Blogging and Podcasting: Fads or Fixtures?

There’s little doubt blogging and podcasting have changed the way many people communicate today. With content ranging from what was for breakfast to insightful and engaging discussions of key social and political issues, examples currently span the spectrum in terms of the value they provide.

Whether they will endure is another question. As the novelty of any new technology fades, it’s not always clear whether it will remain in its original form, metamorphose into something completely different or even disappear altogether.

In this case, however, it seems safe to say that blogging and podcasting are here to stay. Not only that, but they could end up changing the very workings of the media.

New Freedom

“It’s as certain as fleas on a yard dog that the technologies will last, and it’s as certain as fleas on a yard dog that they’ll change,” Phil Leigh, senior analyst with Inside Digital Media, told TechNewsWorld. “The Internet is the invention of a whole new medium, much the way the printing press and radio were, and it will certainly evolve.”

Indeed, by giving ordinary people a way to publish their thoughts easily and inexpensively, blogging and podcasting have provided new freedoms that are unlikely ever to be willingly given up.

“History has proven that when you give people the means to express themselves, they’ll never stop using it,” Paul Gillin, blogger, podcaster and author of The New Influencers, told TechNewsWorld.

Empowering Force

“It may evolve into something else, and we may not be using the term ‘blog’ in 10 years, but who cares? What’s important is that the technology is empowering individuals to publish to a global audience for practically nothing, and it has changed the way we consume information,” Gillin said.

“There’s no going back,” he added, “because to go back would be giving people less freedom to express themselves, and that never happens except under a totalitarian regime.”

Who’s Doing It?

It is by no means a majority of people yet who are blogging and podcasting, and the reasons for using the technology are still widely varied.

“With both blogging and podcasting, we have seen growth over the past couple of years, but for both activities, audiences are still quite small,” Mary Madden, senior research specialist for the Pew Internet & American Life Project, told TechNewsWorld.

Thirty-nine percent of adult Internet users say they use blogs, compared with only 12 percent who say they’ve downloaded a podcast, according to a 2006 Pew Internet study. Just 8 percent of adult Internet users have created their own blogs, Madden said.

Embraced by Youth

More than bloggers, podcast users generally fit a typical early adopter profile, Madden added: Most are young adults, more often male, with higher income and education levels than average.

It is the younger generation that makes it almost certain that the technologies will endure, Madden explained.

“Young people are much more engaged with social media, and their facility with this type of multimodal expression is much greater,” she said. “Of course, it remains to be seen whether they will maintain those levels once they move into the workplace and a different stage of life.”

The Message

The range of topics covered by blogs and podcasts today tends to be extremely diverse. Though there are some bloggers who devote their coverage to particular topics, most write about their own lives and experiences, according to the Pew Internet study.

Indeed, one of the top reasons people blog is “to take notes — they want to remember things, and by posting them in their own blog, they can Google them later,” Gillin found in a survey.

Often, he added, “a blog is a version of the holiday update letter at the end of the year, but in real time.”

Over time, the users and uses of the technologies will likely shift, but not to the extent that any particular group will disappear.

“In the next 10 years, you’ll find the cream rises to the top,” Leigh said. “There will continue to be an abundance of amateurs — some will become popular, while others will be isolated voices full of sound and fury.” However, few will go away.

Potential as a Medium

It will be as the “cream” rises that the medium’s real potential will be realized, Leigh added, with Pulitzer Prize-worthy content the result. To wit: Last year’s Duke University lacrosse case, in which members of the university’s lacrosse team were falsely accused of raping an exotic dancer.

“It was only because bloggers came to the players’ aid that the other side of the story got out at all,” Leigh explained.

“I think this case raised consciousness of the power of blogging, because these blog publishers were the ones who got the truth out,” he said. “If a newspaper had done that, it probably would have won the Pulitzer Prize. This is the first time I’ve ever heard discussion of a Pulitzer being applied to anyone other than a newspaper.”

In essence, freedom of the press is moving down to the individual level, Leigh added. “The concept of freedom of the press is being carried to the Nth degree,” he said, “and the Pulitzer committee might not like it.”

End of Big Publishing?

That thought is likely to strike terror into the hearts of many newspaper publishers, and with good reason: “The newspapers will be taken down by this low-cost, Internet-based publishing,” Gillin said. “In 20 years, there will probably be no more than five newspapers left in the United States.”

Newspapers’ infrastructure costs are simply too high to allow them to keep competing, he said, though magazines, broadcast and community publishing efforts could fare better.

“Over the last 50 years, the media have moved from the general to the specific — small always nudges out big in the long term, because people are always more interested in information on a micro level,” Gillin said. “We now have a way for people to create communities of interest at a fine level in a way that could not have been done a few years ago.”

As access to information increases and the variety of opinions expressed online continues to explode, “influence will be defined very differently,” Gillin noted. Professional journalists will focus more on aggregating information, and “influence will result not from access to media, but by what you have to say and the number of other people who find it interesting.”

That, in turn, will have implications for how society works, he added. “It will be harder to lie, because there will be more people who have access to the truth and a way to reveal it,” Gillin said. “That will force a new level of transparency on all kinds of institutions.”

The World Is Watching

As bandwidths increase and technologies change — “it’s fairly predictable that they’ll get cheaper and more portable, with direct links between TV and the Internet,” Leigh said — a number of other changes will follow.

Professional content providers such as the Hollywood studios and television stations will inevitably find that “the Internet is their primary means of distribution, not just an ancillary one,” Leigh said.

With technologies like Twitter — essentially a type of blog created on a cell phone — control over content may go out the window. “What will happen at events like the Super Bowl, or Tiananmen Square, when we have tens of thousands of people transmitting from their cell phones?” Gillin said.

Privacy, too, will suffer a blow. “Soon there will be a billion people worldwide with cell phones that can film anything — and a way to display those images for a global audience,” Gillin said.

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