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me gettin' all cynical and such

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johnhattan

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Well, the pace of internet innovation has undoubtedly slowed since the heyday of the late 1990's. Remember when Java gave us a taste of websites that were more than just static piles of text, graphics and hyperlinks? How about when RealAudio gave us real time streaming audio, albeit in a form that sounded like a cell phone-call to Tuvalu?

Yep, those technologies were in a pretty flawed form back then, but at least they were something yet-unseen.

I got to thinking about this, as I saw my pal Bryan in Austin last weekend. He was waxing on about "podcasting", but I had a really hard time coming up with anything but shrugged shoulders. Apparently it's a new wave where people can record their own radio shows and put them in a stream-able format and then put 'em on their iPods and listen to 'em.

Call me a cynic, but I don't see the innovation. Everything required to do this podcasting already exists and has been in a very mature form for years now. Audio editors that can produce broadcast-quality radio shows are commonplace. I don't think I could find a web-browser or server that can't handle streaming audio nowadays. And putting audio on your iPod (or any other portable player for that matter) is now as simple as a right-click "send to" menu. So where does the interesting part come into play?

Heck, back around 1998-1999 I did a year-long feature on my other web page called the "Rant Of The Day". I did it about four times a week, and I just griped about something pointless for about five minutes like apparently I'm using toilet paper incorrectly because TV commercials always show people lovingly touching toilet paper to their faces and I never use it like that. I recorded my broadcast using a little $2 stick-on microphone, edited the broadcast with a $15 copy of Master Sound FX (which later became Sound Forge many years later), converted the broadcast to .RA format with the free RealProducer, and uploaded it to my website with FTP. I eventually got it so that I could produce, edit, and upload an entire broadcast in about 15 minutes.

Funniest was that I had silly background music as I ranted, which I made by turning my satellite dish over to the "all new-age music" channel and turning up the TV volume loud enough for the microphone to hear :)

The difference between my old Rant Of The Day and PodCasting seems like a matter of degree and not a new technology. Nowadays I could get a slightly better microphone and my ever-upgraded copy of Sound Forge along with some background music and special effects and produce a CD-quality streaming MP3 of an hour-long show, and it'd stream in broadband about as quickly as my five-minute show streamed on a 28k modem.

Yeah it's nicer than it was, but where's the "new"? The latest Java plugin certainly runs applets much better than the original HotJava browser did in 1996, but does that make it some kind of new paradigm?

I guess it's just one of those things. When I started this "developer diary" in March of 1998, I just typed it up using Symantec Visual Page (a cheap clone of FrontPage), uploaded it and let folks read it. It wasn't until about four years later that somebody invented the word "blog" and hailed it as something new and innovative. The only innovation I saw was the invention of a funny name, and that's about what I see with this "podcasting".
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Actually most of the people involved with postcasting are the first to admit that they have not really invented anything new other than closing the loop on several existing technologies.

The only thing they bring to the table is a bit of automation which makes it easier for people to find and to subscribe to net "radio" shows on their iPods/Rios/whatever. All of this was doable before but usually involved several manual steps which would automatically exclude alot of the potential audience.

The main thing that podcasting does is it makes it possible that these shows might breakout to a more mainstream audience. They probably will not but they now have a better chance to.

The other thing these people are working on is making it easier to record such shows. At some point they (or someone else) will succeed. If it takes off most of these productions will be vain trash (much like most of the blogs, web, music and non-fiction books) but there will be some gold nuggets.

It will be interesting to see if anything comes of this. I could easily see a year from now podcasting being the big net "thing" of 2004-2005 or it could be at the bottom of the Wired tired list. Time will tell.

Whether or not you are interested in podcasting there are many good sites to get interesting shows to listen to. If are geek-minded IT Conversations is a good place to start. Their recent two-part recording of a speech and follow-up interview with the Woz was great.

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