Apple begins podcasting turf war

ITworld.com, Ecommerce in Action –

Apple has made the first major move to stake out turf in the podcasting space. Apple's latest version of iTunes, 4.9, now includes integrated podcasting support. Users can now browse a podcast directory, preview shows, subscribe to podcasts and sync them to an iPod, all within iTunes.

Podcasting is a way of publishing content via the Internet, based on RSS 2.0. Users can subscribe to a podcast news feed with a podcast client application, and it will automatically check for and download new files. The primary use for podcasting at this point is the distribution of audio files.

Apple has announced that, in just two days, iTunes customers have subscribed to more than one million podcasts from within iTunes. "Apple is taking Podcasting mainstream by building it right into iTunes," said Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO.

By adding podcast support, Apple is moving to extend its dominance in the world of online music to the world of podcasting.

Why Does Podcasting Matter?

It's easy to be dismissive of podcasting. Apple's Steve Jobs has characterized podcasting as "the Wayne's World of radio". This characterization is memorable, but it trivializes the technology.

There are many reasons that podcasting is important as a technology and an ebusiness tool. A recent Ecommerce in Action article discussed 5 Reasons Podcasting Matters to Ebusinesses:

1) Podcasts lower the threshold for publishing audio content.

2) Podcasts encourage two-way communication with listeners.

3) Podcasts extend the reach of Internet sites.

4) Podcasting can be used to increase the frequency of contact with customers.

5) Podcasts make audio files easy to find on the Internet.

This list is far from complete. The technology that podcasting is built upon, RSS 2.0, will support any type of enclosure, not just audio files. People are already experimenting with delivering video using RSS newsfeeds.

At the recent Gnomedex conference, June 23-25 in Seattle, Washington, Microsoft announced deep support for RSS within Longhorn, the next generation of Windows. It was clear from their demonstrations that Microsoft views RSS as a standard mechanism for synchronizing any type of content via the Internet. We may soon be using podcast technology to sync up calendars, messages, spreadsheets, and file versions.

Apple's First Move Expedient

Apple's support for podcasts within iTunes can, charitably, be called expedient. They have made it possible for iPod owners to find new podcasts, subscribe to them and sync them within one application. Unfortunately, their implementation is awkward.

Within iTunes, podcasts are found as a subcategory of Apple's Music Store. This is odd, since none of the top podcasts in Apple's directory are music shows, and none require purchase for access. Why would someone looking for a podcast from ESPN, or NPR's Science Friday, or the Engadget podcast look within the Music Store?

Browsing through the Apple directory, there are many other signs of Apple's podcast support being rushed out. Many podcasts have missing or incorrect data. Most podcasts list Time as "not available", and many list the artist as info@podcastalley.com, the email address for a popular podcasting site.

While Apple's support is not up to their usual standards of user-friendliness, it is nevertheless simplifying podcasting for iPod owners and bringing it to a larger audience than ever before. It's likely that iTunes podcast support is good enough, and early enough, that it will quickly become the top podcast client.

What's Next?

What is less certain is what will happen next. Apple's implementation is very focused on the idea of a podcast as a radio show. This helps Apple make podcasting easy to understand, but it's also a limiting perspective.

Podcasting, the idea of synchronizing files using RSS news feeds, is open-ended in its capabilities. While Apple may be staking out its turf in the world of podcasting, the world of podcasting looks like it will be much bigger than Apple and most companies yet imagine.

RESOURCES

Apple Takes Podcasting Mainstream

Steve Jobs on Podcasting

Podcasting emerges as an ebusiness tool

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