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Podcast on… podcasting…

Okay, so this is my first official podcast. And, since it addresses the issue of whether or not podcasts are a good idea since so many people can’t access them, I’m including a text post that covers some of the same ground.

Taran Rampersand, fellow Worldchanging contributor, takes me to task for jumping on the podcasting bandwagon. (I’m already feeling the karmic implications of my bandwagon jumping – as I sat down to record my first official podcast, my iPod died an ugly death. Coincidence? You be the judge.)

Taran points out – correctly – that podcasting is currently unaccessible for most people in the developing world:

For one, you may have to dial a long distance number. That sucks. The other part is really the audience. In a world where the lowest common denominator is a 56k dial up modem (and even lower in some places), sound bytes suck because of the sheer size.

How many people do you know well enough to wait around waiting for 10-15 minutes or longer to hear speak for 3 minutes? Plainly this is an issue. So while the blogosphere goes googoo over mobcasting and podcasting, it’s really not helping with the digital divide. It’s increasing it. We have a bunch of well off people in the developed world able to communicate with each other better. Wow.

I’m sympathetic to Taran’s first objection – it’s totally unreasonable to expect people in developing nations to call into the US to record podcasts. I’m slightly less sympathetic to his second objection – when I pull down my email from cybercafes around the developing world, people at the terminals next to me are pulling down music and video. Yes, it’s slow, and yes, it’s expensive, but it is, in many cases, the content that compells people to get online.

And I’m with Taran, more or less, that the introduction of new technologies more often increases, rather than decreases, the digital divide. It was one thing to tackle the question, fifteen years ago, of how to get email access to everyone on the planet. Now that the bar is set at streaming video, it’s a much more difficult challenge to put everyone on a level playing field.

That said, I think audio blogging could have a substantial, positive impact for the developing world, if we figure out the way to solve a few technical challenges. One challenge that needs addressing – putting servers either in developing nations, where they are local calls, or putting them on the end of VOIP links (which generates a set of legal issues.) Obviously, we’ve also got to get smart about cacheing and compression as well, to alleviate bandwidth concerns.

But the upsides could be substantial. Many more people in the developing world have cellphones than have regular access to the Internet. Many more are used to expressing their opinions by calling in to talk radio shows than by writing blog posts. And many people with smart things to say have low or no literacy – being able to blog by phone goes a long way towards giving people who can’t write well a public voice.

So I’m cautiously optimistic. Sort of the way I feel about this first podcast – I’m sure you’ll let me know whether or not it worked.