If you are
reading this article, then you probably
have a pretty good idea of what a Podcast
is, right? I mean you probably think that
its audio you play on your iPod and maybe
you might even know someone who is a Podcast
Host (records their own show for people
to download and listen to). But I'm here
to tell you that most people who think
they know what a Podcast is, don't.
I can't tell you the number of times that
I've had to re-educate people in what the
definition of a podcast is. And the arguments.
The problem is that 'Podcasting' or the
creation of syndicated media met a need
that was out there before it really defined
exactly what that need was.
You see it all started with the concept
of syndication. What this means is that
you 'subscribe' to something and when some
new content becomes available that is associated
with that subscription, you automatically
get it. I like to think of it like my Tivo.
It used to be that I had access to hundreds
of channels of TV to watch. But I found
myself investing 20% of my watching time
cycling through the channels looking for
something to watch. Often feeling defeated
with that phrase, "There's never anything
decent to watch on TV".
Well that was partially true. The correct
phrase should have been, "There's never
anything decent to watch on TV right now".
Meaning that when I wanted to watch TV,
I had my pick of what shows were being
aired at that time. Since most 'prime time'
shows were being aired when there was the
largest TV audience possible, and since
they are primarily paid for from advertising
revenue, if you wanted to watch a decent
TV show at 3AM you were out of luck.
But then came along the idea of syndication.
That I could 'subscribe' to receiving content.
I first got into this with the promise
of a Tivo. For those that are not aware,
a Tivo is a device that you tell it what
you like to watch (either by being specific
to the actual show itself, or by being
vague and identifying actors, directors,
genre, etc.) and it would 'grab' the show
when it was being aired, and record it
for you on a hard disk so you could watch
it when you wanted to.
Then the experience
all changed. It was no longer about what
was on TV at the time I wanted to watch,
but what Tivo had collected for me that
I hadn't watched. All of a sudden TV got
You see, podcasting is very similar. Its
about releasing some digital content through
a subscription mechanism. The idea is that
using an 'aggregator' (a software program
you run on your computer that plays much
the same role as the Tivo does with TV
shows, but over the Internet) such as Juice,
iTunes, or any of the countless others
out there, you tell the aggregator just
what shows you want to subscribe to. Then
you leave the aggregator running and every
hour or so it will check to see if anything
new for those subscriptions has been released.
If it finds something new, it will download
it in the background so its ready for you
to consume when you are ready.
This whole concept of 'syndication' is
referred to in a variety of different ways.
You'll hear RSS syndication, subscribing
to a podcast, and many other ways of referring
to the same thing. You tell an aggregator
to 'fetch' new content when it discovers
it for you, just like how a Tivo finds
TV shows you want to watch when you are
What confuses the whole thing here is
the 'pod' part of podcasting. This all
came about with the invention and release
of Apple's iPod MP3 player. Some bright
folks in the broadcast industry recognized
the fusion of syndication with portability
and decided to coin a phrase for the release
of digital content for iPods through automatic
syndication - hence the term Podcast. However
at the time of the original iPod release,
all syndication was typically either text
(ie. news stories you could read), or audio
media. This was typically because connections
to the Internet back then were slow and
broadband didn't have a majority of users
embracing it. Now that its mainstream and
everyone has it, content has expanded beyond
text & audio to also include video. Conceivably
you could distribute anything through syndication,
but broadcast media is really the attraction.
Now with all of this background out of
the way, why the confusion over 'what is
a podcast'? Well its because most people
don't realize how the syndication feeds
work. A syndication feed is for a 'show'.
A show consists of a lot of repetitive
'episodes'. Each episode is just one file
of digital content. But its the feed that
signifies the 'podcast'. The biggest argument
I find myself in is when people think that
one audio file = a podcast. WRONG! The
Podcast is just the syndication feed that
got you the audio file, or the video file,
or whatever. The fact is that 99% of all
podcasts are syndication feeds for lots
and lots of files, not just one.
So in the case of audio files, does one
audio file = the podcast? NO! The audio
file is just that - the audio file. The
Podcast was how it was delivered to you
by syndication feed. As the syndication
feed is typically tied to the overall show
that it is a part of, the easiest way of
thinking about a Podcast is much like a
TV series. For example, if we equate a
Podcast to the TV Series, Seinfeld, then
each episode of the TV series equates to
a file delivered by subscribing to the
I hope this clears up the confusion for
a lot of people. Podcasts can deliver all
forms of content, but I believe audio is
the most valuable. The main reason is that
podcasting was invented specifically for
audio delivery, and what has happened is
that it has spawned an entirely new industry
of 'home grown radio shows' that is the
best thing to happen to audio entertainment
in years. No longer do a handful of corporations
block what you can hear. Sure there are
copyright issues still to be worked out,
but for someone at home with something
to say and a world of listeners who are
interested in alternative views, etc. the
audio podcast is the way to go.
Long live the podcast!