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When Steve Jobs announced on May 22 that the next version of Apple’s music software and store iTunes – due within 60 days – would feature support for podcasting, the nascent community of Internet-broadcast show creators was all atwitter. And for good reason: Apple’s announced support will be a signal event for the technology, propelling it from a hobbyist’s pursuit to a medium that less tech-savvy people might explore and enjoy.

Podcasting is a relatively new phenomenon, where people create short audio programs and make them available for downloading on an iPod or other digital music device. Podcast programs are usually topic based, say, about cooking or sports. Others are downloadable versions of traditional (“terrestrial”) radio programs. A growing community of podcast directories has emerged, giving people an easy way to find various programs.

But with several podcasting directories already in existence, and high-profile podcast-related companies such as Odeo nearing their launch, Apple’s entry could also roil some first-movers – many fear that Apple will become the de facto place where people discover podcasts, much like iTunes has become for legal music online.

“When I first saw it, I thought, wow, that’s really surprising, and potentially bad for us,” says Evan Williams, co-founder of soon-to-launch Odeo.com, a service that will help people create and find podcasts. “But after looking into it, it’s potentially good for us. Introducing more people will have beneficial effects on the space,” he says. “Either way, it’s an example of the craziness of the podcasting thing. I’ve never seen anything take off like this.”

Williams’ last observation is particularly striking, considering he was co-founder of the company that created Blogger, which helped give birth to the blogging phenomenon and ended up as part of Google.

Already many podcast sites are seeing the effects of Apple’s announcement.

“Since Sunday, we saw a large spike in traffic to our site,” says Dannie Gregoire, president and CEO of Podcast.net, a large directory. “Apple brings a lot of attention and gives credibility.”

The podcasting movement, for all its headlines, is in dire need of the “Apple treatment.” More than anything else, Apple has succeeded in the last 10 years because it has made technology easy for people to understand and commodity hardware stylish. Apple’s iPod is the leading digital music player, with 80 percent market share. What’s more, the company’s online music store, iTunes, owns upward of 70 percent of the legal online music market.

It’s the ease-of-use attribute that many believe will boost the podcasting community.

“Podcasts today are still too difficult to bring to your device,” says Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, a technology analysis firm. “Now, Apple is bringing the point-and-click approach to downloading podcasts.”

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