Want to know something cool?

One point of view, taking note of sundry "cool" things that affect-- or could affect-- the education business.

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Friday, August 26, 2005

The new crib sheets

Want to know something cool? A small company in California is pushing the envelope of personal media technology. Known as pod2mob, the company's software is available in Beta as a download to Cingular and Sprint users who have media-capable phones.

The gist of the service is that once you subscribe, you can use your phone to hit the pod2mob site. Simply navigate to the podcast of your choice and listen to a stream (not a download) on your mobile phone.

Podcasters must sign up for the service and upload their podcasts to the site, so the selection of podcasts currently available is not as large as, say, that on iTunes. But if consumers can free themselves of the need for a separate device, a liberation process pod2mob calls "cutting the white cord," it's not hard to imagine a significant demand for content.

The software and service are still in Beta form, and not every carrier's network will operate with pod2mob. But as a harbinger of things to come, this may be a watershed event. After all, this converts even "dumb" phones into personal media devices, thereby enfranchising the tens of millions of mobile phone users who haven't climbed onto the iPod/mp3 player bus. This throws an exponential boost to the size of the market for media content, whether streamed or downloaded.

Apply this to George Washington High School in Anytown, USA. How many students have iPods is largely irrelevant because GW administrators have told the little darlings to park their pods in their lockers or have them confiscated (no jamming in Health class!). Most schools have similar rules governing cell phone usage during school hours. But with wireless Bluetooth headsets getting smaller and smaller, is it possible that the cherubim might slip one past Mrs. Smith for the Social Studies test? And could they not, then, invest an hour the night before to create an audio crib that they could play back during said test? It takes cheating out to the leading edge of technology!

The upsides are there, too, of course. Mrs. Smith can actually use podcasts as instructional media. She could assign students a project of conducting interviews of family members and friends as part of a civics unit, and the class would be almost universally able to access the material. Mrs. Smith could give an iPod or digital voice recorder to a group of students, who publish/podcast their project, and she could then assign the whole class to write a one-page summary or critique. Students will be able to access the podcast from anywhere (home computer, library, or cell phone). No more excuses about computer crashes and downtime on dial-up service!

The potential for ubiquity means that podcasting may be poised for an evolutionary leap forward ... again. In a year, podcasting went from irrelevant to irrepressible, leveraging the market of thirty-million-plus personal media devices (in the US alone). Assuming pod2mob's Beta goes well technically, and assuming other players enter the space, the potential consumer base for podcasts could easily leap by a factor of ten or more worldwide. There are more than one hundred million mobile phones in the US, and penetration between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five is somewhere in the neighborhood of 75%.

Streaming content (Verizon is doing video) to a mobile phone will change the way people use their devices, and could very quickly change the way consumers define content. A year ago, the biggest buzz about media was the debate over the "power" and resurgence of talk radio. In 2005, podcasting put the power of talk radio into the hands of the masses. Now virtually anyone can broadcast-- or narrowcast-- without needing to seek sponsors or compete for airtime.

Technology is not just changing the way we use content, it's creating whole new genres of content that never before existed. Almost anyone can podcast, and with this technology, now almost everyone can listen. Cool, huh?

How will it shake out? Comment this blog, and let's see where the conversation leads. For great news, views, and resources for educators, check out The Balance Sheet at http://balancesheet.swlearning.com Published by South-Western, a Thomson company.

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