Podcasting Turns 20

Happy Birthday to "audio referenced by an enclosure tag in an RSS feed"!

2 min read
Podcasting Turns 20

It’s not just a grand opening; It’s also a birthday party for podcasting.

Picture a late January day in 2001, and blogger Dave Winer tries something new, just to see if it will work. Winer drops an audio file - a single song from the Grateful Dead - into a blog post. Spoiler alert: It worked.

Winer’s test post of US Blues, selected based on the inauguration that day of George W. Bush as president, and on the Grateful Dead’s long standing casual approach to copyright and use, would spawn a digital advancement rivaling the Dead’s own 1960s counter-culture influence.

By July of 2003, early podcasters were putting out the early versions of podcasts, but the word wasn’t yet known by most. The earliest references seem to be from a print news article in The Guardian that March, where tech journalist Ben Hammersley threw out potential names.

Among his suggestions for naming the new media were audioblogging, GuerillaMedia, and podcasting.  

Anything easier than the technical definition: Audio referenced by an enclosure tag in an RSS feed.

Early podcasters Winer, Dannie Gregoire and Adam Curry recall hearing, discussing and settling on the term in early broadcasts, but each credits the others, along with Hammersley, for first coining “podcast”. 

Yes, older readers, that’s the same Adam Curry who first found fame as A VJ on MTV. He saw promise in Real Simple Syndication, or RSS, that Winer had invented.

By September 2004, Gregiore - another early blogger  - registered his application for the domain name podcaster.com.  

Another name in the early days was comedian Robin Williams, who was pitching audio downloads from Audible, an early distributor of e-books and other audio content associated with Amazon, then still known mostly for online book sales. The Audible device is considered more similar to a modern Kindle or other ebook reader, as it wasn’t distributed via RSS, the standard format for early podcast definitions.

Early audio podcasts might have been lucky to reach even 30 people, with video pods still several years from gaining popularity. Now, a podcaster needs to hit 32 downloads in a week just to break the top half of active podcasts.

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