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What is a Podcast?

The term podcast was coined by British writer and journalist Ben Hammersley, writing in an article for The Guardian newspaper in February 2004. The term is a fusion of the words broadcast and iPod, meaning a system of broadcasting audio MP3 files to iPods and similar devices (you don't need an iPod to receive podcasts — any compatible device will work).

The definition of podcast has since expanded to include video and other media types, although MP3 continues to be the format most commonly associated with podcasts.

While Apple is no doubt happy with the term podcast, some manufacturers have understandably complained that it is misleading. To counter the confusion an alternative definition has been suggested using the POD acronym: Personal On Demand broadcast. Other terms sometimes used include netcast, webcast, web broadcast and online broadcast.

How Podcasts Work

Podcasts originate from an Internet server and are usually associated with a particular website. As far as the actual audio and video files are concerned, they are no different from any other media file you might view at a website.

The difference between podcasting and other types of Internet media is that podcasting allows users to subscribe and receive content directly to their device automatically. Using a syndication format such as RSS or Atom, publishers can let their subscribers know when new content is available. This content can be automatically downloaded to their device.

To receive podcasts the end user must have a type of software known as an aggregator, sometimes referred to as a podcast receiver or podcatcher. This software checks the feed at regular intervals and displays new content as it is published.