The phenomenal year of the iPod continues this week following the announcement that the New Oxford American Dictionary has designated "podcast" as the 2005 Word of the Year. According to the dictionary company, just 12 months ago, podcast was an arcane activity, the domain of a few techies and self-admitted geeks.
"Podcast was considered for inclusion last year, but we found that not enough people were using it, or were even familiar with the concept," said Erin McKean, editor in chief of the New Oxford American Dictionary. "This year it's a completely different story. The word has finally caught up with the rest of the iPod phenomenon."
Coined by journalist Ben Hammersly, podcast is an amalgamation of the words "broadcast" and "iPod." Defined by the New Oxford American Dictionary as "a digital recording of a radio broadcast or similar program, made available on the Internet for downloading to a personal audio player," podcasting will take its place in the dictionary's lexicon in the updated version due out in early 2006.
The growing popularity of podcasts prove what a difference a year can make for a fledgling technology. During the 12 months of the year 2005, podcasts went from a fringe activity for techies and geeks to a nationwide trend that has spawned a cottage industry of Web sites dedicated to cataloging the thousands of podcasts available on the Internet. The trend garnered the attention of major media companies that have put out their own podcasts.
In June, Apple added podcasts as a feature of its iTunes music service, giving the technology a big boost. The company claims that consumers subscribed to some five million podcasts within the initial three weeks of its launch. All of this left Apple CEO Steve Jobs pronouncing that podcasting was the "future of radio."
Fad or Fashion
Critics complain that the term podcast is a misnomer because anyone with a microphone, computer, software, and connection to the Internet can create a podcast while anyone with a digital music player can listen to one. They also complain that the term gives Apple too much credit for a technology it did not create and they suggest adopting alternative terms such as blogcasting or audioblogging.
In a Forrester Research report, "Getting Real About Podcasting," Ted Schadler and Josh Bernoff argue that podcasting is in the "enthusiastic experimentation" stage of the first phase of adoption. The analysts reported that, during this stage, "podcasting is seen as the best thing since buttons appeared on shirts" and that it will "see millions of iPod owners and other audio enthusiasts subscribe to podcasts."
According to Schadler and Bernoff, "disenchanted abandonment" will quickly follow when listeners realize that "most podcasts aren't worth listening to and even useful ones pile up unopened in the podcast corner of the hard drive." Stage three, "value-driven adoption," eventually will follow. The third stage, they say, will extend the reach of mass-market and niche programming to portable devices and consumers' schedules.
What Is It?
Many people might already know the word, but they still do not know what a podcast is, said industry analyst Nitin Gupta of the Yankee Group. A lot of people who believe they are listening to a podcast are simply listening to streaming audio from a Web page, while the number of people who subscribe to Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds and have audio downloaded to their computer is still a niche market, he said.
"There are a lot of podcasts, but it is not mainstream," Gupta said. The addition of the word to the dictionary is "overstating the pervasiveness of podcasting."
Other technology-related terms that made the New American Oxford Dictionary's shortlist for word of the year were "rootkit," software installed on a computer by someone other than the owner intended to conceal processes, files, or system data; "lifehack," a more efficient or effective way of completing an everyday task; and "ICE," an entry stored in one's cellular phone that provides emergency contact information.