I don’t particularly enjoy podcasts, which strikes even me as odd given that I’m the technology’s “target demographic” if ever there was one: a rabid RSS consumer, music fan, and habitual early adopter of social technologies. I gave some of the earliest podcasts their due back when they first got buzz and I’ve since revisited the medium regularly, hoping for improvements. I don’t think David Coursey’s dismissal is anything more than his gut instinct, but I also don’t think he’s wrong about podcasting being a “loser” as media distribution technologies go.
I don’t see any inherent worth in the produce of “remix culture.” Just because a work is distributed via a medium like podcasting that’s touted as “empowering media consumers” or “making us all content creators” doesn’t make that work engaging or valuable. The best of remix culture rises to the top and breaks away; the best mashup artists have found distribution with solid labels, for example.
The flipside of this is that podcasting is not exclusively an amateur technology. Far from it, podcasting was so quickly scouted and co-opted for its “viral marketing potential” that it never had time to be a genuine grassroots phenomenon. Major media outlets, keeping desperate watch on the social technology sphere so as not to miss another RSS or Friendster, jumped on podcasting like a presidential sex scandal. Mainstream content producers perked up and got on the bandwagon. Now there’s a mix of commercial and amateur content available via podcast, and that’s that.
So why doesn’t it feel right, like real radio? Why aren’t I listening to This American Life as produced by some kid in an apartment in Chicago, rather than out of Chicago Public Radio?
Podcasting is an awkward technology, stemming from its RSS roots. Lots of my non-techie friends are now using an RSS reader daily, and while it’s not a difficult concept to explain, it just doesn’t click until you try it. When extended to podcasts, there are dozens of different “podcatchers” and half-assed implementations in existing feed readers. Integration into iTunes should help ease this confusion, but people will gripe about newcomers to podcasting missing out on shows that aren’t featured in Apple’s directory.
Awkward technolgies require a certain personality type to overcome the minor obstacles they pose. Much like the first wave of webloggers, the first wave of podcasters are people eager and willing to beta-test a whole new way of distributing content. This probably explains their penchant for talking about podcasting itself more than anything else. Bloggers got dissed for too much “metablogging,” and even then you didn’t actually have to hear their voices in unskimmable realtime.
With blogs, podcasts, all of it, I feel like we’re all beta-testing a new media that doesn’t yet hold its own. I think we’ll know we’ve got it right when people stop talking about producing content and just produce content. We need more beautiful things to hear and see and read, not a generation of amateur media theorists with big microphones. In my perfect world I’d never have been compelled to write this post, is what I’m saying.