20 years of audio on the Web, more or less

The Knight Lab worked up this very cool timeline of audio developments on the Web. It’s an unpredictable arc, ranging from the now-shuttered Napster to the seemingly invincible iTunes, but the real bullishness here is the present and future of the podcast.

Included in the timeline is a link to a story from The Washington Post in September about the growing profitability of podcasting, but of course it’s relative to the kind of topics and the entrepreneurial verve (if any) behind them.

With all the buzz lately about the addictive podcast “The Serial” (from the creators of NPR’s “This American Life”), it’s worth watching what it may inspire, whether we’re in a “golden age” of podcasting or not.

As Cecilia Kang of The Post notes:

“Radio is still far more popular and lucrative than the fledgling world of podcasts. The industry has withstood the disruption that the Internet wrought on newspapers and TV, partly thanks to an enormous audience of commuters trapped in cars. But podcast enthusiasts believe preferences are beginning to change.”

Marketing guru Seth Godin blogged not long ago that the business of local radio is on very shaky ground:

“Just as newspapers fell off a cliff, radio is about to follow. It’s going to happen faster than anyone expects. And of course, it will be replaced by a new thing, a long tail of audio that’s similar (but completely different) from what we were looking for from radio all along. And that audience is just waiting for you to create something worth listening to.”

Public radio’s response to the demand for personalization of Web audio was the introduction this summer of the NPR One app. Users can devour a mix of NPR and affiliate content curated on their preferences.

News economics consultant Ken Doctor calls the app first and foremost a “listening hub” (his italics), and says it’s aimed at casual, rather than addictive, public radio audiences. Kelly McBride at The Poynter Institute dubs it the Pandora of public radio.

Godin is the recent guest of Krista Tippett, host of one of my favorite podcasts, “On Being,” where long-tail radio has found a comfortable place. The topic of this episode is “The Art of Noticing, and Then Creating.”

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