“Podcasting is the new blogging.”
I hesitate to say it quite like that, because every medium has its strengths, and we choose to produce or consume a format based on many factors. Text is the universal, low-barrier, high-reach mode of expression and will always be so. And this is why declarations like, “The blog is dead,” just aren’t so. The text-based blog will take new forms, it will move to new platforms, but it will never die. Yet, audio/visual content provides an opportunity to bond with your audience in a different way. For some, it feels richer, deeper. It sparks a connection. It builds trust.
My organization, DAU, decided to launch THE LEARNING CIRCLE podcast, an audio program, as a means of hearing from leading lights in our industry. It’s an opportunity to capture conversation, that endlessly fascinating mode in which human beings interact. It’s a show about ideas, and you don’t necessarily need imagery to share ideas. If it can be stated, it can be transferred through those telepathic containers we call “words.” And when the conversation feels authentic, we achieve immersion. It’s kind of magical. It’s a great way to learn. As the late, great instructional design expert, Jay Cross, has said, “Conversation is the most powerful learning technology ever invented…. (it) spreads intellectual capital, improves cooperation, and strengthens personal relationships.”
With no pictures, I like to say that audio “frames the mind,” because words are the expression of the mind. And as a listener, this feels different than video. I can’t tell you why this is, although I’m fairly certain a neuroscientist could. But audio is its own thing and, for some, a preferred way to “read” and be entertained. Audiobooks and talk radio are constant companions to many commuters. Zig Ziglar said we can turn our cars into mobile classrooms, converting lost hours into learning time. I think we all have some experience with this. Who hasn’t listened to a book on tape (or, to catch up with the 21st century, a book from Audible) at some point or another?
Conversation is the most powerful learning technology ever invented. (Jay Cross)
These days, many of us are searching for something, anything, as an alternative to terrestrial radio. Satellite radio can be an even bigger wasteland. It’s the same complaint as television: “a hundred channels and nothing to watch.” But podcasting is perfect for the niche listener, even the micro-niche enthusiast. People are searching the most esoteric subjects and, guess what? They’re often finding shows that cater to those interests.
On the producer side, some of us start highly specific shows for that very reason. When I surveyed the Design space at iTunes ten years ago, it was all “tips and tricks” and news content, ephemeral information that bored me. I was yearning for instruction about timeless principles of design theory and practice. It didn’t exist, so I started the podcast that I’d wished was there: DESIGN GUY, billed as the show about “timeless principles, simply explained.” It seemed to scratch an itch. Not just for myself as a motivator to study and share my findings, but a hungry audience found it, too, and told me how helpful it was to them via their customer reviews, emails, and tweets.
The success of Design Guy performed another function for me. Validation. I had ideas kicking around that needed confirmation and acceptance…by someone. I’m no Messiah, so don’t mistake what I’m about to say, but Jesus Christ laid down the essential principle: “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own relatives, and in his own house.” What this clarified for me is that your closest friends and relations are not your audience. Sure, you may have some cheerleaders in your life that support you, but you’re also as likely to be greeted with apathy, or if we’re honest, well-meaning but unqualified opinions.
No, the market place is your audience. You want the cold, detached, critical eye and collective judgment of the crowd to raise or sink your work product, whatever it is, be it a podcast or book or song. Scary? Sure. But satisfying in that it supplies you with the answer to your honest question: Does my (fill in the blank) have merit or not? If not, then it supplies you with the information you need to get it right the next time. But if it is successful, it means so much more when you know someone isn’t saying nice things just to be polite because they are a co-worker or friend. The podcast puts you in the public forum, where you can have your good ideas confirmed.
Although it’s growing, bulging its way through the mainstream part of the adoption curve like the egg the snake swallowed, podcasting is still new to a surprising number of folks. Of course, everyone is deeply experienced with audio/visual content, but the particular packaging and distribution we call a “podcast,” and the habits of its consumption have yet to fully catch on. The process of searching and acquiring and listening to audio programming on a phone or other device is not an ingrained habit for everybody…yet. It’s still a new frontier, and this newness is an opportunity for consumers and producers, alike.
The Podcast is rising, and herein is an opportunity for bloggers, for anyone with something to say. I won’t lie and tell you that there aren’t technical hurdles, that it’s not partly a performance art to work at. In terms of complexity, it sits somewhere between text and video. For many producers, it sits “on top of” text. Serious podcasters tend to script their content or talking points before getting anywhere near a microphone, so it’s certainly more work, with good writing as the foundation of the effort. It’s a “quality in, quality out” proposition. But if the idea sounds enticing because you have a message to get out, or a self to express, then I encourage you to consider the microphone as the means to do it.
ANTHONY ROTOLO has been involved with podcasting for nearly ten years as both a producer and contributor to various shows. He works for the award-winning Defense Acquisition University, home of THE LEARNING CIRCLEpodcast, available at www.dau.mil/learningcircle, iTunes, Stitcher or wherever you listen to podcasts. As a hobby, he also produces the new program, TV Terror, a show that celebrates television’s Movie-of-the-Week golden age.