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Monday, August 13, 2007

Is Podcasting elitist, kinda, and can that be fixed somehow?

Okay, here's where this question comes from. It's kinda related to an
earlier discussion about delivery mechanisms, and how there's a huge
learning curve to get over. And in particular, a bandwidth curve.

My Mom asked me the other day about my MP3 player. I waxed poetic about
audio books (she listens to lots of books on tapes and CDs), podcasts
(she's an NPR fan), and a couple other options.

But she's older (she's my Mom, and for that matter, AARP is lusting for -
my- next birthday), she's on a fixed income, and she has dialup. And she
doesn't feel motivated to keep even that, much.

So there I am, trying to explain MP3 players and podcasts and their value
to her, and after trying to show where she could get them, came to the
conclusion that she really couldn't get them in any practical fashion,
because she's on dialup.

Yeah, higher-bandwidth options are cheaper than they used to be, but only
sometimes, and not by much. Fixed income usually means fixed at a low
level. So, dialup.

After trying to do what I remembered of the math, it looks like there is
no practical way at all to listen to podcasts without a pretty damn fast
connection of one sort or another. Not even to the AM Monaural Broadcast
radio level. The files are pretty damn big, and one would have to do a
really, really short show to get within reasonable download size.

Granted, Blogs are a viable option, kinda, since it's mostly just text on
a webpage. Until you combine a fixed income with failing eyesight. And
if she could read a book comfortably in the firat place, she wouldn't need
the audio books so badly.

I won't say "podcasts" are elitist, because I don't think podcasts or
podcasters are intentionally elitist in what they say or in who they
intend to speak to. Nobody I know, anyway. Ayn Rand wouldn't have had a
podcast. But maybe she would -- she wrote like kind of a sociopath, and
everyone was required to listen -- when I was in school, some of her crap
was still required reading.

I don't know of any current podcasts that are deliberately trying to make
their programs less accessible to older folks, starting with officially-
older-folks me in maybe a year, btw. What I'm concerned about is that the
accessibility problem isn't as limited as I have sometimes seen it, and
isn't limited to what sort of software and hardware you use for access.
Decent audio quality requires a pretty damn big file for any significant
length. And big files take bigtime bandwidth to download in a reasonable
time, say, less than an hour or so.

Because of the format of the content, and because of the size of the
content, we can only offer what we have to those who can afford it, which
means people who can afford a really decent DSL connection at the very
least -- even a slower DSL connection is way too slow for any longer show.
So we're talking to the economic elite, since there really isn't a middle
class, anymore.

And people on "fixed incomes," which is a euphemism for "low incomes"
(which is why they called it "fixing" Social Security), use dialup because
it's cheap. Or use nothing at all, because that's cheaper.

So, yeah, I do a hokey little Midwestern show, and I'm trying to make my
content appealing to folks like me. But why bother? I'm an exception,
I'm helping to pay for a shared decent-speed DSL connection, and that
serves well enough to download the many podcasts I listen to -- taking
several hours to download all of them, in an automated process off my
mailserver, at 3 or 4 in the morning.

Most people my age, in my area and my level of income -- most of my real
potential audience -- can't afford to even download my show, and probably
never will.

So if you really wanna talk about the technical limitations on the
audience of podcasting, you gotta include bandwidth, bigtime. Not that
the technical aspects aren't profoundly daunting. I couldn't even find
the right language to explain to my Mom what is meant by podcasting. Not
that a lot of podcasts and similar stuff wouldn't be useful and desirable
for her, but she won't have them, because she's on dialup.

And at her age, "someday" won't help.

So. Is there a way to fix the process of distributing podcasts that will
make them accessible to those to whom DSL is something their kids can
afford, and they can choose as compared to, say, eating? I could pay for
hers myself, as compared to, say eating. Or podcasting.

Based on the bandwidth issue alone, I don't think our position as
podcasters is comparable to the Golden Age of Radio. It's like the days
when a few random tinkerers who could wind their own coils and track down
a chunk of Galenium crystal. And it's not even that good -- once you
bought a crytal, you had it. No monthly fees.

Nobody else listened, and nobody else could listen, because at the time,
the effort and cost was way beyond them.

So? Answers? Further problems? Suggestions? Hints?

How do we turn what we have into what Radio used to offer, before the
medium was taken over by the ...

Insert words as appropriate. You know what I'm asking.

grizzly at grizzly dot podzone dot org
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The Life and Times of a Minor Local Celebrity

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