The Future of Podcasting
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In 2000, Dave Winer, a web developer and part-time podcaster, introduced the <enclosure> tag in RSS feeds. What was a niche protocol for text delivery became “overnight” a delivery system for audio content. This upgrade of the protocol allowed podcasting aggregation services, like Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify, to become what they are today because it allowed the collection and dissemination of podcasts from a wide variety of sources.
The Problem of Podcast Censorship
Podcasting is viewed by many as the de-facto medium of free speech. As Adam Curry, affectionately called the “Podfather”, has put it: “Podcasting is the literal free speech example”, because a podcast show is easy to create and on it, the host, and usually a guest, are talking about things that they’re interested in or concern them — from music or sports to political views or conspiracy theories.
And, as it is often the case, free speech can trigger controversy. It’s seldom that when someone expresses an opinion or point of view, that everyone will agree with them. And the more radical or unconventional the opinion, the more controversy it ignites. While there are many apps out there that can read an RSS feed and serve the podcasts in it, the so-called “podcatchers”, the behemoths of the streaming media industry, have become the central repositories of audio content.
At this point, the problem begins to become apparent. The concentration of the dissemination of information in the hands of a few companies allows them to dictate to a great degree whose opinions will be heard and whose will be silenced.
But besides aggregators, the podcasting industry includes many companies that act as hosting services, where podcasters upload their content, usually at the cost of a monthly subscription. Although a podcast can live anywhere, these services make it easy to upload, distribute, and monetize them through tips or paywalled content. Sometimes the hosting provider and the aggregator are the same entity; sometimes, they’re not. Regardless, these services are another “central point of failure,” or in this case censorship, if they decide that some content violates their “terms of service.”
Recently we are seeing more and more examples of podcasts being removed by the central players of the industry. The most recent example is that of comedian Joe Rogan, who after signing a multi-million dollar exclusivity contract with Spotify, had some of the earlier episodes of his show “The Joe Rogan Experience” removed from the platform. Some may find Joe Rogan’s repertoire, or some of his guests, extreme, and agree with Spotify’s decision, while others may consider it simply thought-provoking comedy. Other cases of censorship may seem more clear cut, like in the case of Alex Jones or Owen Benjamin, where the consensus that their content is hate speech and they deserved to have it removed is most likely higher.
At the end of the day, though, the same question arises in each of these cases. You may love or hate a creator, but should a handful of companies and a handful of their employees have the power to make the decision of who can express their opinion and who cannot? Isn’t this a slippery slope, where we could reach a point that the smallest deviation from the norm could get someone’s content removed and their accounts banned? Where is the fine line when the community’s protection infringes the right of free speech?
These are complicated questions with no easy answers. Still, it is undeniable that content providers have too much power because content storage and dissemination, and the associated monetary rewards for the creators, are centralized.
However, several projects are working to change that using the blockchain. 20 years after the inception of podcasting, Adam Curry is back at it, in an attempt to save the industry he helped create. Podcastindex is an open, free, categorized index for all RSS feeds out there. And while it is not decentralized, Adam Curry and Dave Jones are working on integrating Podcastindex with Sphinx. Sphinx is a super-chat app with an integrated Bitcoin Lightning Network wallet that allows users to send micropayments to each other while doing other stuff, like chatting, or in this particular case, listening to a podcast. Sphinx acts as a podcatcher to the aforementioned ever-growing index of podcasts while providing a direct, decentralized way for listeners to reward content creators they like.
The blockchain that currently seems to spearhead decentralization in this genre is Bitcoin SV. Streamanity is a platform for video podcasts where users can reward creators by tipping them in BSV using integrated, non-custodial wallets. BSV’s small fees and zero-confirmation transactions make these micropayments possible.
But Podcastindex is not decentralized, even though its creators have vouched to keep it open and free, and neither it, nor Streamanity, solve the hosting problem.t the end of the day the content is still stored on traditional, centralized servers that can take it down if they want to.
Probably the most comprehensive solution that exists today that utilizes the blockchain for truly decentralized and immutable content is Castr. Castr is a platform that makes use of BSV’s unique characteristics, like huge block sizes and the ability to concatenate large chunks of data in several transactions, to store the actual content on the blockchain. Podcasters pay the transaction fee to post, and as a result, their podcast is immortalized on-chain. This guarantees that the content is forever available and owned by its creator, effectively making it uncensorable. No one can remove it from the blockchain and anyone who has the transaction ID can always access it. Furthermore, comments and “cheers” by users are also stored on the blockchain, both acting as recognition of and direct reward for the content creator.
The Future of Podcasting
These apps and projects are still in their infancy, but they are setting the foundation for uncensorable content, be it podcasts today or videos tomorrow. And they can go even further. Besides making podcasts immutable and always accessible, they are creating a paradigm shift with monetary rewards for creators. On traditional platforms, rewards for the creator come out the end of an obscure algorithm that ensures the platform keeps the lion’s share. Additionally, direct monetized recognition is very expensive to fake.
Similarly, a method for monetized “punishment” of content someone finds disagreeable could be created. Both of these ways of expressing agreement or disagreement, which have direct monetary results, transfer the curation of the content from the hands of few to the actual community.
Although we highlighted cases of controversial content, let’s not forget those who need freedom of speech the most: People who are being censored by authoritative regimes or whistleblowers, for whom censorship-resistant content and the pseudonymity the blockchain provides can go far beyond expressing an opinion.
Freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental human right. And like any other freedom, it stops where someone else’s freedom begins. But when few get to make that distinction for everyone, that’s when problems start. I may strongly disagree with the views of a podcaster, or even find them appalling and wish they never opened their mouth, but at the same time, am I willing to relinquish my right to make that decision for myself? To put it differently: “I disapprove of what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”
This content is for informational purposes only and is not investment advice. You should consult a qualified licensed advisor before engaging in any transaction.