Mike Stone

Mostly The Lonely Howls Of Mike Baying His Ideological Purity At The Moon

But Are They Really Podcasts?

24 Aug 2022

Podcasts have been around for a while. The term was first used (reportedly) in February of 2004 by Ben Hammersley while writing for The Guardian. That really just put a name to something that had been going on for a while. These days, it seems like everybody wants in on the action.

I confess, I’m not much of a podcast guy. I can’t listen to something playing in the background and actually do something else at the same time. One of those things gets jettisoned never to be seen again. Since what I’m doing in the foreground is the “important” stuff, it’s usually what’s playing in the background that disappears. If I’m listening to a podcast, I have to give it my attention or it may as well be static. Because of this, I don’t listen to podcasts very often. Only when I’m working out or walking or driving by myself.

I’ve been trying to get into podcasts more, and I do listen to pretty much anything Joe Ressington bothers to record. I don’t always agree with his position, but I do feel like he’s thoughtful about it. Since podcasts have been getting more of my focus lately, I notice them in the news too. They’ve been popping up in weird places, and I feel like there needs to be some gatekeeping around the term.

What do I mean by that?

Well, I guess we need to start with “What is a podcast?”

Definitions for podcasts are pretty vague. Merriam-Webster defines a podcast as “a program (as of music or talk) made available in digital format for automatic download over the Internet”. By that definition, basically anything that ever played on a radio would be considered a “Podcast” if it was put on the Internet. Wikipedia is equally unhelpful by defining a podcast as “a program made available in digital format for download over the Internet.”

By these definitions, basically everything is a podcast. That’s why I keep reading stuff about how Twitter is getting into podcasts, and how YouTube has quietly become Spotify’s most feared podcasting threat. Spotify itself is supposedly some podcasting “juggernaut”. But is what these guys are doing really podcasting?

I would argue no.

I’m going to engage in a huge amount of gatekeeping here, and that’s because I tend to prefer a more specific version of the definition of a podcast.

“An audio program in a compressed digital format, delivered via an RSS feed over the Internet to a subscriber and designed for playback on computers or portable digital audio players.”

What Spotify is doing is publishing an audio program, but it’s not a podcast. What YouTube does isn’t a podcast. What Apple does isn’t a podcast. They’re certainly audio programs, and I don’t mean to take away from their content. If you like those shows good on you, but these platforms don’t adhere to the more open history of what podcasts originally were. I suppose YouTube would be the closest since you can technically follow a YouTube channel via RSS, though Google doesn’t like to make that obvious.

No, the podcast label has been commandeered for basically any audio program on the Internet. Maybe I’m going all “Old Man Yells At Cloud” here, but this more general definition annoys me, and I’m not going to use it.

Day 15 of the #100DaysToOffload 2022 Series.

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