Podcast Basics

WHAT IS A PODCAST? 

Wikipedia tell us:

podcast is a digital medium consisting of an episodic series of audio, video, PDF, or ePub files subscribed to and downloaded through web syndication or streamed online to a computer or mobile device. The word is a neologism and portmanteau derived from “broadcast” and “pod” from the success of the iPod, as audio podcasts are often listened to on portable media players.

WHY IS A PODCAST CALLED A PODCAST?

The word podcast is derived from a combination of two words. iPod and Broadcast.

When the term was coined most people were using Apples` iPod to listen to podcasts. So when Ben Hammersley suggested the word podcasting to describe the new method of delivering content the term stuck.

He suggested a few options in a post on The Guardian in 2004 : 

 “But what to call it? Audioblogging? Podcasting? GuerillaMedia?”

Too bad… to think I could have been a GuerillaMediaer!

SHOULD PODCASTING CHANGE ITS NAME?

A number of people have tried to change the name from podcasting to something else. The argument is that the term podcast implies that you have to have an iPod in order to listen to podcasts which of course is not true. Any device that is capable of playing an MP3 file can play an audio podcast.

Leo Laporte from This Week in Tech (TWIT) was a proponent of changing the name. He calls himself a podcaster but refers to all the shows on his network as netcasts. He prefers the word netcast and believes it is a more descriptive term for the technology.

Every couple of years someone resurfaces the idea of changing the name but it looks like the term is here to stay.

In 2005, podcasting was declared the Word of the Year by the New Oxford American Dictionary. This gave the term some credibility and cemented the term as the official word for online syndicated episodic media.

HISTORY OF PODCASTING

Podcasting was invented in 2004 by Adam Curry and Dave Winer. One of the first podcasts was The Daily Source Code by Adam Curry.

A quick google search will reveal that there are different versions of podcasting history. Even Wikipedia’s article on the history of podcasting minimizes the importance of the RSS Feed in podcasting.

THE ALTERNATIVE VIEW OF PODCASTING HISTORY

The argument is that an audio player on the internet is a podcast (even without the RSS Feed).

Audio Blogging was definitely around before podcasting but is audio on a webpage a podcast. By the original definition, it is not.

But I’ve also noticed in places like dictionary.com the RSS Feed has been removed from their definition.

So in order to change the history of podcasting, you have to change the definition of the word podcasting. And that does appear to be happening.

Radio Survivor Episode > Alternative Histories of Podcasting

This is a good podcast episode that takes the position that podcasting pre-dates the RSS Feed.

They argue that audio-blogging and podcasting are the same things and that radio stations were doing it long before RSS media enclosures were invented.

BUT WHAT IS A PODCAST EXACTLY?

Describing a podcast to someone who has never been exposed to podcasting can be challenging. You can say that it is like a blog but instead of subscribing to the blog posts you subscribe and receive a media file. If they don’t know what an RSS Feed is then it can be especially difficult.


A lot of podcasters use the term Internet Radio Show when describing podcasting to newbies because everyone understands what a radio show is. And combining the concept of a radio show with the internet is easy to understand. But there is more to podcasting than “internet radio”.

There are internet radio shows that are NOT podcasts. You can listen to streaming content on the internet that is not syndicated over the internet via an RSS Feed.

A podcast is only a podcast if it is delivered via RSS Feed.

WHAT IS EPISODIC MEDIA?

Podcasting is by definition episodic media. Therefore there have to be at least two episodes to qualify as a podcast.

Episodic media can be audio, video or pdf /ePUB content that is produced in a series.

A TV show is an example of episodic media but a standalone movie is not (unless it is part of a trilogy, for example).

Some podcasters also adopt the concept of seasons which is borrowed from television programming.

WHY DOES A PODCAST HAVE TO BE DELIVERED VIA RSS IN ORDER TO BE A PODCAST? 

Adam Curry (The Podfather) and Dave Winer were early developers of the technology. They were working on a method of distributing audio content that could be subscribed to and distributed online.

The main point here (and what makes podcasting so powerful) is that you subscribe once and from that point on receive new episodes in the series until you either unsubscribe or the show podfades or intentionally comes to an end.

It is this syndication that makes a podcast a podcast.