The ‘Pod’ in ‘Podcast’

Last week I linked to this Statista post on podcast client usage. It contains this weird line:

The term podcast, the name being a merge of the words “play on demand” and “broadcast”, refers to audio or video content in episodic formats that can be streamed or downloaded digitally.

I don’t know where they got “play on demand”, but that’s retcon nonsense. The pod in podcast comes from iPod. There’s no ambiguity or question about it. Here’s a 2006 article about TWiT founder Leo Laporte winning a “podcaster of the year” award and using his keynote speech to endorse changing the name for the format to “netcast”: “Is podcasting the right name, given also Apple’s asserting it owns the word ‘pod’ and is it good for Apple to be a monopoly in this?”

Here’s a section of a long column I wrote in 2005 about Apple’s full-on embrace of podcast listening as a built-in feature for iTunes and iPods:

The other bit of good fortune is the name: podcasting. Good fortune for Apple, at least. Clearly the “pod” in “podcasting” is about the iPod. Apple couldn’t have come up with a better name for this phenomenon if they’d gotten to choose it themselves. If the whole “audio enclosures via RSS” scene were still known as “audioblogging”, as it was when Maciej Ceglowski recorded his seminal “Audioblogging Manifesto”, I seriously wonder whether Apple would have done this now.

If you’re an engineer, you might be tempted to argue that RSS-with-enclosures by any other name is still just RSS-with-enclosures, and that it makes no technical difference whether you call it “podcasting” or “audioblogging” or “noodlepants”.

But names do matter. And what makes this so delicious for Apple is that the more popular “podcasting” becomes as the name for publishing audio via RSS, the less likely it will be that a new name will ever take hold. Which leaves Apple’s competitors — including Microsoft, Sony, and the various other gadget-makers producing Windows Media-based players — in the extremely uncomfortable position of choosing from the following courses of action:

  1. Embracing the word “podcasting”, even though it contains the name of the competitor they’re chasing, and which name subtly implies that podcasting is meant for use with iPods, which implication sort of further implies that every other digital music player is just an iPod knock-off. I mean, can you imagine Apple using a term like “walkmancasting”, “dellcasting”, or “wincasting”? It’s embarrassing.

  2. Devising and using a new term for “podcasting” that doesn’t use “pod”. Good luck with that, considering that everyone — everyone — who is publishing podcasts is already calling them “podcasts”. [UPDATE: According to this story in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Microsoft employees are pushing “blogcasting” as a “pod”-free alternative. Good luck with that.]

  3. Ignoring the whole podcasting phenomenon.

Pretty prescient, I must say, other than the fact that in a footnote I suggested I wasn’t going to create podcasts myself. What I didn’t foresee in 2005 is that podcasting would have a far longer shelf life for relevance than the term iPod itself.

See also:Would Twitter exist today if Apple hadn’t added podcast support to iTunes in 2005?

Thursday, 3 March 2022