While still too much in its infancy to be considered an immediate threat to the radio industry, podcasting does present the prospect of a growing army of iPod-toting commuters who take programming decisions out of the hands of broadcasters and customize their own listening.
Odeo's founders say they believe that, as with other old and new media, conventional radio and podcasting can coexist in the long term. If, through podcasting, conventional radio programs are increasingly stored and played back on the listener's schedule, rather than the broadcaster's, then the trend could have the same time-shifting impact that TiVo-style video recorders have had on the viewing habits of television audiences.
But Mr. Williams said that the real promise of podcasting might lie not in what it means for conventional radio but in the new forms of expression the medium will permit. "We're going to let people do what they do," he said, "and we'll see what they do and hope they do it a lot."
Um, yes. Quite articulate of me, don't you thing?
So, the backstory:
In the summer of 2002, I was working in the back of my house in Noe Valley (San Francisco), and there was this guy across the way who occasionally hollered at me and said what's up. Friendly neighbor, I thought. And he apparently knew something about Blogger, because he knew what the orange [b] sticker on my monitor was.
A couple months later, when an article in Fortune came out, which had a picture of me, as if it were taken from his balcony (from which he saw me every day), he introduced himself.
That guy was Noah Glass. He did know something about Blogger. In fact, he was working on this wacky idea he later pitched me, which let people call a phone number, record a message, and then publish it to the web (via Blogger) by pressing a button.
Neat! I thought. Audio posting. Simple as leaving a voicemail. And integrated with Blogger. Now that's the kind of cool extension I created the Blogger API for.
Eventually, we signed a deal to offer a co-branded version of Noah's service to Blogger users for free (well, free for users, paid by Google).
Fast forward to late summer 2004. AudioBlogger had been humming a long for a while, a neat but little-known feature of Blogger that had some usage, but wasn't setting the world on fire. I talked to Noah frequently about ways to expand and improve the service, and how his business was doing in general.
Meanwhile, I had finally broken down and bought an iPod. Not because I needed to listen to music while walking around, but purely so I could subscribe to Audible.com and more easily pass the commuting-to-Mountain-View time while being illumintated and/or entertained.
One day, Biz Stone and I were driving home from work, it all clicked for us. We were talking about how Audioblogger was great, but we didn't tend to actually listen to the posts much, when we came across them on the web. However, there I was, paying for and downloaded spoken-word audio from the web to listen to on my iPod. Why, we thought, couldn't you get the interesting, new audio-blogged posts on your iPod when you synched it and listen to them where it made sense?
We talked to Noah about the idea, and he'd already been thinking along the same lines. And he wasn't the only one. Most notably, Dave Winer and Adam Curry had been experimenting with it. Chris Lydon was doing it. And Ben Hammersley had long-since written about it (and coined the term, "podcasting").
All credit to those guysand the great community of podcasters that sprung up from there.
The simple idea that, even though people had been putting audio on the web for years, a little piece of software on the client, some RSS, and the ubiquity of iPods (and like-devices, and broadband), could create a killer new distribution channel for a whole new genre of content was hot.
Since then, of course, the podcasting meme has exploded like little else we've seen online. The time from new, kinda-sorta-works technology to front page of The New York Times was record-setting, seems to me. Subscribing to the Google Alert for "podcasting" will currently yield three of four articles in your inbox per day. And, of course, the amount of new software, and new podcasters, is exploding, as well.
So back to our side of the story.
Unrelated to any of this, I left Google in early October 2004. I knew I would start another company (or a copule) eventually, but wasn't going to rush into anything. Noah was getting going on plans to extend Audioblogger in the podcasting direction, and I was chatting with him about that, because he was a friend, and I thought it was a great idea, etc.
Casual chatting, turned to advising, turned to funding, turned to co-founding and "executive producing" a new company called Odeo.
In December, I wrote an Odeo business/product document, from which I quote:
Odeo aims to enable this new distribution channel and medium by creating the best one-source solution for finding, subscribing to, and publishing audio content.
Obviously, there are a lot of parellels to Blogger in this project, which makes it interesting for me. It's fun to take the lessons learned and design a new system, with a lot of the same characteristics.
Noah's the head dude at the company. I've gotten much more involved, especially lately, because Tom Reilly got wind and invited me to announce it at TED. That was such a great opportunity, and was coming up so quick, I dug in to do what needed done, which means I'm spending most of my time writing code and tweaking HTML.
It's been fun to get my hands dirty again. (Which is not to say, if you're a great front-end web developer, you shouldn't send your resume to developer AT citizenware.com, subject: Odeo Developer, because you should. Cuz you're probably better at me.)
I'm super-excited to see where this goes. Podcasting is going to be freakin' huge. I don't have time in this post, because it's 2am and I gotta be on stage at 8am, to give my pitch for why. But it's the same story as blogging (with several unique charastics of its own), but in a whole new medium that is much bigger than people think. And it'll happen much, much faster.
It's about personal media, time-shifting, and the long, long tail. And I love that shit. Amazing things are going to be created.
Odeo is in beta right now. We plan to be inviting people to the system, um, real soon now. Sign up to get an invite when available.
And watch The Odeo Blog for more info.