A new patent filed recently by Apple may give podcasting a significant and much needed boost.
The patent, known by the incredibly dull title of “Creation, Management, and Delivery of Personalized Media Items”, hints at the future of podcasting and provides insight into how Apple thinks podcasting can be improved.
You may recall only a few years ago podcasting was a grass-roots new media movement practiced and enjoyed by techies and early adopters. But when Apple decided in mid-2005 to include podcasts, both audio and video, in an iTunes directory, it skyrocketed in popularity, although many would argue that it falls short of mainstream acceptance.
Part of the reason for the lack of mainstream acceptance is podcasting is still a somewhat laborious process. You must first find shows you are interested in, subscribe to their feeds, download, then either consume on a computer or transfer to a portable device.
iTunes has made this process bearable for average consumers, which is reflected by major media companies embracing the medium such as PBS and NPR, The New York Times, BBC, Comedy Central, and many more. But once people get engaged with listening to podcasts they discover additional limitations, which is where we are today and what Apple appears to addressing with this patent.
(Warning: Apple seems to file a patent a day, so there is no guarantee this one will ever come to fruition. However, it’s worth noting because it addresses major issues for podcast listeners.)
One of those issues is time. We simply don’t have enough in our busy days to listen to, or watch, as many podcasts as we’d like and consume other traditional media — TV shows, radio, movies.
Because we don’t have enough time, many listeners would like to “look inside” a show and extract only the content that interests them before they download. Some view this as TiVo-like, but that’s not accurate: By default, podcasting is time-shifted, you can listen to or watch any show whenever you want.
This patent is more like mashing up digital music and creating “smart” playlists of podcast segments. Jay Z and The Beatles (“The Grey Album”) meet Leo Laporte and Steve Gillmor.
Say you are interested in a topic — Barack Obama’s run for the U.S. presidency — and you want to see what new and traditional media are saying about him and the race.
You use “editing” tools in iTunes (for a more detailed look at the inner workings of the patent, see Ars Technica and AppleInsider) to search for “Barack Obama” and “2008 election” using keywords and tags. You’ve chosen shows such as Slate’s “Political Gabfest”, NPR’s “It’s all Politics,” WYNC Radio’s “Digesting Politics,” and Hudson Street Media’s “Political Lunch” to extract content.
Once a user has customized a podcast, iTunes would send a request to the remote servers hosting the content, which would then return the requested segments.
At this time, a “podcast creator” would stitch the segments together into a single file. The completed file would be uploaded to an RSS server, where it would be downloaded to the user’s computer and sync’d to an iPhone, iPod, or AppleTV for playback.
Suddenly podcasting becomes a lot more interesting, personalized, and valuable to listeners.