Published in the May 2007 Issue (#16) Podcast User Magazine (Download)
Podcasting has undoubtedly come a long way in the last few years. However, it still has a way to go before it manages to be accepted in the same way as regular radio. I think that as with any new technology, the biggest problem is the classic barrier to entry. At present podcasting still seems only to thrive amongst people who have some kind of computer know-how. Admittedly, iTunes has done an awful lot to raise public acceptance, and it indeed jump-started podcasts for the masses, but there’s still a problem with adding podcasts that do not have the correct iTunes form of URL. iTunes once used URLs that began with ‘itpc://’, but these seem to have been replaced with the more usual ‘http://phobos.apple.com/’ prefix.
So what can be done to make podcasting easier for the general masses? The first thing is to have a URL standard that is specific to podcasts. Yes, there is the iTunes-specific variant, but what if a listener doesn’t have iTunes? If every podcasting client used the same form of URL (for example, podcast://feeds.feedburner.com/indielaunchpad), there wouldn’t be this awful mess, where users click on the podcast link and get that page of XML/RSS gobbledygook. The browser would know that this was a podcast and pass the request through to the registered podcast client/aggregator. We also need to ensure that if that gobbledygook does appear, then clear instructions need to be the first thing people see on that XML/RSS page.
When the podcast link on a website is clicked, the user should be prompted whether they want to add the podcast to their installed client/aggregator. It should also be easier to remove a podcast from a client/aggregator, so that if a listener clicks on a link to a currently subscribed podcast, there should be an opportunity to unsubscribe. There’s even a possibility for a variety of query commands that could be added to the end of the URL, but development of those tools is probably far off and better left for another article.
Another simple thing a podcaster can do is add an audio player to the podcast’s main page, allowing new listeners to easily sample podcasts. I know many people also use this as their primary way to keep up to date with podcasts, but I’m sure that’s because the alternatives are at times confusing.
So that’s at least one thing to make subscribing and unsubscribing to podcasts easier. The other thing that needs to be addressed is the terminology. The term ‘subscribe’ still seems to leave a sour taste in the mouths of people who are not used to podcasts. ‘Subscribe’ still seems to evoke in many the thought of paying money. Again, listeners who are computer savvy are fairly used to the term ‘subscribe’, which is commonly used in reference to joining email lists and websites that offer user-specific content. I don’t think there is any one right term. I racked my brains and the best I could come up with was ‘Add to Podcast Presets’, taking the terminology of a radio on which favourite channels can be saved. Maybe it’s not the perfect term, but at least it seems less scary than the dreaded ‘subscribe’.
With AppleTV now shipping, it looks as if Apple is again going to raise public awareness of vidcasts and, to a slightly lesser degree, podcasts. With the ability to subscribe, watch and listen to favourite vidcasts and podcasts on regular TV, the future indeed looks rosy, but we don’t want to let Apple become the driving force. One look at the average podcast will show that probably 95% of the listener audience comes from iTunes; that is certainly the case with Indie Launchpad. This is a scary fact. In essence, iTunes controls the majority of podcasts. At present their power is benign, but that may not always be the case. We need to seize control of our podcasting destiny and ensure that it’s easy for our audiences to listen to our podcasts, no matter what software solution they choose to use. We also need to ensure that we publicize as many different podcasting clients/aggregators as possible. We also need to badger the vendors and programmers of clients/aggregators to adopt some form of standard, such as the one I proposed earlier.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying what I’ve proposed is perfect. I’d like to think it’s a starting block, a place to begin discussion and to try to light the fire up the podcasting community’s backside. After all, a lot of hard work goes into making podcasts, and the more listeners we can attract, the better.
So, podcasters and listeners, do you agree or disagree? Do you have any other ideas to make it easier for new listeners? If I get enough response, I’ll do a follow-up article with the feedback I receive. You can email me at email@example.com. I look forward to your views.