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What is a Podcast?

Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

A podcast is simply a name for an audio or video file which is available on the web through some sort of syndication service. Strictly speaking, the files, format, and content of a podcast is no different than any other video or audio file that might be made available on the web, either through a streaming delivery or a download. What makes a podcast different from these other files is that its presence as a syndicated format means that programs built to pick up syndication feeds can automatically download a new podcast that a user has subscribed to, immediately when it becomes available.

The name podcast comes from combining the brand iPod and the word broadcast. The iPod was one of the early portable audio players to integrate a system for downloading a podcast from a computer once it was downloaded. Many people believe that the iPod was the vehicle which pushed the podcast to the forefront of people’s consciousness, causing the current boom in podcasting that has allowed so many other devices to flourish. Now that many devices other than the iPod are capable of handling podcasts, many people have reformed the origin of the term so that it instead stands as an acronym for Portable On Demand broadCAST.

An iPod.
An iPod.

The content of a podcast can be virtually anything. For the most part, podcasts act as internet radio shows, which people can download to their computer to listen to, or can transfer to a portable audio device to listen to. These shows often focus on very specific areas of interest, since they can reach specialized audiences. More and more it is becoming common for mainstream radio shows to offer up episodes of their show in a podcast format, either for listeners who missed the show on the air, or to reach an entirely new audience.

Audio podcasts can be enjoyed from media players while exercising.
Audio podcasts can be enjoyed from media players while exercising.

What differentiates a podcast from a traditionally recorded file placed on a website is the delivery system and the infrastructure dedicated to helping people find what interests them. Central repositories of podcasts exist, where users can browse huge numbers of podcasts by subject area, and see what other people have thought of them, how many subscribers they have, and how they are rated. This allows users to make an informed decision as to what sort of podcast they might want to listen to.

Once they’ve chosen a podcast that catches their interest, the user can then seamlessly stay updated with it. Rather than having to check back on the web site periodically, they can simply subscribe via any number of podcasting subscription programs, often referred to as podcatchers, and they will have the new podcasts automatically downloaded as they are made available, and will then receive confirmation. Although a seemingly simple innovation, this delivery system has revolutionized the way people listen to radio on their computers, and has created an entire growth industry.

In addition to audio, people have begun creating video podcasts. Like a normal podcast, the defining difference between a video podcast and a normal streaming or downloadable video is the delivery system. Creators can make a weekly or monthly video podcast, which subscribers will then automatically receive as it is released, allowing users to treat it more like a favorite television show than other internet content.

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    • An iPod.
      By: pizuttipics
      An iPod.
    • Audio podcasts can be enjoyed from media players while exercising.
      By: Syda Productions
      Audio podcasts can be enjoyed from media players while exercising.