Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

[etech] SVW gets an early pre-launch look at Odeo, the slick new podcasting service from Blogger.com founder Evan Williams

Posted by Richard Koman - March 16, 2005

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Thursday at the O'Reilly Etech conference Evan "Evhead" Williams will demo Odeo, a new service that strives to make it much easier to find, listen to, and create podcasts. When I talked to Evan last week in San Francisco, he expected to offer invitations to everyone in the audience at Etech.

As of this writing, though, it's not clear if Odeo will be able to make good on that offer on Thursday. However, it won't linger in beta for years. he plans to have it out of invitation-only mode after a few weeks before going to open beta and then to full 1.0 release in a speedy fashion. "We won't be like gmail and be in beta for a year," Ev said, referring to his former employer Google, which bought his Blogger.com business.

Podcasts are simple audio files delivered via RSS. There is no streaming of the media, podcasts are downloaded to the user's computer in the background, allowing the files to be transferred to portable digital music players (hence the name.) The idea is that podcast content is perfect for listening to in a car or on the subway when you just don't feel like NPR.

Ev is very excited about the possibilities for grassroots radio production through podcasts.

He's also seeing great interest in his new company, but that is frankly less interesting to him than the opportunity to push the podcast form further out into the mainstream.

"It's not that I'm not interested in the business model, startup thing," Ev said as we sat in a corner at Mission bar Medjool, "but the bigger picture is let's make it easier, let's take it the next level and a business will come out of that."

While podcasting is getting a lot of hype and a lot of media attention right now, the actual uptake is still incredibly small. Even among bloggers the number of people actively listening to podcasts is estimated to be tiny. "Podcasting is so nascent right now," Ev said. "Lots of people have done great work in writing software and defining the medium and its evolved much faster than blogging did -- but it’s still not nearly something you can point your mom to. That's what really interests me -- making it accessible and easy and enabling distribution to and from non geeks."

Odeo consists of three modes -- listen, subscribe, create. The idea is to allow users to accomplish all three of those goals within the web browser. Odeo operates as an aggregator, audio player and bare-bones recording studio. When you login, you can play specific shows in the browser, add individual podcasts to a queue or subscribe to "channels" (that is, feeds).

"We want to take as much audio content as there is and make it easy to find and easy to point to and easy to listen to," he said.

Creating podcasts has been the least ready-for-prime-time aspect of the medium, because users have to figure out how to record and edit digital audio, learn about production techniques, upload files, and generate RSS feeds.

At the base level, Odeo offers the functionality of Audioblogger, the voicemail-based recording system created by Noah Glass, Ev's partner in Odeo. With "audblog," you can do personal or conference call recording by just making a phone call.

The real sweet spot, though, is Odeo Studio, a simple recording option in Odeo, which offers a blend of "higher quality sound and more production value but without the difficulties of learning a professional audio package."

In Odeo Studio, you can use built-in sound effects or record or upload your own. There's no mixing facility. The mix happens when you play various effects during live recording. Hitting "publish" adds the recording to a feed and uploads everything to Odeo's servers.

Since Odeo's concept is to be the one-stop finding-listening-recording podcast stop, the plan is also to host the audio that users create, which Ev admits is a substantial cost. "We plan to buy bandwidth in bulk."

The business model is three-fold:

  • Offer free basic hosting and charge for premium hosting, based on bandwidth usage. "If you're Adam Curry and getting 50,000 downloads a week, we're probably not going to host that for free."

  • Sell advertising into popular content (a la radio) with some sort of revenue-sharing arrangement. "We're not going to auto-insert advertising into your content without your permission. We see ourselves as a platform to allow advertisers and content producers to get together." Still, he said, "there may be an option for auto-insertions in the future, "but I want content creators to be happy -- you'll definitely get something for that," such as free hosting.

  • Sell premium content. "Audible has shown that a significant audience is willing to pay for non-music digital audio," said Ev, who counts himself a loyal Audible customer. "I think there's a lot of potential in non-book forms as well. There are a lot of things I would be willing to pay to get in audio form even if they're available for free on text form. ... If we can create a critical mass of listeners then we can aggregate the content and make it feasible for content creators to have a revenue stream from content without having to build payment mechanisms, without subscribers having to have accounts at 100 places."

Look for more details on Odeo when Ev speaks at Etech Thursday and screen shots become available.

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