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How Do You Define a Podcast?
I probably get asked the question "What's a podcast" 3 or 4 times a week. I've developed a pretty succint answer and it goes something like this:

A podcast is like a radio show except that you download it from the Internet instead of listening to it on a radio.

That's pretty easy to understand and most people can comprehend that right off the bat. The idea of listening to news and music on the Internet is well established, and most people understand what the term downloading means. Depending on my cohort's tech level, he or she may immediately understand that this audio file can be transferred to an audio device or not. Sometimes, this conversation leads to the inevitable question: "Why is it called a podcast?"

To that I generally give the old 'iPod + broadcast' answer. In some cases (again depending on the tech level of my compatriot) the conversation may go into a discussion about the other opinions on where the word came from, but in general that's pretty much the meat of the conversation.

Maybe I'm a simpleton, but I have a hard time wrapping my head around some of the definitions I see on the Internet that attempt to explain what a podcast is.

Robert, from Awakended Voice

A Podcast is a rich media driven channel that uses RSS with enclosures as it’s (sic) primary vehicle for the delivery of content. Podcast content is presented in a stream of individual media files called “podcast shows.”


Podcasting is the method of distributing multimedia files, such as audio programs or music videos, over the Internet using either the RSS or Atom syndication formats, for playback on mobile devices and personal computers. The term podcast, like 'radio', can mean both the content and the method of delivery.

The New Oxford Dictionary is the closest definition to mine.

a digital recording of a radio broadcast or similar program, made available on the Internet for downloading to a personal audio player

The problem with the first two definitions is that they focus on the mechanics rather than the pragmatic. Neither of them mention well understood concepts like radio or television. Consider the two definitions of a car:


A car is a vehicle made of a steel body on wheels. It moves forwards and backwards by means of an internal combustion engine powered by gasoline.


A car is like an automatic wagon which allows you to travel long distances in a short period of time and optionally carry passengers and other stuff.

Which definition immediately characterizes what a car is and what it's good for?

Dave Winer and Adam Curry envisioned a world where RSS feeds automagically downloaded shows into portable media players while happy netizens slept and dreamt of sugar plum fairies. 2 years later, the reality is that only about 50% of podcast listeners use a podcatcher or listen to shows on a portable device.

That's why definitions of podcasting that are formed primarily around the concept of the RSS feed or listening on a portable player aren't effective. The podience isn't doing either of those things all that much so defining the term within that framework is going to get you a glazed look most of the time.

Give them a description they can relate to by comparing podcasts to already well understood concepts.

6 Comments/Trackbacks

I believe that your definition is too simple because if you define a podcast as a radio show you are indicating that podcasts are only delivered in audio format.

What is your definition of a "radio show"? Is the definition based on the format of the show, the type of media or the medium of delivery?

Rob Safuto

PS: Thanks for the friendly grammatical correction.

Hi Rob,

Given that the overwhelming number of podcasts are still audio podcasts I think it's a great place to start defining them. When we talk about vehicles, we naturally talk about the four-wheeled kind even though there are a ton of 2 and 18 wheelers on the road. When I speak of defining a term against a known reference, I mean that you have to find some common ground to start forming the idea.

Where it goes from there is anyone's guess and the conversation could well expand into all the various types of podcasts that are being produced. But until you hook the idea that it's a show of some kind, the conversation is dead.

What's more effective to someone who doesn't know what a podcast is:

"It's like a radio show that you can download from the Internet"


"A Podcast is a rich media driven channel that uses RSS with enclosures as it’s primary vehicle for the delivery of content."

Yours is technically correct, but it doesn't seek any known common starting point for your listener to hook into. Presumably, someone who doesn't know what podcasting is probably isn't an Internet denizen and is therefore probably unfamilar with terms like RSS, enclosure and quite possibly rich media. Your definition is suitable for experts, but let's face it - experts aren't going to ask you what a podcast is.

The next time you're over at your Mom's house give her both definitions and see which one brings her closer to understanding.

I agree with your points on providing a definition that is simpler to understand. I don't necessarily think that the average person understands RSS so maybe it's best to leave that out when speaking with beginners.

Here's how I explained podcasts to my Mom, who usually consumes my shows by visiting the website and streaming the content. "They're audio and video shows posted on the internet. And you can subscribe to automatically get new episodes just like a season pass on TIVO."


I like it! It's the reference to "audio and video shows" that anchors the conversation to something she can relate to. Especially if she knows how to operate a TiVO :)

rob knows this jon, but for your benefit this is the exact reason i entered podcasting as a term in wikipedia originally - so that the community could help define it instead of the strongest voice w/ the most time on their hands - and from what i can tell its served its purpose, there are a multitude of potential definitions and each is right for someone out there - so we shouldn't be wasting time and ether on the "perfect" definition but rather driving the utilization itself - which it seems both of you are doing real well :)

Hey Mike,

Shizzle...a real live original Wikipedia page originator? Wow...I'm seriously honoured all joking aside. Thanks for stopping by. It must be a great feeling knowing that you started what has become a Wikipedia mainstay. Thank you for starting the Podcasting entry - it will be there forever, me thinks.

I agree that a definition's worth is only measured by its receipient and in this case the Wikipedia entry is serving its purpose.

It's likely that my point was lost within the comments, but I agree that the "appropriate" definition depends on the recipient. I made the leap that the person who was asking what a podcast was is a person who is completely unfamliar with the topic and therefore it's important to anchor the definition in something that is already well understood in the non-Internet world. Had Rob given me, personally, his definition then I would have understood it because I understand what terms like "rich media" and "RSS" mean. However, I speculate that people who understand those terms are not likely to ask the question "What is a podcast". Rob's definition delivers to the person who already understands these concepts.

I live in a world where I know very few actual podcasters and bloggers in real life and therefore my answer to these people has to be a little more simplistic in order to achieve the buy-in.

As you say, each definition is right for someone but I had a different someone in mind.


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