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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 undertake podcasts, you will need to admit: they’ve democratized broadcasting, and provided people with a smorgasbord of what to potentially tune in to. But where did podcasting result from?

To answer this, think about what podcasting is, and exactly how it differs from mediums before it. A podcast is kind of just like a radio show, but it’s not delivered (or intended to be listened to) at a certain time. Instead, it’s automatically shipped to a listener’s device - as a result of RSS. It’s stored automatically hard drive - thanks to compressed audio. And it’s heard on their own schedule due to portable devices.

These technologies combined allow podcasting to mix the audio experience of radio with all the convenience of a magazine - it’s up to you when and where to pay attention. Because time isn’t a concern, they can afford to be conversational and entice a specific niche. Smart phones (and iPods before them) make these tidbits portable, freeing them from your constrains of an computer. Some radio shows are very effective as podcasts, and those tend to be more magazine-like than newspapers.

So the history of podcasting is really the combined reputation three different technologies: compressed audio, RSS feeds, and portable music players. The timeline below outlines a couple of major dates in the history of these three, and how they ultimately ended up working together to create a medium.

Before Podcasting

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


The company’s work with the specification was intended to support their online portal, giving site owners a way to push content into it. The format outgrew Netscape, needless to say (but did become a prominent a part of Firefox, which perhaps surprisingly was based in part on Netscape’s flagship browser: Navigator).

1999: Napster brings the idea of downloading audio recordings to the mainstream. The controversial service is ultimately de-activate for copyright infringement, though the world had already changed: consumers realize they're able to download audio files through the Internet, and so they like it. A lot.

October, 2000: French entrepreneur Tristan Louis proposes many specifications to the RSS standard, such as the ability to feature an audio or video file. “Enclosures”, much the same 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 make an appearance overnight, however.

October, 2001: The first iPod is released - a device destined to teach the entire world how freaking cool it is to carry your music on a single device.


Reviews among the tech press can be underwhelming - Slashdot editor Cmdr Taco famously called it “Lame” for lacking wireless - simply because they miss the killer feature the iPod ultimately becomes famous for: ease-of-use.

June, 2003: Canadian designer Stephen Downes releases Ed Radio, a course that uses audio RSS feeds to generate a sort of online radio station. It’s not podcasting as you may know it: users don’t have direct treatments for what they hear. What it did do is show how RSS feeds could possibly 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, an ancient NPR host. This is arguably the 1st podcast.

An Emerging Medium

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

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


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

April, 2005: California-based Leo Laporte, then working in 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 first show inside TWiT network that today offers more than a dozen shows.

Mainstream Moments


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

July, 2005: The White House adds an RSS feed with 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 a 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 of the top podcasts on iTunes (and it has been from the time).


There are many more dates that could be added. I just planned to give a quick overview in the technology along with the type of content it enabled. The evolution is constantly this day, but it’s worth noting that podcasts didn’t exist whatsoever just 12 years ago.

Podcasting, as being a medium, is native towards the Internet. It’s the effect of various collaborations between people from all of over the globe, and it is still evolving to today. Today niche podcasts cover sets from life in the given city to specific game titles, and more are created continuously. The intimacy of people conversations implies that while you may not reach a huge audience, the people you do reach feel close to you.

Some podcasts aren’t native to the Internet, obviously - they started as radio shows. The ones that excel as podcasts, however, tend to understand the conversational tone and browse more like magazines than newspapers. Intimacy, it seems, could be the heart in the medium.

But that’s what exactly I think and I’m far from the only expert here: I want to know if you spotted any situation that I missed in this brief outline of podcasting’s history. Fill me in below, okay? And feel free to point out your favorite podcasts too.

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

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