Podcasters and podcast listeners, imagine yourselves five, fifty, or even a hundred years from now in the future. What do you see in the world of podcasting? What would you want to see?
I wondered this, myself, having started down this road not too long ago, listening to podcasts first from NPR and bigger indie producers, then finally producing my own. I wonder how long the medium will stay the same. I assume that, like all other forms of media, it will definitely change and grow into something more. However, what does “something more” mean?
Book technology started centuries ago, if I remember my elementary school studies correctly. We first learned how to make paper from from processed papyrus. Then we wrote with different inks, languages, printing methods, and binding methods. We learned to share books in libraries, sell them in corporations, teach with them, entertain with them, change communities with them. Now we publish them more easily, spread them over the internet, play them over car radios, and can hold a thousand of them in your pocket on an electronic device. Even with all these achievements, books are still evolving, and I love that about books. I want podcasts to evolve like this, too, and faster.
I know so many of us want to revolutionize podcast popularity and access. From iTunes to all the new podcast media companies, many people are working at this. Maybe in five years podcasts will be as ubiquitous as books and TV, and we will be able to find them even more easily. Podcast libraries could have their own Dewey Decimal System or ISBNs for organizing them by show and episode. Technology could automatically categorize episodes by analyzing their audio, like Audiosear.ch and others are starting to do.
Technology would improve access to underserved or niche populations. Audio analysis technology could auto-transcribe episodes for foreign-language listeners or the for hearing-impaired. We could search for podcasts by region (From my neighbors? From China?) and style (Interviews? Reporting?), in addition to genre or subject matter. Recommendations for podcasts could come not just from new apps, but across platforms and through the Internet of Things. Your TV could suggest to fans of Shark Tank to listen to The Edupreneur Podcast or StartUp. Your school report card could suggest to Mom and Dad that you might like Tumble. Your refrigerator could hear you speak French and sense that you just bought a lot of lox, and then suggest you listen to the episode of On va déguster where they give the lowdown on Scandinavian cooking en français.
When I posted this question on Reddit some days ago, user CharlesWiltgen suggested we should work toward a future that I hadn’t thought of: one where podcasts were ensured to be open-access. Companies would not control the channels of distribution. There would be no restrictions of podcasts to certain platforms, and anyone could listen to podcasts on whatever device he or she chooses. There would be a clearer definition of what a podcast is, maybe clarifying legal and commercial contracts around podcasting. Maybe we can prevent problems that musicians sometimes see in the music industry, and original authors, artists, and producers will always get credit and compensation that’s fair to all parties.
I want to see podcasts for even more social good, beyond documentary and education, and moving into medical and therapeutic realms. Maybe physical therapists can coach their patients via audio or video podcasts in patients’ homes at their own schedules. Counselors and psychiatrists could deliver audio tips on anxiety reduction daily. Doctors could help teach autistic children to respond to different voices or sounds in a more controlled way. Weekly newsletters and reports in medicine and science could automatically be translated into spoken podcasts for listeners to hear away from books and screens.
Podcasts could create new forms of art, games, and entertainment. Could we have “choose your own adventure” podcasts for listener interaction? Can stories told on podcasts automatically change voices according to user preference, like we change our voice guidance on our GPS devices? Will we make musical or audio art galleries, where different combinations of podcasts played together might form different aural experiences?
In all these thoughts, I’ve been asking myself two questions, interchanged without much distinction: “How will podcasting change?” and “How should podcasting change?” In reality they have different answers, although my optimism mixes them together. I hope that we don’t sacrifice privacy, freedom of speech, or safety in any future podcast growth. I don’t even know what other dangers we should watch out for. I just know that podcasting still has so much potential, so much room for new ways of doing things. Where else will everyone take it?