Around the world blogging and podcasting are driving a resurgence of interest in the potential of online media, as people embrace the simplicity, individuality and authenticity of these upstart mediums.
Blogging and podcasting have yet to attract the same prominence in Australia as they have recently achieved in the USA. Yet there are plenty of signs here that the era of personal media in Australia is not far away.
The global growth figures for blogging are astonishing. According to Technorati, a blog monitoring and live searching service, the blogosphere has been doubling in size every 5 months for the past 20 months - a 16-fold increase in less than 2 years, and has no signs of slowing down.
Blogging is already dwarfing the print media in terms of content generation. Technorati is now monitoring up to 500,000 posts each day. That means several hundred thousand people each day are spending anything from a few minutes to a few hours writing content for public consumption.
Though still in single digit percentages of the population, blogging readership is also growing fast. In 2004, blog readership in the USA jumped 58 per cent to 27 per cent of Internet users, according to a survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. In fact, Pew found the number of blog readers as a percentage of Internet users is growing much faster than the number of blog creators. An indication that audiences are being created for blog content which extend well beyond the bloggers themselves.
Podcasting seems to have been invented in about August last year. Yet already there are well over 3,000 programs being distributed via RSS - the “really simple syndication” software - to people around the world. Some of these programs are already attracting sponsorship and advertising dollars.
The potential is so obvious that the industry association Commercial Radio Australia has asked the federal government for a decade of protection against new entrants. While Austereo among others has started its own podcasting experiments as it looks at how to respond to the podcasting phenomenon.
Public radio has also been quick to see the opportunity with the BBC, National Public Radio (NPR) in the USA, CBC in Canada, and the ABC (Dig and JJJ) locally all starting to experiment with program podcasting during the past few months.
In Australia too, we have seen the birth of a commercial experiment The Podcast Network (TPN) which, like traditional media, has a business model of aggregating and distributing content and seeking commercial sponsorship to provide the revenue. TPN has attracted media coverage in Australia as well as in England and the USA. TPN has so far put together a list of 12 programs and is looking to build its offering to about 100 titles. That’s a lot of audio content.
Although it grew out of blogging, podcasting also owes its popularity to a range of recent technologies which have made the creation and distribution of audio content extremely simple. These include RSS software used for subscribing to blogs, and the burst of popularity for mp3 players driven by Apple’s iPod phenomenon.
In addition, bloggers and podcasters are big users of Skype the free software package, which allows people to use VOIP and make (and record) free phone calls throughout the world. So far Skype, which is now offering premium services as well as the basic service, has been downloaded over 72 million times. That’s bad news for traditional telcos.
Until recently, the rollout of broadband in Australia, especially the wireless version, has been desultory, and this is no doubt a significant factor in our slower than the US take-up rate of new media.