What is a podcast?

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Podcasts have exploded in popularity over the past decade, but they’ve been around for much longer than that. Sometimes it feels like everyone on the planet has a podcast. What is the story behind this form of audio entertainment?

A Brief History of Podcasts

The concept of podcasts was invented in 2000 by Tristan Louis and Dave Winer. The idea was to allow people to attach audio and video files to RSS feeds. Winer was also the author of the RSS format, and podcasts were included in version 0.92 of RSS.

The first podcast is considered Computer conversations by Dough Kaye. It started in 2003 and continued until 2012. Two years after its launch, Apple added podcasts to iTunes. This played a huge role in the eventual popularity of podcasts.

iTunes Logo Heroes - August 2020

Previously, you needed a separate “podcatcher” app to download podcasts. iTunes has made the process much easier. The addition of reviews made iTunes the de facto home of podcasts for many years. To this day, podcasters still ask listeners to leave reviews on Apple Podcasts as it helps to increase the popularity of the show.

Beyond iTunes, Apple can also be held responsible for the term “podcast” itself. “Podcast” is a combination of “iPod” and “broadcast”. iPods were among the very first devices capable of downloading podcasts to mobile devices, thanks to iTunes. The term was coined by Ben Hammersky to The Guardian.

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What is a podcast?

“Podcast” might sound like a strange name, but it’s actually a very simple concept. A podcast is simply an audio program, such as a talk show or audio drama, uploaded to an RSS feed.

The idea is very similar to radio broadcasts, but with one major difference. Podcasts can be listened to on demand. The show is recorded and then uploaded to a hosting service. You can then listen to the show on your phone or computer whenever you want.

Spotify Podcast Ratings

Since the majority of podcasts are uploaded to streams for free, you can listen to them in any app that can play those streams. All you need is the link to the podcast feed. This makes podcasts much more accessible than music and video streaming services. (Some podcasts are now “exclusive” and are however only available on platforms such as Spotify or Apple Podcasts.)

The familiar definition of podcasts has evolved beyond on-demand audio broadcasts. Some podcasts are recorded live, some also have video versions or are only available on video. “Podcast” is now its own genre of entertainment, essentially a modern take on talk shows.

The “average” podcast has a few hosts talking about a topic. Episodes are usually around 30-60 minutes long, airing on a weekly schedule. Podcast topics can range from reviewing old TV shows to recaps of sports team games, politics, video games, technology, and just about anything you can imagine.

How to listen to a podcast

Find podcasts in Pocket Casts

Now you might be wondering how to listen to these audio experiences. The good news is that getting started with podcasting has never been easier. All you need is a device with internet access.

There are a few popular methods for listening to podcasts. iTunes Podcasts became Apple Podcasts, which is included on iPhone, iPad, and Mac computers. Spotify and Google Podcasts are two other popular choices for podcasts.

One of the benefits of podcasts is that you can listen more of them with any app you want. There are more options than Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Pocket Casts is a great podcast player for iPhone and android. embroiderer is another popular provider.

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However, and this is a big “however”, not all podcasts are available in any podcasting app. Some podcasts are platform-exclusive. For example, Dax Shepard’s “Expert Armchair” is only available on Spotify. “Hungis a true crime podcast available only on Apple Podcasts.

If you’re looking for a specific podcast, you might want to check first if it’s exclusive to all platforms. Once you have your podcast app, all you have to do is subscribe to podcasts. It’s the same idea as subscribing to a YouTube channel. Search for a show title or browse categories and hit the “Subscribe” button.

Once subscribed, you will receive new episodes as soon as they are released. You can also listen to the back catalog of episodes. Listening to a podcast is like listening to music. You can pause, fast forward, rewind, and generally adjust the playback speed. You don’t have to listen to full episodes in one sitting, they can be enjoyed at your own pace.

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What started as an addition to RSS has exploded into one of the main types of media people consume: movies, TV shows, music, books, and podcasts. They have changed a lot over the years, but the same general concept remains. Go ahead and listen to people talk.