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4/25/2006
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Interactive Podcasting

Podcasts are inherently a broadcast medium, a bit like "Amateur Hour" on radio or over the web. Podcasts are seen essentially as time-shifted audio (for your iPod) -- kind of like TiVO for your radio (or web). But the Web was created to be interactive, so how come clever programmers haven't created a mashup that allows interactive podcasting?

There are some people who believe as I do, and have tried various workarounds to make their podcasts more interactive. One of them is Joseph Jaffe, a marketing expert who has a podcast called "Across the Sound" (the Long Island Sound, that is).

Unlike my less-professional podcasts, Joseph, while looking at the latest in web marketing and PR, asks for feedback. He gets it through a number of channels: though his companion blog, where people leave comments and Joseph reads them (and answers them) on the podcast. The other asynchronous route is the ever-present e-mail. Joseph also reads and comments on those. Really creative (and geeky) listeners have even submitted audio files to him to be played on the air (during his pod cast).

The point is that anyone with an opinion is probably going to get a reaction, which really means interaction, and the most obvious way is through the Web. I am looking for more real-time interaction on my (asynchronous) blog and put 3Bubbles (see the "Live Chat" button) on each blog so people can react in real-time to what I have published. Blogging is also a broadcast medium, and 3Bubbles has taken some steps to make it more interactive. The problem with 3Bubbles (which they are fixing currently) is that there is no indication of presence. If you're on my site and bring up 3Bubbles to chat with me, I don't know you're there, and most likely I'm busy writing this article or with something else. Not that I don't want to chat with you…I do, but I need to know you're there and want to talk. What's nice about 3Bubbles is that the chat is in context (of the blog post), so we have a ready-built framework for our interaction.

With the big push in VoIP both into SMBs, consumers and the enterprise, it should not be very long before some smart developer adds VoIP chat to blogs and podcasts. This would be like Google integrating GoogleTalk into their Blogger service (which they may be doing?). Others call this type of podcast a "real-time, VoIP podcast feed.”

With almost a billion IM accounts at the end of 2005, and over 1100 VoIP vendors and a VoIP adopton rate greater than that of fixed-line phones, one would expect some type of interactive podcast where there is not only interaction between the podcast host and guests, but with the listeners also. Kind of like a conference call, where initially there is a presentation and everyone besides the presenter is muted. Then other presenters are allowed to speak, and finally during the Q&A session the phones are opened up to everyone (but only one listener at a time can speak). This can probably be done with Skype now, and definately with a real-time tool like WebEx, but only for a specific meeting. What's more, with tools like WebEx you can record the meeting and add in data or content and make sure that it's synchronized with the voice.

"We can build it. We have the technology…”. This famous quote from the introduction to the '70s TV show "The Six Million Dollar Man" is particularly apt for interactive podcasting.  Maybe Yahoo! or Microsoft will step up to the plate and offer this more interactive version of a podcast, or maybe Apple with its iTunes will look at taking the lead in this race.

Whoever does, it is inevitable, because it is a second-order effect. The first-order effect is to publish something that was done another way (e.g., paper, TV, or radio) on the Web. Since publishing and broadcasting are not very interactive, they are the easiest way to shift from the old form (paper) to the new form (web site). The second-order effect is to use the technology in a new way, not imagined by the users of the old format -- for example, an interactive podcast. What is interesting to speculate about is what the third-order effects will be.

My favorite example of first-, second- and third-order effects is the car. Before the car there were horses. The first-order effect was that the car enabled people to go further faster than on a horse. The second-order effect (at least in the U.S.) was our national freeway system, which allows people in cars to travel all over the country. A third-order effect of cars is shopping malls -- without cars and freeways, shopping malls (aggregations of retailers) would never have happened.

In the same way, we can see that people moved paper brochures onto the web and published them as a web site --  the first-order effect.  A first-order effect is always to take an old form and present it in a new (and usually less expensive) way. The second-order effect is that people are starting to recognize the interactivity of the Web and are building applications to support it, often with new features and functions. Presence detection is a good example of this. You can't do it on the phone, but you can do it on the Web, and now with some of the new IP phones which merge the phone and the Web, you can start to do presence detection.

One could speculate that since third-order effects build upon first- and second-order effects, we will start to see some shifts that change both our economy and our society from the introduction of these technologies. For example, political power blocks that have nothing to do with geography but are based upon affinity groups and social networks. We are starting to see the rise of the “citizen reporter” and the disintermediation of traditional advertising mediums by the Web. Soon we may see virtual scenarios, where you are the main player and the vendor’s products play a major role in the scenario. This would not only help build buyer loyalty, it would also offer an educational twist to advertising.

One could imagine BMW (with its strong connection to the James Bond films) offering an online scenario that is done with realistic graphics, where you get to play Bond and drive the new BMW to escape the bad guys. On the way, you would learn about the car's controls and special features that let you get away from the bad guys (meaning that you probably would not have escaped in an ordinary car), save the heroine and drive off into the sunset!

David Coleman is the Founder and Managing Director of Collaborative Strategies (CS). He is the author of two books on groupware. He can be reached at davidc@collaborate.com or 415-282-9197.

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