Podcasting Isn’t a Genre

Some have suggested that podcasted MP3s have the ID3 genre tag set to Podcast. Bad idea. Podcasting is no more a genre than is TV or radio. It’s a transmission mechanism: audio files as RSS enclosures. You can do that with music (of all kinds) speech, sound effects, and more. Those are genres. If you want to use a genre to idenfity things like Daily Source Code or Evil Genius Chronicles, you could refer to them as audioblogs, but even then it might be too much of a catch-all. In any case, podcasting is not a genre.

There’s also a lot of confusion about the definition of podcasting. Again, I say it’s no more (or less) than audio files as RSS enclosures. A podcaster is someone who sends audio — any audio — in this way. So what do we call the receiving end — the people who use iPodder, its derivatives, or (heaven forbid) copy the MP3s to their players by hand or listen to them on their computers? Are the listeners of podcasts podcatchers? Okay, I admit that’s a bad name that should die an immediate death, but let’s remember that podcasting is the act of sending, which is quite decoupled from the acts of receiving or listening.

Oh, one more thing. There’s been a lot of talk about the history of podcasting. According to the above definition, the first podcast I can recall was when Dave Winer worked with Christopher Lydon to deliver some of Chris’ interviews as RSS 2.0 enclosures. I immediately copied the idea. Does that make IT Conversations the second podcast? Does anyone even care who was second? 🙂 And of course Steve Gillmor was probably the first to consider the iPod platform, and Adam Curry was first to automate the receiving process all the way to the player.

8 thoughts on “Podcasting Isn’t a Genre

  1. Okay, you’ve made it clear that using “Podcast” as a genre in not a perfect solution, so what do you recommend as a solution to separating podcasts (noun version of podcasting) from song files in iTunes? Or maybe podcasts should never end up in iTunes? Please, offer a solution to this immediate problem, because I, for one, want some way to quickly group all such ‘casts together in iTunes (since I don’t own a ‘pod yet). Thanks.


  2. To the comment about what they should be called…. well, are you talking about music podcasts or talk radio podcasts or speeches, or …. what?

    I’d make the genre what the content actually is. In most cases, it’s talk, but I’ll change the genre when the music podcast goes online. Easy!


  3. Doug,

    Regarding your comments about genre assignment as podcast – in an ideal world where all podcaster’s take the time to carefully complete their metadata in a consitent manner, I would agree with you. However, as anyone who is aggregating podcasts can attest, the id3 tags are all over the map from nonexistent to quite informative. My original suggestion as setting genre to podcast was to make it easy for people to set playlists of newly acquired material. Without some consistent tag it becomes difficult to organize podcasts from your audio books, music and actual speech recordings. While one can argue that podcast is not a genre in the dictionary sense of the word (I would agree with you there) – that is not really the point. Genre in terms of mp3s and playlists is a subjective tag used to identify content. From my reading of the id3 v2.4 spec, genre is part of the TCON or content type frame. Of all the possible choices, that seems the most accessible for setting as a consistent identifier of podcasts.

    As an example, would you suggest the genre of a show with interviews, music and commentary to be set as rock, speech, interview, audioblog or commentary? How would you find it among the 8000 other audio items on your hard disk a year from now? (Obviously, as a skilled producer of audio content I know that you have a sophisticated organizational system, but I am talking about the average user here – my wife for example.) If it has a tag consistent to the transmission mechanism “podcast” the average user will be much closer to finding it quickly. Additionally, should the content be passed along to someone else, that person would be introduced to the world of podcasts by simply looking at the tags. One more way of growing the community couldn’t hurt.

    Ultimately, I think we agree. Podcasting is a transmission mechanism. It is, I believe, revolutionary and important. However, the reality is that we are currently importing podcasts into organizational systems whose default assumption is that the content is music. As such. items like audio books get a genre assignment of audiobook rather than the countless possible “real” genres one could assign them. Not because one is trying undermine the importance of autobiography vs. murder mystery, but because it makes it easier and more convenient for the end user. I don’t see how that is a “bad idea”.

    Michael Geoghegan

    P.S. I really enjoy your work with IT Conversations, I look forward to each edition. Though, in the spirit of full disclosure I must confess, iPodderX is set to change the genre to “podcast” when it imports – that way it gets right onto my iPod.


