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Last Updated: Monday, 16 May 2005, 23:05 GMT 00:05 UK
In Pod We Trust

By Peter Day
Presenter, BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service

Adam Curry wears rose-tinted spectacles (which look like Campari with too much soda in it), highly appropriate for an innovator.

Business is the 21st century is going to be different from business in the past 100 years. That's the theme - over and over again - of this Work in Progress. Of course you really sit up and take notice only when it begins to impinge on your own little neck of the woods. When (for example) the internet starts transforming radio.
Peter Day

He's an early mover: a former MTV videojockey who made enough money to live comfortably ever after by selling the web development company he made just before the dot.com bubble burst in 2000.

Now he lives in a comfortable cul de sac in the prosperous town of Guildford in the snug county of Surrey, England.

Mr Curry is an American brought up in Europe who, with his Dutch wife, thought Britain a better place to bring up a family than the US.

Mr Curry is a podcaster, and he does it from wherever he is: his car, his home, a plane he happens to be piloting, wherever.

You can hear what he made of my encounter with him by clicking on the link to the right of this page.

Public diary

Podcasting is an offshoot of that booming internet activity, blogging.

My first face-to-face encounter with blogging, or weblogging, came five or so years ago when I drove up into the hills above Silicon Valley, California to meet Dave Winer.

Podcasting disrupts the established way of doing broadcast radio

Dave was another innovator who had sold a software company and was now living on a spread which backed on to that of the singer Joan Baez; he took us out into the woods to listen to her rather vocal chickens.

By then Dave Winer was devoting himself to thinking about the impact of the internet. What had caught his attention in its infant stage was weblogging: the art or craft of keeping a public diary on the web, and inviting entries and comments.

Mr Winer pioneered it with a daily blog; a prickly survey of everything that swum into his view called Scripting News. He went off to Harvard Law School to become, I suppose, the world's first visiting fellow of blogging.

And then, logically, Mr Winer got interested in not just writing an internet diary that anyone could access, but voicing it too.

Frantic activity

Audio blogging was one term that adherents adopted.

Adam Curry had been mad on radio for years, but realised the potential for internet-casting after he met Dave Winer.

The way Mr Curry tells it, he taught himself software development, and then wrote a computer programme called iPodder, which allowed users to download compressed MP3 audiofiles to their computer or storage device (such as an Apple iPod), often in downtime or overnight.

Podcasts could then be played or reviewed the next day, in the car, on the hoof, in the den. And so they are.

Hundreds of thousands of them are now active, in less than a year of use.

Individual schedules

Podcasting does some disruptive things to the established way of doing broadcast radio.

Woman using an iPod while struggling through snowy weather
Podcasts can be played anywhere: in the car, on the hoof, in the office

First of all it enables anyone to be a "caster": no licence, no regulator, no formats. All that's needed is some basic home computing equipment.

(Maybe no listeners either, but the iPodder internet site provides an index and a Top Ten chart as well, and interest is growing rapidly. One day in February this year, the newspaper USA Today had front page lead stories on two separate sections about the iPod phenomenon.)

Secondly, and even more disruptively, podcasting destroys the broadcast model of appointment making with the programmes: a podcast starts when the listener wants it too, not when scheduled by the broadcaster.

It is just like Tivo or SkyPlus for television.

Audible archives

Internet-casting also upends the significance of the archive. For conventional companies, archives are an expensive problem: they need curating, maintenance, storage space, and no-one can ever judge what will be significant in the future.

They are expensive luxuries.

In the internet distribution model, archives become ever more accessible, and valuable.

Make them easily searchable and they may even become a major method of listening over the years.

Audible.com is a subscription internet spoken word service founded eight years ago by Donald Katz, a former correspondent for Rolling Stone and Sports Illustrated.

Both are publications that watched unheeding as upstarts rolled out MTV, Music TV, and ESPN, the sports TV network, into the media space that the established magazine players had been occupying as pretty much monopolies.

Don Katz saw the way the internet would revolutionise audio distribution, and the first storage device Audible.com produced is now an exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC.

Distribution costs

Along came Apple and the iPod and legitimised music downloading, making users familiar with the concept of subscribing to downloaded plays, programmes and oral version of everything from newspapers to the Harvard Business Review.

Play back when and where you like, but especially in the car.

Digitalization reduces distributions costs (and returns) to negligible. Such costs have been among the main burdens on traditional publishing.

Irrelevant bandwidth

Two years ago I went to look at the digital satellite radio revolution in the USA: two rival $2bn companies Sirius and XM, each with more than 100 24-hour networks, using vastly expanded digital bandwidth.

I also met a law professor Yochai Benkler, now at Yale, who predicted that the internet would soon make irrelevant the extra bandwidth the satellite radio stations were spending billions to utilise.

His message was: anyone can internet-cast, anyone can distribute their words or their movies.

I thought he was being far-off and visionary, but it is happening now.

And all the assumptions I have made in 30 years of being a radio practitioner are suddenly up for grabs.

Well, some of them.

Work in Progress is the title of this new exploration of the big trends upheaving the world of work as we steam further into the twenty-first century; and it is a work in progress, influenced and defined by my encounters as I report on trends in business and organisations all over the world.


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