Online Skating: iPod: the newest voice in the marketplace of ideas
As a man who has always admired function over form (I have never owned a new car and am darn proud of it!) it shames me to admit how much I lust after that overpriced trend magnet, the iPod. Heck, one night I even dreamed about it. It’s not my fault, really. My wife and I bought our daughter an iPod Mini for Christmas, and now the aura in our den has completely changed. What used to reek of teen males killing PC-game orcs now has the scent of teen females pondering Green Day on iTunes. How can that be resisted by a man whose record albums take up vast amounts of bookshelf space? It can’t. Any day now I will succumb to the iPod mania, although I’m darned if I’ll buy the U2 version. At least this is a good time to get iPod-bitten. The device has reached such critical mass that potential interesting things are happening around it, sort of the way potentially interesting things started cropping up when wi-fi hit the public’s attention. Many of these revolve around the fact that iPods can handle many kinds of computer files, not just songs. Oberlin College in Ohio gives out iPods to help students organize study material, while an open-source medical system has been developed out West that uses iPod Photos to display and distribute X-rays among doctors. Then there’s Podcasting, or broadcasting to iPods, which is either the biggest thing since blogging or a bunch of overhyped foolishness. Or both, of course. Hundreds of Podcasts Podcasting is the term for creating a digital “radio show” and distributing it over the Internet. Usually, people get the show through RSS feeds that regularly check for updates, just as they regularly check Web sites for changes, and then zaps it to your digital audio player the next time it syncs with your computer. Once the show is in your iPod, you can listen at your convenience, pausing or rewinding or discarding at will. TiVo for Internet radio. What’s really interesting about Podcasting isn’t the receiving, though, it’s the programming. Today’s recording and editing software makes it easy for one person to create a talk or music programming; every wannabe Imus can have their own “show” in an hour. A surprising amount of people have done this, creating regular Podcasts. You can find lists of them on-line (try iPodder.org, built around the download program that launched the field, or PodcastAlley.com). There are hundreds of them, although so far as I can tell, none exists in New Hampshire. Also, as far as I can tell, none are particularly novel. There are sports talk shows and obscure-music shows and shows of a guy who tells you what he thinks of the latest movies, but nothing that you can’t find done better on real radio. Still, it’s intriguing. Proponents say it’s more. They think Podcasting is going to do what low-power FM sought to do before Judd Gregg and his Senate buddies leapt to the defense of Clear Channel and throttled it: Greatly increase the number and type of voices being heard. Low-power FM is a four-year-old, federal program designed to get small, cheap, homegrown radio stations on the airwaves between existing stations, but it was all-but-throttled by Congress following industry fears about interference. New Hampshire has fewer than a dozen such stations and none in the pipeline. Podcasting hasn’t got any limits faced by low-power FM, or high-power FM for that matter. There’s no FCC oversight, no getting squeezed by conglomerates, and it costs so little that anybody can do it. However, these features are also bugs. There’s no FCC to prevent somebody from swiping your show, no media conglomerates to sell ads for you, and while it doesn’t cost money it does cost time. When the novelty fades, I suspect most Podcasts will, too. But then again, I said a similar thing about blogs a couple of years ago, and they are chugging along just fine. Many people, in fact, call Podcasting a sort of aural blogging, and predict that it will do to cookie-cutter radio what blogs helped do to Dan Rather. Maybe and maybe not. It’s way too early to know. But it’s not too early to know this: Putting the “Great Lost Kinks Album” on shuffle play is something worth dreaming about. David Brooks writes about technology for the Telegraph of Nashua. His New Hampshire Business Review column appears monthly.