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What's a Podcast?

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As the creator of PodcastPeople, a completely web-based podcasting platform, I felt it was only appropriate to take a crack at accurately defining the word, podcast.

So, what’s a podcast?

Before wikipedia let any nut-job edit it’s pages, the collective consciousness understood a podcast to be defined as I have listed it below. I have chosen this definition because I believe it accurately defines a podcast. Here goes.

”a podcast is a series of audio or video digital media files which are distributed over the Internet by syndicated download, through Web feeds, to portable media players and personal computers.”

At a high level, this definition may still be a bit confusing for some, but I think it becomes easier to understand once I break down the key words in the definition.

  • ”series”: Podcasts are most commonly produced to deliver consecutive episodes and not just a one time occurrence of uploading audio or video to the web. For example, the Coke and Mentos video was not a podcast but a video posted to YouTube.
  • ”audio or video”: Podcasts make use of multiple types of media, and can even mix media in the same feed, what is known as an “enhanced” podcast, which combines audio and images.
  • ”digital media files”: Podcasts do not support analog formats like the audio on a cassette tape or the video on a VHS tape. Before this analog video or audio can be used in a podcast, it must be converted from analog to digital and there are several converters on the market to choose from.
  • ”syndicated download”: Podcasts are downloadable media, meaning you can enjoy all content (audio, video, textual) offline, on the go via CD, iPod or other portable media player.
  • ”web feeds”: A web feed, typically what is called an RSS feed, is a data (delivery) format used for providing people with frequently updated, episodic content. Think of an RSS feed like an envelope that carry’s a letter in the mail. It’s only a delivery mechanism which is agnostic to its content.

When a person subscribes to a particular podcast, they receive the new programs whenever they are updated by the content creator.

That’s the first part of the definition broken down. Now let’s look at the next part.

Though the same content may also be made available by direct download or streaming, a podcast is distinguished from most other digital media formats by its ability to be syndicated, subscribed to, and downloaded automatically when new content is added to the feed. Like the term broadcast, podcast can refer either to the entire series of content or to a single episode. Just like it’s okay to say that you watch the show LOST or the show last night, it’s also okay to say you subscribed to a weekly podcast or just listened to a podcast last night. The former refers to the series, the latter only to the episode. The hosts of a podcast are often called a podcasters.

The second part of the definition is simply reinforcing the mechanics of what makes a podcast, a podcast, specifically the ability for the audio or video file to be syndicated, subscribed to, and downloaded automatically whenever new content is added.


By Doug Taylor 03/05/2009 08:33 AM

Sponsored by PodcastPeople

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