Kevin Roose recently wrote about the renaissance of podcasting:
Sometime around 2009 or 2010, the podcast scene seemed to wither. The stalwarts (“This American Life,” “Radiolab”) stayed around at the top of the iTunes charts, but there wasn’t much else happening. Download numbers fell. Interest waned. People moved on to online video and streaming music services as a way to pass the time… Today, a very different problem exists: There are too many great podcasts to keep up with.
He attributes this mainly to the rise of smartphone-connected cars:
Connected cars are a boon for the entire streaming audio industry, but they’re especially exciting for podcast makers, whose shows are perfectly suited to in-car listening. Just as TV watchers can now choose Netflix or Amazon streams over surfing channels, radio listeners will soon have a bevy of on-demand options at their disposal.
I think that’s right, but I also think there is another reason behind podcasting’s renaissance. As other forms of social media have matured, they’ve become less freewheeling and interesting. For example, the social media world I mostly inhabit – tech twitter – used to be exceptionally candid and direct. It felt like tech people chatting amongst themselves. Now it is mostly carefully crafted tweets designed to get retweeted and not cause trouble.
Podcasting, on the other hand, feels fresh in the same way that other forms of social media did 5-10 years ago. No one knows what the right way to podcast is. Very few people have followings. The expectations are low. You are rewarded mostly for being fresh and experimental. It’s the beginning of a new medium, and no one knows the rules. That’s what makes it exciting and attracts pioneering creators.