« Grasp magazine feature | Main | Podcasting versus audio on demand »


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Ted Trautman

Ashley--came to your post via AIR, and you raise some interesting questions. Basically, I think audio producers drew the short straw when it comes to our professional vocabulary. A few thoughts:

-I agree with you that 'podcast' is the best available word for what we produce if it's distributed online. I'm not thrilled that it's an Apple-coined proprietary term, but what alternative is there? "Online audio" sounds too technical, "webcast" had its chance but clearly lost to "podcast"... I like "online radio," but it always feels like I'm saying something bound to die out, like "talking picture."

-Besides not being sufficiently known -- apparently among more than half the country -- for people like your friend I think the word "podcast" is too closely associated with the iPod itself. It's easy to think that podcasts are passe if you read a lot of tech blogs, where journos only reluctantly admit that we were ever so primitive that we were forced to use whatever quote-unquote pathetic device we were all using 2, 5, 10 years ago. The iPod has been replaced by the iPhone, but until there's such a thing as a phonecast (trademark!), I'm going to keep on using podcast.

-The trouble with "online audio," besides sounding generally too technical, is that "audio" unfairly lacks the versatility of the deceptively similar word "video." If someone says, "Check out this sweet video," they're probably inviting you to watch a finished product on YouTube. If they say, "Check out this sweet audio," they're probably calling attention to the audio element OF a video. There might be some linguistically deeper reason for this, but my best guess is that we talk this way because video has become a countable noun ("I watched 3 videos today."), whereas audio has remained uncountable, like "milk" and "money" (try telling someone you "listened to 3 audios" today). "Podcast" performs all the functions that "audio" cannot. E.g. "Check out this sweet podcast!" "I listened to 3 podcasts today."

-Audio producers also get screwed adjectivally. What do video producers offer their audience? A visual experience. What do audio producers offer? An *aural* experience. Unfortunately, the word "aural" cannot be said with a straight face. 9 times out of 10 the speaker doesn't know how to pronounce it, and 10 times out of 10 the listener doesn't know what it means. It feels like an ugly portmanteau of "awful" and "oral," and also somehow French and elitist.

-Even your suggestion of "online audio show" has etymological problems. I think more or less everyone is on board with calling radio series "shows," but the noun "show" comes to us from the verb, and the verb comes from an Anglo-Saxon word that means "to look at." Not to hear, but to see.

-While it's practically true that online video summons a larger audience on average than online audio alone, I'd like to defensively point out that when we say "video," we usually mean video AND audio together. Off the top of my head I can't think of a popular video that did not include sound. We tolerate silent video in gif form in VERY small doses, but generally speaking people go craziest for audio and video together. And on the rare occasion when a piece of audio without video does blow up online? The first (only?) one that comes to mind is Jeff Cohen of WNPR recording his daughters' haircut fiasco last summer. I believe Jeff posted the audio to PRX, and I just did a quick google and see that Yahoo embedded the PRX player on their page about it. But by the time the story reached Gawker, aka critical mass, the file was in "video" form, with just a static photograph of one of the girls speaking for an image. I think it's no coincidence that this is the form that went viral.

-I think historically we've swung back as a species and a culture between visual and aural primacy. Early language = aural. Birth of writing = visual. Invention of telegraph/telephone/radio = aural. Invention of TV = visual. Proliferation of Internet = visual. It's hard to imagine another era of aural primacy if digital technology continues to improve and entrench itself, although if speech recognition tech develops and we all start wearing those awful Google Glasses, maybe we'll swing back to another aural era. If you're interested in this history, I strongly recommend a book called "The Information" by James Gleick. My favorite linguistic historical fact is that when writing was invented, people at first literally couldn't imagine what to say other than what they would say out loud to the person in front of them. E.g. early contracts, even as recently as stuff written in Old English, would begin with the word "hello" and end with "goodbye," because that's how talking worked, even if you were "talking" with a pen.

Anyway, thanks for bringing this up, and sorry for rambling. Overcast "podcast" Tedcast over.

Ted Trautman


Maybe the term "on demand audio" would work better. The Most successful podcasts are really radio shows on demand. The term online audio could be confusing as it could include audio streams and Internet radio. Did the word podcast evolve after the iPod? If so we can thank Steve Jobs for the word.
As for whether the podcast craze is over I'm not sure. I hope not, since my current job is editing stories for podcasts­čśŐ. If you see any articles on podcast vs. radio please share.

Joshua McNichols

The significance of the podcast as opposed to online audio is that it's serialized content from a single source. That's lotalty is extremely to independents. Shows command that loyalty naturally, as they're so well branded and marketed as a serialized product. But some rare hosts can do this too. I think podcasts are more well suited for content with a strong host. SecodeDC is an example. Another option is if the content is very unusual and thus easily brandable. Tiny Spark for example.

Joshua McNichols

iPhone keypad be cursed. DecodeDC I meant

Ashley Milne-Tyte

Thanks for weighing in. That's a really good point about serialization. 'Online audio' doesn't really capture the personal nature of many podcasts, which are indeed a series on the same topic or similar topics. I agree about Decode DC and I love Tiny Spark too - in fact I interviewed Amy Costello about the show - if interested, you can find that in the 'radio and podcasting' part of this site. And of course I like to think I'm a decent host myself (!) So maybe I'll stick to 'podcast'. After writing this I listened to Andy Bowers talk about podcasting for an hour in this webinar.


I plan to write another post today touching on a few of the things he raised. He is anti the term 'podcast' himself.

Ashley Milne-Tyte

The word 'podcast' did indeed come from Apple and the iPod. So yes, Steve Jobs strikes again. Thanks for commenting - I'm about to follow up with another post.


"it's an Apple-coined proprietary term": Ted, the term was coined by Adam Curry (former MTV V-jay and later Internet entrepreneur) and Dave Winer. It's the reason why it's not trademarked! They have both thought the better of it, and I think it has the problem of people who think of iPods think it's Apple related; those that don't have no idea what we're talking about.

Downloadable Internet radio?

One can use the AAC (.m4a) format to embed a cover image, chapters (with titles, images, and URLs) into a podcast, which makes it more useful and interactive for Apple device users, iTunes listeners, and many other programs that read the AAC chapter format.

The comments to this entry are closed.