Rebranding the MP3

There’s been a lot of buzz about Yahooo!’s new Podcast search engine, and what it means for the “new medium” to have a major search engine buy in like this.

Ignore the fact that podcasting isn’t a new medium (it’s called audio guys, it’s been around a while). It’s also not that different from seven years ago when people just linked to MP3s on their webpages, and search engines like and Lycos MP3 Search would find them for you. Technologically the only difference is a little bit of XML to help machines know what’s being linked, plus a few tweaks (like RSS subscription) that make the experience more user-friendly.

What I think has changed in the past 7 years is the number of people producing and distributing their own amateur and semi-pro content, and the accompanying infrastructure to support them. In 1998 almost all the MP3s available on the web were copyrighted songs people had ripped from their CD collection, and so the RIAA and other members of the content cartel could squash whatever infrastructure cropped up in the name of stamping out piracy. Today there’re countless MP3s online that are completely legal to download, and that primes the pump for for inventing the infrastructure to make it even easier. Moreover, piracy has largely gone to the P2P networks, so now MP3s on the web are harder to paint with the sweeping “it’s all piracy” brush.

And that all leads to podcasting, which I’m hearing the media describe as “making your own radio programs for broadcast over the net.” This is, of course, the big long-term competition for the content cartel — their big-advertising, mass-produced one-size-fits-all model will have trouble competing with thousands of niche narrowcasts that each have a small personal audience. More importantly, podcasting is online audio that finally isn’t being linked with piracy — it’s good, happy audio on the web, not at all like those nasty pirated MP3s in the previous decade.

And just think, it only took us seven years to get here…