Podcasts are audio recordings that are disseminated via the Internet through a sound file. According to the latest Pew Research Center's 2012 State of the News Media report, there are approximately 91,000 podcasts in existence and 25 percent of Americans reported listening to podcasts in 2011.
Podcasting began as an offshoot of blogging, when technology evolved to a point that it became possible to embed audio files into a blog post and disseminate them through the same channels as a blog. The term podcast was developed as a derivative of Apple Corporation's iPod, an audio device that facilitates digital downloads and playback of audio files. The earliest appearances of the word in the lexicon date back to 2004; however, its adoption was quite rapid, as the New Oxford American Dictionary named “podcast” the word of the year for 2005. The term podcast is a bit of a misnomer because it infers that podcasts are only available for consumption via an iPod device, when in reality, they can be consumed via any computer if the proper software is downloaded. The podcasts are usually produced as an MP3 file for convenience because most players can accommodate that file type. Podcasts can be produced quickly and easily, and disseminated through a variety of social media channels. There are millions of podcast episodes in existence across a wide variety of genres, from education to sports, science to news, and politics. Listeners interested in a particular podcast series can also subscribe via an really simple syndication (RSS) feed, so that each new episode will automatically download on the user's device, instead of the user having to search for it on the Web. A variation of the podcast is the video podcast or “vodcast.” This is similar in concept to the podcast, but adds a visual element.
Podcasts offer the user the benefit of convenience and portability. They can be listened to during a commute to work or during an evening run, whenever and wherever is convenient for the listener. Improvements in technology even allow an amateur to produce a podcast that sounds as good as something a professional might create. However, this does not mean that every podcast is created equal. Without planning and attention to details such as acoustics, vocal quality, ambient noise, and good content, a podcast will fail. To be successful, podcasts should be relevant, on topic, and thoughtful.
It is important to recognize that almost anyone can produce a podcast and claim to be an expert on a topic. Podcasts are often not put through the same sort of editing or fact checking as would a piece produced by a media company. As a result, finding podcasts that are worth the time invested to listen to them is a challenge. If a podcast is embedded within a blog, there is often an opportunity to preview the content through an episode guide or synopsis so that the listener can evaluate the creator's credentials and credibility and determine whether or not it is worth the time to listen. Podcasts are also one sided. They do not allow the listener to engage with the speaker as they might during a live broadcast. However, if the podcast is embedded within another medium like a blog, the author can use the comments feature in the blog to allow for interaction with the listeners.
Access to technology should also be considered with regard to the appropriate use of podcasts. Though it may seem otherwise, not everyone has Internet access. As a result, only a fragment of the population may be able to benefit from a podcast.
Podcasts have been used by a number of different political entities. Both major political parties and individual politicians have podcasts. At last count, there were over 250 different podcasts listed under the “News and Politics” category heading on iTunes, Apple's library of downloadable podcasts. The New Yorker magazine, for example, produces the Political Scene Podcast, hosted by the magazine's executive editor, Washington correspondent, and others. The podcast discusses the previous week's White House activity. As private individuals can produce a podcast almost as easily as The New Yorker, it is now easier than ever for interested parties to contribute their voices to political discourse.
See Also: Audience Fragmentation/Segmentation; Blog Syndication; Blogs; Embedding; RSS Feeds; User-Generated Content; Web 2.0
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