Podcast Expo ’05 Unravelled

I know I’ve written about my time at the Podcast Expo, who I met, etc, but haven’t really written about the conference itself and now it’s almost two weeks since it started. I’ve been wanting to write about it for some time but have had trouble reaching conclusions. I wondered whether this was because I didn’t go as a podcaster and maybe that gives me a different perspective, but yesterday it occurred to me that if I wrote about it anyway I might make more sense of it all.

First of all, when the conference was conceived last year it was about portable media in general (hence the title Portable Media Expo). Show organiser Tim Bourquin thought podcasting would have a place there, but wasn’t sure how big podcasting would become. Understandable really, since I don’t think anyone would have believed how much podcasting has grown since iTunes 4.9. And so you had this hybrid conference of maverick podcasters on the one hand and big corps and business types on the other. Take the first two consecutive keynotes of Jason Calacanis (Weblogs, Inc) and Leo Laporte – you had Jason talking about monetising podcasts, the “long-tail” and all this speak and Leo talking about doing a great show, building listenership and being creative. Both agreed that content was king and that was about it.

A similar story the next day with Angel Gambino from MTV UK and Doug Kaye from IT Conversations. Angel spoke mostly about providing made-for-mobile MTV content created for 18 – 24 year olds to mobile phones and Doug Kaye was, of course, talking about all the free content available from IT Conversations, public radio, etc and the spirit of podcasting itself. In contrast to Doug’s enthusiasm and vision thing it was mentioned that Angel firstly seemed neither tuned into podcasts nor appeared to believe in the content her network was pumping down the retinas of that narrow age group. The contrast of these two colliding worlds was striking and this was repeated throughout the two days.

It actually seemed at times that the best fun and some of the most informative stuff was to be had on the sidelines. People I met and spoke to at the various gatherings (not the big names) constantly surprised me with their involvement in podcasting or purpose for being at the show. These were not just podcasters, but developers, educationalists and small businesses. Lots of creativity yet to come.

Music was another hot topic that sparked many a heated debate about the use of podsafe music, whether short clips of music or film can be utilised under “fair use” and what the future might hold there. Some people raved about the Podsafe Music Network, others hated it. So again, some people claimed to have some if not all the answers, others disagree and you get the feeling this will all come out in the wash. One thing I think everyone enjoyed was the Podsafe Music Concert organized by CC Chapman and Craig Patchett. I missed Chance and only caught Brother Love, but that was cool and a great way to kick off the event.

In addition to the Expo itself, a whole other world seemed to be happening within the gravitational pull of PodShow Inc. Adam Curry still hasn’t said much about their “unaudition” on the Daily Source Code, but he did say lots in an interview with Madge Weinstein on Yeast Radio 263, recorded at the show. In essence, PodShow are to open up their delivery network to anyone who wants to use it and listeners are going to vote for podcasts so those podcasters can quit their day jobs and do podcasting full time, as with the existing PodSquad. But PodShow isn’t the only organisation to watch. Doug Kaye’s IT Conversations has plenty of interesting things in store, including the Podcast Academy.

One thing I was curious to discover (but found elusive) at the show were the problems that podcasters were facing that could be solved with technology. In that, yes, a lot of the aspects of podcasting could be easier, and by easier I mean more integrated, but to do that you need to provide the whole deal – that’s quite difficult, expensive and probably not to everyone’s tastes. Yahoo seems to be doing something in that direction and there was much talk (but no detail) of Apple trademarking iPodcast but nobody knows what this is or when it might appear. I can’t help but think that an iLife app that creates podcasts, feeds, etc isn’t going to hit the mark with everybody, or even anybody who isn’t a beginner. Apple apps tend to be tied into .Mac, which has very limited bandwidth along with other issues, and of course this could be limited to Mac users with .Mac accounts.

If anything, the technology problems relate mostly to a) how to cope with increased bandwidth (see the shutdown of PureCastMedia.com) and b) the problems with making a podcast pay, if only for itself, or whether to even go down that route. There are some ideas out there such as Audible’s WordCast, currently in a closed beta. This uses Audible’s file format, complete with DRM, with ways to measure audiences, sell content, deliver ads, etc. Most people I spoke to didn’t seem particularly impressed by this because the feeling was that it breaks all the existing things that makes podcasting so cool, accessible and open to all, something which PodShow at least seems to understand (not that everyone was all that hot on PodShow, as you can imagine).

Overall there was a great buzz at the show, it felt like something fresh, new and big was going on, but there was a lot of uncertainty about the future – not necessarily bad, quite exciting really, but there is so much we simply don’t yet know.

And that’s the conclusion: Podcasting has arrived and is here to stay, but everything else is still up in the air. The next year should be really interesting, I think the best is yet to come. 😀

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