You heard it here first: the technology word of the year for 2005 will be “podcasting.” Definitions vary (which is typical for a brand new phenomenon) but the basic idea is this: people (whether amateurs or professional broadcasters) create audio files that Internet users can download directly to computers and thence to their iPods or other digital audio players.
Such a file could be a recording of a blogger reading his latest blog entries. It might be a garage band that wants to disseminate its music without having to deal with the music industry. It might be an author who has produced his own audio book. Or it might be a recording of an actual news broadcast, so that you could time-shift your listening. NPR’s On the Media already offers free MP3 downloads of its shows for just this purpose.
What’s especially cool about podcasting is that software developers are blending it with other types of many-to-many technology such as blogs and RSS syndication. One program called iPodder lets you set up automatic subscriptions to your favorite online audio sources, then listen to them on your iPod (or any other MP3 player) whenever you like. Think of it like TiVo for Internet radio.
To me, it’s all just one more sign of “the big story” in information technology, the one that is at or near the heart of nearly everything Technology Review writes about IT: the blending of computing, communications, and mobility into one seamless technology. Podcasting shows once again how a commercial technology invented for a specific purpose – in this case, the digital music player, which reached its pinnacle in the Apple iPod – can be creatively repurposed to more democratic ends by independent software developers using open technologies like RSS and XML.
For your entertainment, here are a few links to discussions of podcasting and directories of available podcasts: