Podcasting continues to get a lot of print mileage as being the salvation of listener choice. No more force feeding from corporate suits making summary decisions about the listening tastes of everyone who even dips their toe in a particular demographic. While this is certainly valid and some of my personal listening time is now devoted to podcasts instead of flipping stations on the car radio, it doesn't touch on the full potential of podcasting as a revolutionary idea on information distribution. Many of the people who may benefit most from the technologies underlying podcasting will have no interest in the shows being posted by podcasters.
On the flip side of that, podcasting is touted as a democratization of audio communication. A means for everyone to make their voice heard in the wide expanse of the Internet, whether they are talking about the conductive properties of a new metal alloy or introducing the new metal band from across their home town. While this is one use of podcasting, it's not the only use of podcasting and likely won't be the use with the biggest long term impact. Not everyone wants to be a DJ. Not everyone wants to be a talking head performing their take on world events. Not everyone wants to perform the online equivalent of a serialized radio drama. I highly applaud the people who do want to do these things and hope they continue to remain motivated, but they are a minority.
Something virtually everyone on the planet does want is convenient ways to communicate with friends and family. The tools that make podcasting an easy means of distributing audio performances also facilitate simplified delivery of more personal audio content. To use an example that hits close to home, take grandparents living in Des Moines, Iowa with a grandson living in Seattle, WA. The grandson really enjoys having grandma and grandpa reading him stories, but the logistics and expenses associated with making this happen in person make it impossible more than a few times each year.
For those times between visits, grandma and grandpa could record themselves reading a book, upload the recorded audio file and have it automatically download to the grandson or granddaughter's computer automatically through the magic of RSS with enclosures. This obviously isn't a replacement for reading in person because part of the fun of having a story read aloud is the human interaction, but it's a compromise for geographic separation.
I'm taking a slight leap of faith that grandma and grandpa are savvy enough to record audio files and upload them, but for many who answer to those endearing names, that's not much of a stretch. It also requires having a physical copy of the book on both ends, but that's easily coordinated. It's a way to bring a family separated by large geographic distances closer together and it works across national boundaries just as easily as it does across state lines. Bedtime stories are only one example of a possible connection.
Another area I find interesting is in the realm of educational enhancement. I know there are many topics I personally find more interesting when I hear someone telling a personal story related to an event. It's not realistic to put every expert on every subject on a continuous world tour with stops at schooling environments around the globe. What if instead, each topical expert could be delivered automatically to the school in audio (or video) format? The distribution methods behind podcasting facilitate the delivery of information quite readily. Bringing engaging speakers to minds of all ages via an automated subscription system should be in the plans of every educational decision maker on the planet. It's low cost for implementation, it's low barrier to entry and the resulting enhancement to curriculum reaches far beyond the capabilities of even the best funded schools.
Don't get me wrong. The talking heads pushing podcasting forward are doing great things in helping refine the processes required. Their time invested shaping the tools to make the process easier for all skill levels will payoff beyond the current scope of available podcasts. I see greater potential for the tools lowering barriers to communication across the world.