Suppose a hundred people get told by an enthusiastic friend to try podcasting. Of these, ten don’t have any hardware on which they can play the podcasts. So the rest goes online, and tries to find interesting content, but only 50 people can find a directory in which they can even start to look for podcasts that they like. Only 40 people then find content that they like, sufficiently. Ten people drop out because they find loading the content too complicated. Of these, another ten find out that the files are too big to play for the hardware they have (for example, just a simple MP3 player, no iPod or similar). Of the ones left, another five don’t have the patience for the downloads. If you have been keeping tabs: we are down to 25 people who are capable and willing to regularly listen to podcasts. Now suppose each of these tells four friends, on the average. That means we are back to a hundred.
Now suppose that all those numbers are a little worse than I have guessed. In that case, any enthusiasm will soon sizzle out. Now suppose that the numbers are just a little better, so that at the end of the week we have 110 people that are going to try subscribing to podcasting. The week after, it will be 121 people trying, and so on. This represents a growth rate of 10% per week, which amounts to more than a hundred fold increase in a year (12,913 people to be exact).
In fact, all these numbers have been getting better gradually over the last several years. Both the technology and the content were existing as early as 1997. Yet, the gradual increase has only last year reached what Malcolm Gladwell calls: “The tipping point”, when a development, epidemic, or trend just seems to explode.
Obviously, technology has improved, in particular with the development of the iPod with its huge storage capacity. But something more was going on.
I checked these numbers with Adam Curry, who is regarded by many as the father of podcasting. I found out that he has made a conscious effort to improve the numbers. For example, he developed ipodder, which started as a piece of software that made the mechanics of subscribing to podcasts and getting them on your player easier. Ipodder.org/directory is now also a directory to help people find content that is interesting for them. Curry also runs “The Daily Source Code”, a regular podcast, which adds to the available interesting content.
There is a similar tipping point for creators of podcasts. For these, the biggest stumbling block now seems to be the price of bandwidth. I think it need not be that way, but I’ll have to deal with that in a future story.