A podcast is a form of digital media that consists of an episodic series of audio or digital radio, subscribed to and downloaded through web syndication or streamed online to a computer or mobile device. The word is portmanteau of "pod" and "broadcast."
The Merriam Webster Tenth International Collegiate defines "Podcast" as: a program (as of music or talk) made available in digital format for automatic download over the Internet.
A list of all the audio or video files associated with a given series is maintained centrally on the distributor's server as a web feed, and the listener or viewer use special client application software, known as a podcatcher, that can access this web feed, check it for updates, and download any new files in the series. This process can be automated so that new files are downloaded automatically, which may seem to the user as if the content is being broadcast or "pushed" to them. Files are stored locally on the user's computer or other device ready for offline use. Podcasting contrasts with webcasting (Internet streaming), which generally isn't designed for offline listening to user-selected content.
As discussed by Richard Berry, podcasting is both a converged medium bringing together audio, the web and portable media player, and a disruptive technology that has caused some in the radio business to reconsider some of the established practices and preconceptions about audiences, consumption, production and distribution. This idea of disruptiveness is largely because no one person owns the technology; it is free to listen and create content, which departs from the traditional model of "gate-kept" media and production tools. It is very much a horizontal media form: producers are consumers and consumers become producers and engage in conversations with each other.
What is Podcasting?
Podcasts are digital media files (most often audio, but they can be video as well), which are produced in a series. You can subscribe to a series of files, or podcast, by using a piece of software called a podcatcher. Once you subscribe, your podcatcher periodically checks to see if any new files have been published, and if so, automatically downloads them onto your computer or portable music player for you to listen to or watch, whenever you wish.
Why Do People Tune In?
Podcasting attracts people who want the ability to choose their own content (much like using the Internet), instead of the TV and radio model of broadcast where you tune in and select from one of the programs playing. It shares common ground with other time shifting technologies like TIVO, which allow you to download programs and watch whenever you want. Many people like the convenience of always having fresh material loaded on their iPods or personal music players, and listen to their podcasts throughout the day.
Many consider podcasting an alternative to commercial radio and TV, because the low cost of producing a podcast allows more voices and viewpoints to be heard. Also, unlike TV and radio, which produce programs for mass consumption, podcasts are “narrowcasts,” where only those interested in a certain topic seek out programs and sign up to listen. There are thousands of podcasts which target very specific niche interests, producing communities around topics which are too obscure for traditional broadcasting to cover.
Why Do People Make Podcasts?
Podcasting is an easy and powerful way to communicate your ideas and messages. You can potentially reach anyone with a broadband connection who is searching for podcasts and subscribes to your show. People who start podcasts usually want to deliver their content in a series, stretched out over a period of time. There are minimal equipment and start up costs if you already own a computer, and so this allows anyone who ever dreamed of owning a radio station (and some who didn't) the chance to transmit their ideas far beyond the reach of a radio transmitter.
Podcasters often start shows with the intention of building online communities, and often solicit comments and feedback on their programs. People use web blogs, groups, and forums to communicate with other listeners and the show's producers. Businesses are beginning to realize that podcasting is a cheap way to advertise to groups with very specific interests. Many large companies are starting to produce podcasts, both to communicate with their customers, and also with their own employees.
The word “podcasting” is a portmanteau combining the words “broadcasting” and “iPod.” In case you have had your head in the sand recently or don’t keep up with popular technology an iPod is a portable music player produced by Apple Computers. Apple was lucky/smart enough that their brand was wrapped into a term for a new technology much like the Sony Walkman becoming the popular name for a portable radio/cassette player or inline skates being called “rollerblades”, which is brand name for a company that produced inline skates.
What Makes Podcasting Different?
When I first heard of podcasting I didn’t understand what made it different from simply searching and then downloading a music file and listening to it much like I had been doing for years with MP3 music tracks. I had a knowledge gap because I still didn’t understand RSS and content syndication.
After playing with RSS feed readers (which you should know about if you followed my instructions and read my primer article about RSS before reading this article) I understood the difference between searching and downloading music files and subscribing to podcasts. It’s all about having the files come to you through syndication instead of you going to the files through search.
You subscribe to podcasts much like you subscribe to blogs. In fact often podcasts are distributed through a blog and provided your feed reading software handles podcasts you should be able to either instruct your reader to download new podcasts whenever they become available or manually choose which podcasts you want to download by clicking a link to the audio file. These files can then be listened to on your computer or you can transfer them to your portable player to listen to later.
Some podcast feed reading software such as iTunes are configured to download and transfer the podcast directly to your portable player automatically so you can plug it in and walk away a few minutes later with your latest podcasts downloaded and ready to digest.