When the iPod was introduced and people discovered how great it was for playing music, it became obvious that it could be used for playing other types of audio files as well.
What is today called a podcast traces its origins to a form of distributed MP3 files that could be downloaded and played on Apple’s popular music player. Some hackers got their hands on an iPod, reverse engineered it and loaded on it different firmware and operating systems. Others, however, took the simpler route of sharing sound files that could be played on the iPod itself.
The technology for distributing such files already existed in the form of RSS feeds. RSS feeds are machine-readable XML files that are able to transmit information between server and client in a more compact and up-to-date format. RSS feeds were already widely used by blogs as a means of keeping readers up to date on their latest posts. but some inventive podcasters came up with the idea of embedding links to audio files within the RSS feed itself so that it could be downloaded to a computer.
With this modification, podcasting took off and became a popular way to transmit information. Individuals could now become deejays or radio hosts and podcasts began springing up everywhere. Software, dubbed podcast clients, quickly came along that could check RSS feeds, extract podcast links and download the audio.
Although the concept of the podcast began with the iPod, people started devising ways to use the audio files with other devices. Some ingenious hackers even devised a way to turn the PlayStation portable gaming console into a podcast player, despite the PSP’s use of a different type of audio file. Because of the podcast’s increasing flexibility, it became a convenient way for more and more people to receive music, news and entertainment online.
Apple entered the fray somewhat belatedly by incorporating podcast handling capabilities directly within its popular iTunes music playing software for Mac and PC. Podcasts can now be subscribed to within iTunes directly from the iTunes store so that new episodes can be downloaded automatically whenever they become available.
In addition, the types of podcasts available have broadened so that they include not only audio podcasts but enhanced podcasts that can contain photos and chapter markers and even video podcasts. ITunes also offers free language lessons, lectures and audio books to the iTunes store as part of iTunes U.
The reach of podcasting has continued to increase with the growth in popularity of audio and video blogs that consists entirely of media files. It’s all part of the expanding reach of podcasts, which are taking good advantage of shrinking costs and expanding broadband Internet connections, along with the growing number of people with high-speed Internet access. Podcasts offer a rich, multimedia view of the world for all to enjoy.