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Last Updated: Monday, 3 October 2005, 07:38 GMT 08:38 UK
Podcasting cries out for content
By Jo Twist
BBC News technology reporter

Cartoon of "podcasting" (Image courtesy of Sharon Spotbottom)
Podcasting as a word is not all that helpful

"Podcasting" as a word is not a very helpful one.

If you ask someone in the street what it means, most stare blankly, thinking it is something to do with peas or you have to have an iPod to do it.

A poll revealed this week that nine out of 10 of UK's taxi drivers, hairdressers and pub landlords - the apparent "barometers" of UK society - had no clue what "podcasting" was. That is no real surprise; many people would struggle to define a "weft".

And the "web" was something a spider built not so long ago.

But it seems a shame that the very people who are renowned for being some of the best talkers and commentators in Britain mostly have no clue what podcasting is.

Real comedians, especially people breaking through, could use it as a vehicle
Chris Skinner, Simulacrum
Even the likes of Chris Moyles on BBC Radio 1 talks about it, but for many it is not relevant unless you know what it lets you do.

If you say it is a way of getting thousands of hours of audio content delivered automatically to your music player or computer, it looks a little more interesting.

If it means anyone can record that side-splitting post-pub banter or witty critique of Pop Idol, and have potentially millions listen in on it, then it takes on a different meaning.

Podcasting lets people do more or less whatever they want to. They can take the kinds of risks with show formats and ideas because podcasters only answer to themselves. The podcaster is the editor and the media.

Although TV poker has become quite compulsive viewing for some, imagining it getting commissioned as a radio show is a stretch. Yet, the UK lads from Poker Diagram regularly podcast their games of online poker.

Backroom talent

Some have described podcasting as "mecasting".

But what forms the lifeblood of podcasting is content. Licensed music is a no-no for podcasters who wish to veer away from the music industry's legal might.

The grip that the music industry has on its tunes has, in a sense, made podcasters look to new ideas and alternative content.

Perhaps partly because of those restrictions too, podcasters have organised to ensure new bands and unsigned bands can be heard through podcasts, making it a new platform for their music.

The Podsafe Music Network is one such organised place where podcasters can register to make use of music from bands that are a part of the network. All they have to do is credit them and provide a link where people can buy the album, if there is one.

What podcasting also potentially offers, however, is a launch pad for the richness of talent that exists in smoky Manchester comedy clubs and pub backrooms where poets fester, a pad that could mean your ramblings reach ears in Trinidad.

Image of comedy Men Behaving Badly
Your post-pub banter may be compulsive listening for someone
Chris Skinner, is the host of Simulacrum, a star-studded podcast in which the rich and famous guests including "Haile Selassie", "Tom Cruise", "Catherine Zeta Douglas" and "Dr Robert Mugabe", enjoy a gentle probing.

As a radio producer for an independent radio production company, he has had plenty of experience in trying to get shows and ideas commissioned by mainstream media. He cannot deny he saw podcasting as a chance to showcase his talents.

"The potential for podcasting is massive," he told the BBC News website at Europe's first podcasting conference, PodcastConUK, earlier this month. "Whether it gets realised or not is another thing".

The people he thinks are being "criminally slow" in catching onto podcasting are stand-up comedians. He has managed to cajole some onto his show.

"Real comedians, especially people breaking through, could use it as a vehicle," he thinks.

To Mr Skinner, podcasting gives him the freedom to do shows that mainstream media might shy away from. "It is the perfect place for people with content," he says.

Taxi(cast) please

Podcasting is a buzzword that has stuck to what is essentially about ordinary people creating audio shows on what they want to listen to. To many podcasters, it is about reclaiming the radio and using the powerful and easy technology many now have, to do what they want.

The fact that it is downloadable onto any digital music player also means the shows can be "time shifted" - they can be listened to whenever; they can be paused, rewound, and replayed.

Image of a black cab
Roll on the Taxicasts?
Anyone can be the audience - as long as they have a net connection, so it is the kind of technology that brings together content and community in a new kind of kingdom.

There is clearly a lot of work to be done before podcasting becomes mainstream as a way of showcasing home-grown talent. Being able to access podcasts via iTunes has certainly helped.

That includes technical solutions that make it as easy as brushing teeth to create and publish a podcast. Companies such as Odeo, set up by Evan Williams who created the easy publishing tool Blogger, are well on the way to working these issues out.

But, says Mr Skinner: "It is much easier than you think. All you need is a friend who knows. But there is also enough help on [internet] forums - you just type in 'how do I do it.'"

Then all we have to do is wait for the Taxicasts, the Haircasts and the Pubcasts to start rolling in.


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