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Yahoo Launches Podcast Search

There's a lot of buzz about podcasting, audio content delivered over the Internet as RSS feeds. But nobody much is listening, according to a study released today. Maybe Yahoo's new podcast search service will change that.

The beta version of the discovery tool for podcasts went live at podcasts.yahoo.com on Sunday. The directory mirrors Yahoo's content presentation style, including most-popular and highest-rated lists, editorial picks, and community tools such as ratings, reviews, and the ability to tag audio content, or view the tags that other people add.

Yahoo included a player, so that users can immediately listen to the content via the browser by clicking on a button. The service also works with the Yahoo Music Engine, other desktop media players, podcast aggregator software and MP3 players. Those using Yahoo Music Engine will also be able to search for podcasts from within the application.

Next up, according to the Yahoo Search blog, will be consumer tools for creating and publishing podcasts or audio blogs.

Yahoo Podcast Search comes at a time when the use of RSS is out pacing consumer awareness. Also on Monday, Yahoo and Ipsos Insight released a study showing that RSS is becoming so mainstream that feed subscribers don't even realize they're using it.

The survey found that 31 percent of respondents used RSS, but only 4 percent were aware of it. A full 96 percent of people participating in the survey told Ipsos Insight that they did not use RSS.

Their obliviousness came from the fact that most people used browser-based feed-reading software. When the researchers asked people who used a personalized start page to go through the items on that page, RSS content was part of the mix, but users weren't aware that it was different from the rest.

Even the tech-savvy "RSS Aware Users" preferred reading feeds via the browser. My Yahoo was the most-used method of reading RSS content in this category, with 32 percent using the personalized Yahoo page. Yahoo got a huge lead on search competitors, introducing the "add to My Yahoo" button that made it simple to subscribe to feeds in September 2004.

"As a company, we've focused on building products for consumers, products that will go to the mass market," said Scott Gatz, Yahoo senior director of personalization and products. "How do we make that super simple and easy for folks?"

The Firefox browser's "livebookmarks" technology was the next most popular, with 23 percent of aware users employing it. Numbers dropped off below the top two. My MSN and Apple Safari RSS tied for third place with 8 percent of aware users each. The Google Personal Start Page, introduced in June, garnered just 4 percent. (Google enabled RSS feeds of Google News in August.)

The survey found strong indications that icons on Web pages indicating the availability of a feed aren't a good way to advertise RSS. Only 38 percent of "Aware" users had ever clicked that orange XML button; among Internet users as a whole, that number dropped to just 4 percent. Over half of those who did click on the icon either left the site afterwards or didn't remember what they did next.

"Internet users do not understand how to use the XML button, how to actively seek out RSS feeds, or even what the term RSS means," the study concluded. "Instead, they need a simple interface where they can choose the information and content that interests them. This is where personalized start pages and browser-based experiences can help move RSS into the mainstream."

Users in the "RSS Aware" category said that ease or convenience was the most valuable aspect of RSS.

Said Yahoo's Gatz, "We don't even use the letters in My Yahoo because we don't think you should focus on that. In a world of broadband, we all read so much more content. You want to be able to pull those all together in one place. Research showed that RSS was enabling people to do that, and they enjoy that benefit."

Oddly, the study found consumers were more aware of podcasting than they were of RSS itself. Compared to the 12 percent who were aware of RSS, 28 percent of survey participants knew about podcasting. But only 2 percent actually listened to them.

The study's authors said the high level of awareness of podcasting was due to media buzz. "Similar to RSS," they wrote, "wider adoption of podcasting might require more consumer-oriented products to bridge the gap between the technology and the benefits of podcasting."

Joe Hayashi, director of product management for Yahoo Podcast, said development of the product follows the same Yahoo strategy.

"We focused on making it easy for people to find and consume podcast content," Hayashi said. While there is lots of audio content available as podcasts, he said, it hasn't been used as much as other kinds of Web content, because of confusing terminology and the need for special software. "We brought the podcast concepts together and put it in the same interface," he said.