WASHINGTON, July 25 (UPI) -- First, it was blogs. Then, it was Meetup.com. Now, the newest technology to combine the Internet and politics is slowly starting to creep into the mainstream: podcasting.
"I'm pretty sure whether it's 2006 or 2008, we're going to be hearing as much about podcasting and video blogging as we heard about blogs helping (former New Hampshire Gov. Howard) Dean in 2003," Joe Trippi, former presidential candidate Howard Dean's campaign manager, told United Press International.
Podcasting, which derives its name from Apple's iPod digital media player and "broadcasting," allows users to subscribe to free audio programming that is automatically delivered to their computers. Podcasts are sent using RSS, or Really Simple Syndication technology, the same format used for syndicating Web logs and news. Listeners can use a type of program called an aggregator to check automatically for and download new content, and some aggregators will automatically transfer new content to an iPod, or any other type of MP3 player.
"This is another way of breaking through the media filter -- of actually being able to say something of substance without having to answer horse-race questions about the process," said Jason Stanford, a consultant to Chris Bell, the former Democratic congressman considering a run for governor of Texas.
Hundreds of people already host their own political talk shows that are podcast over the Internet, and a growing number of elected officials and candidates are starting to join the craze. Former U.S. senator and vice presidential candidate John Edwards offers a podcast through his organization, One America Committee, and the Republican National Committee offers two types of podcasts as well. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also offers his weekly radio address in podcast format.
Podcasting was created about a year ago, but Trippi said the popularity of podcasts is increasing at a greater rate than the popularity of blogs. Trippi, who is credited with revolutionizing campaigning by using the Internet and blogs to bring name recognition and fundraising dollars to Dean, said podcasts are poised to influence politics in a major way.
"What's really fabulous is that it's not just the John Edwards-type candidate (using podcasts), it's local and Congressional candidates," Trippi said. "It's exploding actually all over the place. It's hard to talk about this right now because it's still sort of in its infancy. It's just starting to take off."
House Minority Leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., will offer one or two podcasts a week on her Web site, democraticleader.house.gov, and three or four Democrats will speak every week on the House Democratic Caucus site, housedemocrats.gov. Some of the caucus's podcasts will be offered in Spanish. The podcasts were launched last week.
"It's another way to reach people," Jennifer Crider, Pelosi's press secretary, told UPI. "I think what you're seeing is ... it's the next wave, the next advance in how we're communication with people."
Since June 16, the Pennsylvania State Senate Republican Caucus has distributed a weekly podcast program featuring a different member of the caucus discussing an issue during a 15 minute question-and-answer session. The group also offers a monthly radio address in podcast form on its Web site, pasenategop.com.
"The bottom line is that it has a fancy name and it's hip and trendy right now, but this is really just a new way of delivering our message," Erik Arneson, chief of staff for David Brightbill, the state senate's majority leader, told UPI. "Any time we can use a new technology to deliver our message effectively I think, its incumbent to do that."
Podcasting soon will grow in popularity, Arneson said, adding that voters can "definitely" expect to see candidates using the technology in conjunction with his state's upcoming gubernatorial and U.S. Senate elections.
Bell's site has released two podcasts since its launch last spring. Stanford said podcasting works well for Bell, a former television and radio reporter in Houston. Bell's most recent podcast takes the form of a 10-minute phone interview.
"How sick are people of scripted, pre-packaged rhetoric?" Stanford asked. "You never get to hear things as they really, truly are. This gets so far beyond 30-second soundbite. It gets back to what democracy should be."
Trippi echoed Stanford, saying listeners want to hear programming that is original and not staged.
"It's the same thing as blogging," Trippi said. "(It's about) being authentic, not trying to create some artificial setting or space to do it in."
He said it can be difficult persuading politicians to try new technology, pointing out that Dean "really didn't want to blog that much." Arneson said the Republican members of the state senate have been receptive to podcasting.
"A lot of members rely on Blackberries at this point, so very few are not up on the latest technology," he said. "It's a pretty technologically astute caucus."
There have been nearly 1,000 downloads of the caucus's five podcasts to date, but Arneson said that number will grow now that the podcast is listed on iTunes. Those who decide to download the podcasts usually are people who are the most interested in politics, he said.
"(With podcasts) you'll hit the people that care about the issue ... the people passionate about political affairs," Arneson said. "I don't know how widespread it will be, but the people who listen to these are the people who help influence other people's opinions."
Podcasting should become an attractive option to candidates because it's an inexpensive medium, and podcasts will soon become relatively easy to produce, Trippi said.
"There's no cost barrier, nothing to prohibit a candidate or just an average citizen from launching one," he said. "Just like with blogging software, podcasting and videocasting will become a commonplace, one-click-and-you-get-what-you-want kind of platform."
Ryan Holeywell is an intern for UPI Science News. E-mail: email@example.com