If You Can Listen To It, Is It A Podcast?

When is a podcast not a podcast? To me it feels obvious, but there’s a bit of a bandwagon to diminish the power of the word away from the open nature into proprietary audio for established companies or bullet options in the pitch decks of a fiercely protective start-up.

Let’s take Spotify as an example of the ‘creep’ that is impacting ‘podcast’. I have run a few podcasts in my time, and each of them has shown up in Spotify under the podcast app. That’s because Spotify picks up the open RSS feed to feed into its library.

Spotify listeners can subscribe inside the Swedish app under the podcast tab, but if they try to find the RSS of the show to move it into another app, they are not going to find anything except a subtly walled garden. I’d argue this doesn’t change the nature of my show – it’s still a podcast – but it does mean listeners cannot export the podcast out of Spotify by copying the RSS feed.

How about Spotify’s ‘exclusive podcasts’. I think this is where I draw the line. Yes, a listener can find these exclusive shows under the ‘Podcast’ tab in the app, they can listen to them in the same way as my podcast, but can they find the RSS feed to lift the show out of Spotify and into a third party podcast player such as the always useful Overcast on the iPhone?

No, this is not a podcast. And the reason why is that there’s no way to lift the show out of Spotify using the open foundation of RSS. As far as I’m concerned, this is not a podcast, this is an audio show.

In the echo chamber of social media, the latest buzzword is Clubhouse. This invitation-only app has managed to gather a number of Silicon Valley names into the service (which no doubt has helped it pick up a $100 million dollar valuation in April last year. It allows various chat rooms to be set up and live audio messages exchanged.

It’s nowhere close to being a podcast; there’s no recording of the conversations for replaying, there’s no exporting of audio out of the system, and the invite-only system clearly limits the audience. Yet I fully expect to see ‘Clubhouse’ and ‘Podcast’ appearing in close proximity to each other as the latest Silicon Valley sweetheart looks to unlock in audio what Seesmic tried to do in video. 

To be the term ‘podcast’ stands for many things. It stands for portability; it stands for a wide and compatible ecosystem; and it stands for something that is open. And that means any use of the term that goes against those clearly romantic ideas is going to make me feel a little bit miffed.