History of Podcasting

For a history of the technology behind podcasting,
please see the Technical History of Podcasting.

Parts of the following podcasting history are excerpts from Podcasting the Do it Your Self Guide with Permission. Printed initially in 2005

Editors Note: Having been involved in the podcasting space since mid-2004 I wrote the first part of this history when I was writing my book “Podcasting the Do it Yourself Guide.” It was vetted by leaders in the space and is an accurate portrayal of events.

If you look at the Wikipedia entry you’re going to find deviations to that history and while I am not saying the history on Wikipedia is wrong, one thing that does affect historical write-ups are people’s agendas. With this overview, agendas have been left at the door and it is as I see it.

For some of you, this short history will be a trip down memory lane. But many reporters have bungled the true history behind the evolution of podcasting. I want to give you the skinny and set the record straight.

The true godfathers of podcasting are Dave Winer and Adam Curry. Dave Winer (scripting.com) is a software developer, RSS evangelist and developer of the popular weblog package Radio Userland, (userland.com). Today he produces Morning Coffee Notes and Trade Secrets (secrets.scripting.com); Adam Curry produces the wildly popular Daily Source Code (live.curry.com). Adam is well known as a mid-80s former MTV VJ.

Podcasting started before the term was even invented, with an idea from a meeting in 2000 between Adam and Dave. The two were talking about automated media distribution. The conversation centered around video rather than audio. Dave was against the idea of a subscription-based system for video downloads.

Remember, this was 2000, before the worldwide leap in the number of broadband internet connections. Dave felt the internet simply had not evolved to the point where it would support large video downloads, not to mention the cost of delivering content. His analogy was that it was taking longer to download video than it was to play it, and many times the video was poor quality and you really did not know what you were going to get.

Adam’s idea was to look at internet connections differently and to consider all of the bandwidth that goes to waste when you are not using your internet connection. He wanted a software solution that could download items that he subscribed to. This really wasn’t a new idea, but there were no tools to do this in the fashion they desired.

Dave was already working on Real Simple Syndication (RSS) — a web feed that allows users and applications to access updates to websites in a standardized, computer-readable format. RSS feeds also benefit users who want to receive timely updates from favorite websites or to aggregate data from many sites.

Dave had made some revisions to the original RSS 0.91 specification developed by Netscape and formalized RSS 2.0 in 2003. The RSS 2.0 standard was released by Harvard under a Creative Commons license. More information on RSS can be found at http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/rss/rssVersionHistory.html.

In the meantime, Dave wanted to come up with a format to deliver content via a subscription system. So he thought the process would need to be broken into three problems:

  1. What software do you use when creating the content?
  2. What software reads the content?
  3. Where do you find the content?

These three elements needed to come together to make the vision developed at that meeting in 2000 happen.

Until the summer of 2004, progress was slow and, even though many of the individual pieces were there in place, they were not all tied together until Adam decided to try his hand at programming and developed the first rudimentary podcatcher application with Apple Scripts.

Dave initially thought that what Adam had created would not work, but with his hacked together Apple Script, Adam was able to capture and download the audio post that Dave embedded in his weblog.

Adam’s program read Dave’s RSS feed and downloaded the audio file. Adam’s “podcatcher” program was looking for items within Dave’s RSS feed known as enclosures. The program simply grabbed the file within these enclosures, downloaded it, and then utilizing the API released for iTunes, put the file in his iTunes playlist, which then could be synced to his iPod.

Dave and Adam worked for four years after that original meeting to make subscription and automatic file downloads of video and audio content easy for the masses. Things seem to always come full circle and by a little luck in that we had a quasi-celebrity promoting what they had accomplished: Adam’s simple Apple Script lit a fire for the development of podcasting, which is in full swing today.

Adam Curry says, “Podcasting is where developers and users party together.” This has been a profound battle cry and has resulted in amazing achievements in a short time. The momentum behind podcasting is simply amazing. The number of people racing to make it easier to produce and consume podcasts is going on at a frenzied pace with at least a dozen teams bringing software products that are largely free to the marketplace. The Open Source community and the initial innovations and foresight of Adam and Dave were the keys to the explosive growth and initial creation of software tools that skyrocketed the growth of this medium. Today teams of individuals collaborate to bring new features to the software tools we are going to discuss in detail.

By early 2005, new media creators were jumping into podcasting and a number of podcast directories started to emerge to support the cataloging of podcasts being created. One of the most popular at the time was PodcastAlley dot com and later PodcastPickle dot com.

In January of 2005, the first podcast network appeared at techpodcasts.com, which today is a property of RawVoice. Other networks such as The Podcast Network began to emerge. Some of these networks were topic-focused and others carried a wide variety of content. You can view a list of these podcast communities and directories in the “{cms_selflink page=’19’ text=’Finding Podcasts’}” section of this site.

In May of 2005, Todd Cochrane, the CEO of RawVoice, brought into the podcasting space the very first major advertiser. His advertising deal with GoDaddy.com proved to be a maturing point in the space when people realized that they could make a full-time living creating new media and distributing it as a podcast.

In July of 2005, Apple introduced Podcasting Support into iTunes and an explosion of new listeners and new media creators jumped into podcasting. This is also about the time that mainstream media started to understand the power of automated delivery of media content and very quickly you had new media creators content and mainstream media content being given equal billing on iTunes.

In August of 2005, the inaugural People’s Choice Podcast Awards ceremony was held in Ontario, Calif., during the first Podcast Expo.

From this point on, a number of companies jumped into the podcasting space and several have been venture funded. With the majority of those companies, business models are built around advertising revenue in podcasting.

As of 2021, there were estimated to be approximately 500,000 active podcast creators producing a variety of audio and video content. Some of the largest show today, that were born in this space and did not cross over from new media, easily reach more than a million listeners each month. The average podcast though today reaches between 1,000 and 50,000 listeners.