Podcasting’s pundits suffer from macro-myopia

Podcasting’s pundits suffer from macro-myopia: For as long as there has been a rexblog, I’ve been crediting Paul Saffo with helping me understand the phenomenon he calls “macro-myopia.” (Last year, he e-mailed me this background on the concept.) In short, for the past hundred years or so, wonks who study “technology diffusion” have observed that folks always tend to “overestimate short-term effects and under-estimate long-term implications of emergent technological change.”

If you want to watch real-time macro-myopia, follow the “overestimation, underestimation” of podcasting. Today, just 18 months into the era of podcasting, a Forrester research report suggesting that only 1% of people actually listen to podcasts is being treated as if such statistics mean something. They mean absolutely nothing.

There will surely be a “bust” of financial expectations related to podcasting (such is the law of macro-myopia), however, there is no way that 18 months after the word “podcasts” returned only 24 results on Google, that anyone’s research about its “acceptance” means anything about the longterm impact of those “notions” and “platforms” that combine to form the metaphor of podcasting.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. From day one, I’ve been ranting that podcasting shouldn’t be considered a “programming format” or use mass media metrics or metaphors. Sure, the early podcasts sounded like radio shows, but sharing audio is something we do all day long via the phone and I don’t have an opening theme-song before each phone conversation.

I believe podcasting’s greatest impact will be as a personal medium for small groups — as small as two. While they wisely do not use the word “podcasting” anywhere on the site and are, indeed, NOT podcasting, the dynamics of what is taking place at YackPack is where I think time-shifiting and sharing audio may be heading (watch their screencast “video demo” to get the idea). Again, I am not applying the term “podcasting” to what they’re doing — because it’s not — but clear your mind of “programming” metaphors and think conversations and what they’re doing at YackPack can help you understand the difference between personal media (conversation) and mass media (programming) as it relates to time-shifted audio files. Okay, you are now allowed to connect the dots between conversations and podcasting.

To quote myself, bottom line (as I will continue to repeat this again and again, no doubt): “Before the coming podcasting boom and bust, it was just a grassroots notion. Before we cycle through the inevetiable macro-myopic journey of over-expectation and disappointment, I want to say once more that podcasting is going to greatly disappoint lots of people who think it’s about the money.” But what podcasting will eventually lead to is way beyond our minds’ grasps.

Update: Dave Winer says about the phone call theme song: “Hmm. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could.”

Kevin Marks (in comments below): “…if I have a custom ring for you on my phone, you do have a theme song when you call.”

If that’s the case, when someone who is not in my directory calls me, my phone “theme song” is the Simpsons: I guess that puts a smile on my face before I start talking.

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  • John Furrier

    Rex,
    Well said. Certainly podcasting is viable but what gets me excited is what people ‘don’t see’ – the impact of this new medium. Recasting old models into the podcasting will fail. At PodTech we are pushing boundaries in the format learning a ton of what works and what doesn’t work. What we found that does work is the voices of people impact the person listening. Podcasting impacts and connects people – It is my opinion that the sharing dynamic will go mainstream. I’m seeing that with very savvy users today – they are both producers of media and the audience. That trend will radically change the game and podcasting is a part of that.

    John

  • Dave Winer

    One percent is HUGE adoption for such a short period of time.

  • Kevin Marks

    Well, if I have a custom ring for you on my phone, you do have a theme song when you call…
    What will extend podcasting is playlist sharing.

  • rickfle

    Early adopter always think their current fave-rave is the next big thing; it seldom is. Podcasting is cool because it’s both new and useful in the long run. A lot of cool stuff turns out to be useless. It doesn’t really matter if podcasting turns out to be co-opted by the biggies or not. Enough people already know how to do it and are doing it, and enough of these prople are “tastemakers” on some scale that the idea will endure, though the details may change.

  • Mark

    There’s a lot of cool things going on in the now 1% crowd, including what I would call friends whose passion as a fan or a producer is helping change the world. A question in the back of my mind is more about free speech and those who will try to control the internet in general.

  • Greg Gershman

    Verizon recently started offering you the ability to let people who are calling you listen to a song instead of a ring, and I believe you can customize it by number, so the whole intro song thing works both ways. ;)

  • MattV

    As useful as podcasting maybe to some, it will be years before it has mass acceptance. I think of it as similar to “tagging” photos on flickr, it just hasn’t grabbed a big enough chunk of the average internet user. It will be several years before we actually see whether there is real acceptance and use. Wait a few years and see what that percentage becomes.

  • paul steinmetz

    I didn’t know how to get this material circulated, and I hope you will be able to help.
    The album “Street Elite” by Alexx is now ready for digital downloading at all the major sites, and it is for sale at CDbaby and Mainely A Cappella. The album is a cappella doo wop and covers nine classic songs from the 1940s, 50s, and 60s plus the original song “Jitterbuggin'” The song has been a big favorite at their shows for years and still pops up on the top 50 chart at the Washingtonpost mp3 site from time to time. Alexx has appeared at such places as The Kennedy Center , Constitution Hall, and the Apollo Theater, but most people are familiar with the group from seeing them busking on the streets of Old Town Alexandria VA. Surely their are some funkafied folks in your audience. I would appreciate you providing exposure for this tune and get some of your listeners jitterbuggin’. Let me know if you need additional information. Alexx owns the rights to this song and we give you permission to play it in its entirety and use parts of it for transitions or any other creative ideas you have. Thanks.
    Paul Steinmetz
    The message is ready to be sent with the following file or link attachments:
    Alexx – Jitterbuggin’

  • paul steinmetz

    yes. why? anybody I know?