the near future when I might subscribe to my favorite BBC programming rather than being forced to listen to it live over the air or on the Internet.
Speaking of over-the-air broadcasting, Podcasting could also compete with devices like Pogo! Products “Radio Your Way,” a small AM/FM receiver with a built-in MP3 recorder and a USB connection for connecting to a PC. Best described as “TiVo for radio,” the device automates off-the-air recording and allows playback either on the device or a PC. Griffin Technologies offers a similar, though non-portable, product for Mac users called the Radio Shark.
While Podcasting isnt entirely new, it does have the potential to make audio downloads much easier for both the provider and listener. But its not without potentially significant downsides.
Its not clear, for example, what the bandwidth implications of Podcasting will be, although I suspect the much larger file sizes (when compared with RSS text message feeds) will cause some significant headaches.
Another downside is that Podcasting could encourage or improve the distribution of anti-American and other hate programming commonly distributed on audiocassettes. This was a major communications tool for both the Iranian revolution and our home-grown Neo-Nazis and other extremists.
Its not that this programming isnt already being distributed; its just that RSS audio distribution has the potential to make the process much easier and, hence, more effective. Thats not a reason to try to stop the technology, as if that were possible; its just something to be aware of.
For corporations, Podcasting and audio RSS feeds offer a potential new method of communicating with customers and employees. Again, its not that it hasnt been possible to create and distribute audio programming; its just that RSS could make distribution easier and the content more attractive to potential listeners.
After Podcasting its only a hop, skip and a jump to video RSS feeds, targeting the portable video players Microsoft and others are promoting. But if audio RSS feeds are bandwidth hogs, video could make the problems dramatically worse.
Some people think Podcasting is really silly, and if you limit your imagination to audio versions of peoples egomaniacal blogs, that seems perfectly reasonable. But if you look at is as a better distribution tool for commercial content, it becomes really interesting.
Check out eWEEK.coms Messaging & Collaboration Center for more on IM and other collaboration technologies.