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The Evolution Of The Podcast — How A Medium Was Born [Geek History]

The Evolution Of The Podcast - How A Medium Was Born [Geek History]

Some say they’re already old-fashioned, others argue they’re very famous ever. Whatever your take on podcasts, you need to admit: they’ve democratized broadcasting, and provided those with a smorgasbord of circumstances to potentially pay attention to. But where did podcasting result from?

To answer this, think about what podcasting is, and the way it differs from mediums before it. A podcast is kind of being a radio show, but it’s not delivered (or intended as listened to) at a certain time. Instead, it’s automatically brought to a listener’s device - as a result of RSS. It’s stored independently hard drive - as a result of compressed audio. And it’s paid attention to on their own schedule as a result of portable devices.

These technologies combined allow podcasting to combine the audio experience of radio using the convenience of a novel - it’s your choice when and where to listen. Because time isn’t a problem, they can afford to be conversational and attract a specific niche. Smart phones (and iPods before them) make these tidbits portable, freeing them from the constrains of the computer. Some radio shows work well as podcasts, and people tend to be more magazine-like than newspapers.

So a brief history of podcasting is usually the combined reputation three different technologies: compressed audio, RSS feeds, and portable music players. The timeline below outlines a couple of major dates in a brief history of these three, and exactly how they ultimately found themselves working together to make a medium.

Before Podcasting

March, 1999: The first RSS specification - RSS 0.9 - is made by Dan Libby and Ramanathan V. Guha, both then working at Netscape.


The company’s focus on the specification was that will support their online portal, giving website owners a way to push content for it. The format outgrew Netscape, naturally (but did turned into a prominent part of Firefox, which curiously was located in part on Netscape’s flagship browser: Navigator).

1999: Napster brings the idea of downloading audio tracks to the mainstream. The controversial service is ultimately turn off for copyright infringement, but the world had already changed: consumers realize they're able to download audio files from your Internet, plus they like it. A lot.

October, 2000: French entrepreneur Tristan Louis proposes many specifications to the RSS standard, such as ability to feature an audio or video file. “Enclosures”, an identical concept allowing for embedded media, was added by Dave Winer for his RSS 0.92 standard-setting the technological stage for podcasting. Podcasts didn’t appear overnight, however.

October, 2001: The first iPod is released - a device destined to teach the planet how freaking cool it's to carry all of your music on one device.


Reviews one of the tech press are occasionally underwhelming - Slashdot editor Cmdr Taco famously called it “Lame” for lacking wireless - since they miss the killer feature the iPod ultimately becomes famous for: ease-of-use.

June, 2003: Canadian designer Stephen Downes releases Ed Radio, a program that uses audio RSS feeds to make a sort of online radio station. It’s not podcasting to be sure it: users don’t have direct treatments for what they hear. What it did do is show how RSS feeds might be used to automatically distribute media.

September, 2003: Dave Winer creates an RSS feed, using his “Enclosures” features, compiling various interviews with technologists and politicians conducted by Christopher Lydon, a former NPR host. This is arguably the initial podcast.

An Emerging Medium

October, 2003: Texan Adam Curry releases RRS2iPod, an AppleScript that automates the whole process of sending MP3 files downloaded using RSS to an iPod using iTunes. The script is on the list of first “podcatchers”, but lacks a person interface.

February, 2004: Guardian columnist Ben Hammersley, while profiling Lydon’s interview segments, lists “podcasting” as a potential name for the emerging medium. The two others, Audioblogging and GuerillaMedia, thankfully didn’t become fasionable.


September, 2004: iPodderX, among the first pod-catchers with a person interface, is manufactured by August Trometer and Ray Slakinski. A wide variety of podcatchers follow, making it easier to download and listen to podcasts.

April, 2005: California-based Leo Laporte, then working on the short-lived TechTV network, records a conversation between himself and a few colleagues. The recording, downloaded by thousands from his website without much promotion, becomes the premise for This Week In Tech-the 1st show inside TWiT network that today offers over a dozen shows.

Mainstream Moments


June, 2005: Apple adds a podcast directory for the Apple iTunes Store, bringing an-easy-to-browse repository of shows to their millions of users. In just 2 days Apple reported 2 million podcast downloads; an outburst in traffic that leaves many podcasters scrambling to purchase more bandwidth. The massive potential audience draws many creators on the medium.

July, 2005: The White House adds an RSS feed from the downloadable Weekly Address to, making George W. Bush the very first presidential podcaster.

February, 2006: Comedian Ricky Gervais’ once free podcast goes paid for season 2, charing £0.95 for any half-hour episode. Despite his success, paid podcasts remain relatively rare.

October, 2006: This American Life starts offering its weekly public radio show as a podcast. The popular program quickly becomes one from the top podcasts on iTunes (and has been ever since).


There are many more dates that could possibly be added. I just desired to give a quick overview from the technology as well as the type of content it enabled. The evolution will continue to this day, but it’s worth noting that podcasts didn’t exist in any way just 12 years ago.

Podcasting, as being a medium, is native towards the Internet. It’s the result of various collaborations between people from all of over the world, and is still evolving to this very day. Today niche podcasts cover sets from life in the given city to specific game titles, plus much more are created on a regular basis. The intimacy of people conversations means that while you may well not reach a massive audience, people you do reach feel close to you.

Some podcasts aren’t native towards the Internet, of course - they started as radio shows. The ones that do well as podcasts, however, have a tendency to understand the conversational tone and focus more like magazines than newspapers. Intimacy, this indicates, may be the heart in the medium.

But that’s just what I think and I’m far through the only expert here: I want to determine you spotted something that I missed in this brief outline of podcasting’s history. Fill me in below, okay? And feel free to point out your preferred podcasts too.

Oh, and when you’d love to hear my sorry attempt for podcasting, check out Technophilia Podcast at It’s me as well as a couple of co-writers referring to technology news (and anything else that comes up), and we’d love it if you joined us. Or you could start your own personal podcast, in the event you want. It’s easier than you may think.

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