  4. Once upon a time we used to have noisy mailing lists for the discussion of this stuff. But RSS-DEV and Aggregators seems to have gone quiet. So where is the discussion happening now? Surely not in blog comments scattered across the web? I ask because I have a few issues with podcasting. Mostly related to BitTorrent.

    1) How do you encode two enclosures for an RSS item. I want to say use this BT first. If you can’t, use this plain MP3.

    2) A PodCatcher or constantly running resident desktop RSS aggregator should make a great BitTorrent client. This is an easy way to handle the bandwidth problem for the provider. So which Aggregators do this?

    3) Why isn’t it really, really easy to build and post a .torrent. There should be a service where I give it an MP3 URL and it builds the torrent and hosts the tracker returning the .torrent URL for insertion in the feed. Maybe this already exists but I can’t find it.


  5. I would argue – and have bought this up a couple times in a couple different places – that the problem you mention stems from the fact that “Podcast” itself is a faulty and ill-advised term. No one “Podcasting” that I know of is broadcasting specifically to a “pod”: ie, to an iPod or any other mobile audio device.

    Unless I am wrong, they are compressing their content, whatever it is, into the mp3 format and creating an RSS document that describes that mp3 file. That’s it.

    Then, that RSS is being read by all types of RSS-consuming applications, on desktops and on mobile devices. One example not a mobile device: my http://www.hellthy.com reads MP3-RSS as a “radio playlist” and plays the mp3s.

    Ie, once the author describes their mp3 in RSS and publish the RSS, the author has no control over how his or her content is distributed. Ie, authors do not control the entire distribution path – so it would be foolish to say they are “podcasting” or targeting a specific type of device or application. If apps like iPodder used a propriatary XML vocabulary other than RSS this could be true. But it doesn’t. That’s part of its beauty.

    And even beyond that, the term wants to describe not only a very specific distribution path – but also wants to describe a very specific type of content: talkshow style audioblogs. If you want legal mp3’s 5 days a week downloaded through your iPodder app – you can consume http://www.hellthy.com‘s MP3-RSS and have music content through this distribution method. Does this mean I’m podcasting?

    It seems confusing to many to describe both a specific style of content and a specific form of distributionin in one term.

    Seems that the type of content people are referring to is “Talk” or “Talk Show” – a collection of entertainment that is predominately talk.

    And when the authors of this content publish their creations via MP3-RSS they are not specifcally “Podcasting” but are potentially “Podcasting” (mobile devices) and “Deskcasting” (desktop apps) and even, for WiFi home stereo users “Dencasting.” Ha. In other words they are “multicasting” (dare I say “broadcasting”?)– or better yet, they are “Metacasting” as they have no control over the distribution of the content other than properly describing the meta information in a format that a wide variety of applications can understand.

    This is my suggestion for this linguistic discussion.


  6. Would the problem of identification of podcasts (for Smart Playlists and general ID as a podcast) not be solved by simply adding the term “podcast” into the comment line of the ID3? This would allow a user to create a smart playlist in iTunes (unfortunately, I’m not sure if the same categorization based on the comment line is available in other players — I tried in WinAmp but they don’t have an option like that yet) for identification or importing to their portable MP3 player. If the comment line is used, the genre line could still identify the song as whatever genre it is, making everyone happy (except users of Winamp, but they can’t even categorize by genre as far as I know, so they won’t be happy either way).

    Did I mention that receiving podcasts has caused iTunes to actually compete against Winamp again on my computer?


  7. I own an iRiver H10, and I still haven’t found a podcast reader that handles Windows Media Playlists very well for the way that I use my iRiver. I don’t listen to music on it. Instead, I listen to seminars and interview shows once and then delete them. Unfortunately, the iRiver does not seem to be aware of which shows I have and have not listened to, and it does not have a delete function on the device! I am forced to manage everything through Windows Media Player v10.

    I would use an “Auto Playlist” in Windows Media Player, but I want to be able to remove items after I’ve listened to them. The Auto Playlists feature seems to re-add them.

    I needed a single playlist to:
    — see all of the shows in the order that I downloaded them, and
    — be able to remove the ones that I’ve listened to without having them automatically re-added to the playlist.

    So I made a utility to do just that. Visit http://www.caraworks.com/Projects/Morganizer/default.htm to download the Morganizer Directory Monitor Playlist Adder. No spyware, no adware; just good old freeware. Enjoy!



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