What is Podcasting? More Importantly, What Will it Be?

With the increased interest and usage of podcasts, I am left scratching my head a bit what the term itself actually means. Admittedly, I have been a little skeptical about the potential of this medium, but it is hard to refute some of the successes we’ve seen, like Ricky Gervais’s show generating 2.9 million downloads since early December.

Perhaps part of my issue has been what I consider to be a podcast. As I was first hearing the term, I came to think of a podcast as a user-generated audio program downloaded to my iPod (read: amateur talk-radio for the iPod). But now my perspective has expanded towards the Oxford English dictionary’s 2005 Word of the Year definition, “a digital recording of a radio broadcast or similar programme, made available on the Internet for downloading to a personal audio player.”

As usual, Wikipedia has a very thoughtful definition of podcasting, “the distribution of audio or video files, such as radio programs or music videos, over the internet using either RSS or Atom syndication for listening on mobile devices and personal computers.” It’s interesting to note three differences here. First, the notion that podcasts can be include a filetype other than audio. The second that a key component is the syndication of the content. And finally, the fact that podcasts can be received on any device, PCs or mobile or otherwise. The Wikipedia article further goes on to support these points, “Subscription feed of automatically delivered new content is what distinguishes a podcast from a simple download or real-time streaming (see below)… In general, these files contain audio or video, but also could be images, text, PDF, or any file type.” It’s also interesting to note that some alternative nomenclatures have been assigned for file types other than audio (vodcast, vidcasts, videocasts) or devices other than personal audio players (mobilecast, palmcast).

In some respects, it doesn’t matter what we call syndicated rich-media content to devices – it is what it is. On the other hand, it makes sense for there to be a general consensus around the term podcast, so everyone is speaking the same language. And I believe it’s just as important for the digerati to have the same common notion of it as my grandmother does, as this clarification and consensus will help further promote this new medium, whatever you call it.

David Beisel

David Beisel is a co-founder and Partner at NextView Ventures. He has been focused on early stage Internet startups his entire career, both as an entrepreneur and venture capitalist. As an investor in the digital media space, David was most recently a Vice President at Venrock and previously a Principal at Masthead Venture Partners. Prior to becoming a venture capitalist, David co-founded Sombasa Media, an e-mail marketing company best known for its flagship product BargainDog. Sombasa was successfully acquired by where David served as Vice President of Marketing. David holds an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and an AB in Economics, magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, from Duke University. He also founded and leads the Boston Innovators Group, an organization which holds quarterly entrepreneur events drawing a thousand attendees.