A Podcasting Revival

If you’re in tech and been following twitter over the past few months, you may have noticed a sudden surge in podcasts. Yes, podcasts, those uncool pieces of media that were dead years ago, even before Odeo tried to revive them. So, why are they cool all of a sudden? I was thinking about this until I saw Dave Winer‘s tweet above, and he, as usual, made this point cleanly and neatly. Podcasting has arrived because, as Winer points out, the infrastructure for blogging has solidified (and expanded with new platforms), and RSS provides the rails by which information travels (or Twitter, if you’d like).

I’d add one more vector to Winer’s statement — mobile.

With mobile phones now, podcasts can not only be recorded on the go (the microphone on the iPhone 5+ models are excellent), there are great apps for folks to listen to and discover new podcasts. If you search the iTunes store for podcasts, there are many results. Of course, I work at Swell (download it here! www.swell.am on iOS, and in Beta for Android) and we were betting on this kind of shift happening. For instance, anyone with a tablet or smartphone can create a SoundCloud account and use the device’s mic to create a podcast, and networks like SoundCloud, Twitter, iTunes, and even Swell will distribute it to the right audiences.

What makes podcasts exciting right now, in 2014, is that while the battle for consumer attention and eyeballs is fierce on the web and on mobile, the fight for our ears is more manageable. In the car, for instance, audio apps compete for attention from conference calls, terrestrial or satellite radio, or music apps like Pandora, iTunes, Spotify, and others. In the tech world, as people have figured out content market across social networks actually works (if done well), the battle is now extending into new frontiers. Video will be a frontier. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a VC firm, for instance, start producing real videos beyond interviews. And, there’s audio, in podcasts. To date, we see new podcasts from Andreessen Horowitz (who has invested in Swell) with Benedict Evans, from Nabeel and Bijan at Spark Capital with Hallway Chat, from Ryan Hoover with Product Hunt, from Ben Thompson who now podcasts at Stratechery.fm, from Jason Calacanis and his prolific output through Twist. (We used to have the VoiceBunny actors reading Fred Wilson’s AVC daily on Swell, but VoiceBunny unfortunately stopped in March.) Just today, in fact, Tim Ferris launched his new podcast. We are happy to provide all of these inside Swell so you can listen to great audio on the go.

Videos. Podcasts. Those are the frontiers for great long-tail content and getting in front of customers, consumers, and the like. The competition in text and online is just too fierce. There are tricks people use to get people to click on text, and then to share them across networks. On video and audio, the consumer needs to invest time and attention, and there is an element of sunk cost. Therefore, videos and audio need to be highly-produced, with good images and audio quality. The content needs to be framed, and it needs to be digested in a set period of time. It has to potential to create the feel of a radio show or television program, but also be entirely different at the same time. I think that’s what we’re seeing with these new tech podcasts, and to me, that development is very, very exciting. As someone who learns primarily through audio experiences, all of these new podcasts help me learn more stuff when I’m not at a desk, and often times, the content is more immersive than what I get on the web.