(Readers’ Note: I wanted to provide you with this interesting, biographical sketch by The New York Times’ technology writer John Markoff on a new San Francisco-based “podcasting” company called Odeo. It was started by Audioblogger founder Noah Glass and Blogger co-creator Evan Williams. Normally, I do not make a habit of reprinting copyrighted news pieces; however, in certain circumstances, where I can not adequately paraphrase a well-read piece, I will do so and will only do so when the news organization maintains a registration-required “walled garden” of content. No infringement is intended and I have gone above and beyond in ensuring The New York Times maintains full credit and copyright ownership.)
February 25th, 2005
By JOHN MARKOFF
The New York Times
SAN FRANCISCO, Feb. 24 – The primarily amateur Internet audio medium known as podcasting will take a small, hopeful step on Friday toward becoming the commercial Web’s next big thing.
That step is planned by Odeo, a five-person start-up that is based in a walk-up apartment in this city’s Mission District and was co-founded by a Google alumnus. The company plans to introduce a Web-based system that is aimed at making a business of podcasting – the process of creating, finding, organizing and listening to digital audio files that range from living-room ramblings to BBC newscasts.
Audio files on the Internet are nothing new, of course. But the recent proliferation of portable iPods and other devices for storing and playing files in the MP3 audio format has created a mobile audience in this country – more than 11 million and growing – on whom podcasters are counting to listen to much more than downloaded songs and the occasional audio book.
The question for Odeo, and for the many other entrepreneurial efforts almost certain to come, is whether there is any money to be made from podcasting. Recall that the dot-com boom was full of start-ups betting on one or another notion of the Web’s potential. But for every felicitous pairing like Google and keyword searching, there were dozens of broken marriages like Pets.com and online dogfood sales.
In podcasting, there are already a number of small commercial efforts to create audio programs especially for listening to as mobile downloads. And there are both hardware and software systems that make it possible to convert over-the-air and Internet radio broadcasts for mobile storage and listening on MP3 players. One recent example is Radio Shark, a small device that sells for $70 and enables users of Macintosh computers to automatically record over-the-air radio programs and convert them to MP3 files for later, on-the-go playback.
The enterprising Web logger Adam Curry, a former MTV host, has created a podcast show called Daily Source Code, in which he plays music and chats about whatever is on his mind. The show, free so far, has several thousand daily listeners, he says.
Last week, Audible.com, which in 1994 pioneered the idea of using the Internet to download audio books and other audio material to personal computers, said that it would soon join the podcasting movement. The company, whose business currently includes distributing popular radio programs like “Car Talk” on a subscription basis over the Internet, now says it intends to make its software and distribution system available to people who want to produce their own podcasts.
“When I started Audible and we started signing up radio partners, people would ask me, ‘where does your technology leave radio?,’ ” said Donald Katz, Audible’s chairman. “Now it’s clear that the creative capacity that is out there greatly outstrips the capacity of the radio pipeline.”
But he also warned that podcasting has become the Internet buzzword of the moment and so is at risk of being overhyped. “Podcasting is drafting on the magic surrounding the word iPod,” he said.
Compared with the other various approaches so far, Odeo (pronounced OH-dee-oh) means to be podcast central – an all-in-one system that makes it possible for someone with no more equipment than a telephone to produce podcasts and also makes it possible for users to assemble custom playlists of audio files and copy them directly onto MP3 audio players.
The company plans to make money by selling audio content and advertising and, eventually, software for producing and editing podcasts.
Odeo, which is scheduled to make its formal debut on Friday at the Technology, Entertainment & Design Conference in Monterey, Calif., was founded by Noah Glass and Evan Williams, two pioneers of the Web logging, or blogging, movement.
Mr. Williams, who is 32, helped found a maker of Web logging software, Pyra Labs, which he sold to Google in 2003 for an undisclosed amount of stock, and then stayed at the company until last October. He predicts that podcasting will repeat the steep growth curve of the text blogging phenomenon – which went from only a few thousand blogs when he entered the field in 1999 to more than 7.3 million today.
He bases his forecast on the rapid proliferation of iPods and other handheld MP3 devices that are capable of playing digital audio files containing news, music and talk radio, as well as an increasingly diverse array of amateur productions that are more difficult to categorize.
The number of MP3 players in the United States is expected to grow from 11.3 million last year to more than 45 million in 2008, according to Jupiter Research. And as more of those devices have wireless communications capabilities, the ability for users to download material from the Web from wherever they are promises to expand the variety of potential podcast offerings – possibly including text-to-speech software for listening to written material plucked from the Web.
Odeo plans to base its business on the premise that the explosion of digital audio content has created the need for a central place to find relevant material and that there will also be a need for a market to buy and sell “premium” content in much the style of the eBay online marketplace.
Odeo, noting that advertising is already an accepted component of conventional radio, also plans to embed automatically generated audio ads within the downloadable files. And because the files are specifically chosen by the consumer, the company is also hoping that consumers and advertisers might find one another as readily as through the keyword Web search advertisements that are at the heart of Google’s and Yahoo’s businesses.
“These media advertising paradigms have thrived for a long time,” said Mr. Glass, 35, who previously founded a small company, Listen Lab, that provided a service called Audioblogger for posting audio snippets from a telephone directly to Web logs.
Mr. Williams and Mr. Glass became friends several years ago when they lived in adjacent apartments in San Francisco, after Mr. Glass noticed that his neighbor was constantly sitting in front of his computer while wearing a Blogger T-shirt.
When they started Odeo late last year, they folded in Listen Lab and have incorporated the Audioblogger services into Odeo’s offering.
While still too much in its infancy to be considered an immediate threat to the radio industry, podcasting does present the prospect of a growing army of iPod-toting commuters who take programming decisions out of the hands of broadcasters and customize their own listening.
Odeo’s founders say they believe that, as with other old and new media, conventional radio and podcasting can coexist in the long term. If, through podcasting, conventional radio programs are increasingly stored and played back on the listener’s schedule, rather than the broadcaster’s, then the trend could have the same time-shifting impact that TiVo-style video recorders have had on the viewing habits of television audiences.
But Mr. Williams said that the real promise of podcasting might lie not in what it means for conventional radio but in the new forms of expression the medium will permit. “We’re going to let people do what they do,” he said, “and we’ll see what they do and hope they do it a lot.”
Copyright (c) 2005 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved. Reprinted without permission for the benefit of this blog’s readership without having to register with the New York Times Online Web site to access the “walled garden”. No infringement intended, really — as reciprocol links have been provided to both the company and article Web pages.