The History of Podcasting
Let’s take a look at the history of podcasting. Obviously podcasting would not be possible without the internet. Since the mid-90s, the internet has evolved at the speed of light. Suddenly the world got smaller and people were exposed to the information super-highway.
It’s the presence of the internet and the personal computer in nearly every home that makes it possible for podcasts to be broadcast worldwide at nearly no cost. You can surf the web and tap into a giant pool of podcast content to download and sync to your MP3 player.
Shortly after the arrival of the internet, weblogs started to appear. You have probably heard weblogs more commonly called blogs. Blogging has become a popular way for people to share their thoughts and rants on the internet in a very casual format. You have probably read a blog or two while surfing the internet whether you realized it or not.
In many ways the blog is the predecessor to podcasting in this history. Over the years blogs have popped up on anything from politics to personal journals. In recent years blogging has earned its status as a very popular and legitimate medium.
Blogs allow anyone to be a social commentator. Anyone can be a journalist. Communicating your thoughts with the world is as easy as the click of a button in a blog. Podcasting was a natural progression from this online forum.
Reading your favorite blogs became easier with the creation of news feed technology, called RSS, by Dave Winer. By subscribing to a blog’s news feed (also called RSS feed), you automatically are notified of and receive new information when it's posted. A program called a news reader (or aggregator) regularly checks for updates and downloads them to your computer.
The next step in the history of podcasting was audio blogging. The ability to transfer larger pieces of information and faster connection speeds led some bloggers to start audio blogs.
Instead of writing their thoughts, they recorded themselves speaking and posted it to their blogs as an MP3 file. The spoken word added a new personal element to the media of blogging. Some audio blogs naturally evolved in to the first podcasts history.
The problem with audio blogs was that readers had to regularly check for new MP3 files, visit the web site to download them and then sync them to their MP3 players by hand. This was not convenient for taking the audio content on the go.
Adam Curry (also known from his stint as a MTV VJ in the mid-80s) wanted to simplify this process. He is the one that podcasting history gives credit for coming up with the idea to automate the delivery and syncing of this content to portable audio players.
Adam talked to Dave about updating the feed technology so that a new MP3 file posted to a blog would be automatically detected and downloaded in the RSS feed. This was when Dave added the “file enclosure” to the feed technology. This simply means that the feed tells your computer where to download the audio file.
The last piece of this puzzle in podcasting history is when Adam started writing the first podcatcher software (news feed aggregator or collector for podcasts). The software checked for new updates, read the file enclosure to see where to go and download the audio file. The MP3 was then automatically transferred to an iPod.
Taking a couple steps back in this history, podcasting would not have happened without the rapid spread of MP3 files and MP3 players. MP3s allow audio to be compressed into small enough files to be transferred on the internet and stored on small devices.
MP3 players came about to allow people to take their music with them on the go. The Apple iPod is by far the most popular of the MP3 players. I know I can’t take more than a few steps in New York City without seeing those white headphones hanging off of someone’s head. It's from the iPod that we get the “pod” in podcast (although you do not need an iPod to listen to podcasts).
The first appearance of the word “podcast” in history was in an article in The Guardian on February 12, 2004. The creation of the term is credited to Ben Hammersley who wrote the article and used podcast as a synonym for audioblogging or amateur internet radio. The word stuck.
A small group of early podcasters emerged from the blogging community. The buzz grew rapidly and the podcasting revolution began. Thousands of podcasters have popped up on the internet.
As MP3 players have spread and the storage on them has gotten larger, listeners have started looking for new audio content to take on the go. Not only that, but consumers are getting tired of the same old broadcast radio content that is controlled by large corporations.
In a nutshell, that is the history of podcasting. Podcasting has filled the need of those who want to share their audio creations with the world as well as the listeners who want new, better and more plentiful content to fill their MP3 players.
The story really doesn’t stop there. New podcasting technologies continue to emerge. New markets are being created. New ideas are being formed. Podcasting is moving at the speed of light.
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NOTE: The history of podcasting is sometimes debated in the podcast community. The above history is pieced together from the best of my understanding of the events leading to the creation of podcasting. You will probably find other opinions on who is credited with doing what in the history of podcasting.