Podcasting and Tristan Louis

Many people have asked me about my role in the early of podcasting, with some crediting me for “inventing” podcasting. I was indeed there in the early days but mine was only one of many contributions that were made to create what we now know as podcasting. Below is a more detailed history of my involvement.

On October 13, 2000 I reached out to several people about changing RSS to include attaching audio and video files to a feed. The problem at the time was that bandwidth was limited (and having crashed and burned with an earlier startup, Boo.com, because of that, it was top of mind for me). MP3 was becoming a big audio format for file sharing and my guess was that video would be next. So I composed an email and sent it to two lists:

  1. The syndication list (on egroups, later hosted by yahoo groups and now defunct) where people involved with content syndication would hang out
  2. Dave Winer’s website (Dave was the chief proponent of RSS, ie. THE guy you wanted to buy into your ideas if you wanted to influence RSS)

Below is the email I sent (strikethroughs on links are other edits due to internal scripts cleaning up dead links):

Suggestion for .92 spec

Author: tristan@ thisdomain  
Posted:10/13/2000; 12:31:08 PM
Topic:RSS 0.91
Msg #:108 (in response to 14)

I’d like to suggest a few optional additions to the specification. Here are some ideas I’d like to throw around for discussion:

At the item level:

<date></date>: This would allow us to specify a particular date for an item. I think it would be nice for those of us who have several days’ worth of content in their RDF channel.

At the channel level:

These could be encapsulated in to an <external></external> section that would include all links to outside of the channel.

<about></about> : Much like <link></link> points to the page the channel is for <about></about> could point to a page of information about this channel. this could link to a FAQ or more information about the channel.

<wireless></wireless>: Points to a page where wireless devices can go.

<broadband></broadband>: Points to a page where broadband devices can go.

<narrowband></narrowband>: Points to a page where narrowband devices (browsers for blind people, text-only browsers, etc..) can go

<p3></p3>: Points to a P3P page to check the privacy rules

<sound></sound>: Points to either a VXML source file (which can be read by a VXML browser) or an MP3 sound file. For example, it could serve up a radio feed related to this story.

<video></video>: Same as above with video or SMIL file.

That said, here’s what a source could look like (changes are bolded and URLs are fictional (but I cut and pasted my .91 channel content for speed reasons)):

————– Suggested RSS .92 code starts here ————–

<?xml version="1.0" ?> 
<!DOCTYPE NewDocTypeLinkGoesHere> 
<rss version="0.92">
	<managingEditor>tnl @ tnl.net<;/managingEditor> 
	<copyright>Copyright 1999-present, Me.</copyright> 
	<title>TNL.net Newsletter</title> 
	My channel description 

<image> <title>TNL.net</title> https://www.tnl.net/images/TNLpalmlogo.gif <width>125</width> <height>44</height> My channel description </image>

<external> <link>https://www.tnl.net</link> <about>https://www.tnl.net/about/<;/about> <wireless>http://wap.tnl.net<;/wireless> <broadband>https://www.tnl.net/100MBpage.html<;/broadband> <narrowband>https://www.tnl.net/under1kpage.html<;/narrowband> <p3>https://www.tnl.net/p3p.xml<;/p3> <sound>https://www.tnl.net/myvoicebasedchannel.vxml<;/sound> <video>https://www.tnl.net/myvideofeed.smil<;/video> </external>

<item> <title>Story 1</title> <link>https://www.tnl.net/newsletter/anewstory.html<;/link> Story 1 is described <date>10/13/2000</date> </item>

<item> <title>Some older story</title> <link>https://www.tnl.net/newsletter/olderstory.html<;/link> Happy New Year <date>01/01/2000</date> </item>

</channel> </rss>

————– Suggested RSS .92 code ends here —————-

As part of the deal, I’d also move the original channel link and image link into the external field under a single link header (unless some people can tell me where they have a different link for the image and the channel.

Your thoughts on this?


PS: Full disclosure time – My interest in syndication is related to both past and present. For starters, I have my own personal web site that I use to publish a newsletter (and offer a channel). Providing an easy to use format for summary distribution is a great way to increase traffic to it and expose people to my ideas. Second, I’m starting a company called Moveable Media (http://www.moveablemedia.com), which is trying to bridge the gap between online and offline media. While online syndication is WAY in the future for us (we’re first focusing on providing tools that will allow people to deal with freelancers), it is something that we are seeing as a potential future arena for us.

PPS: The email to the syndication list I sent can be found here: http://www.egroups.com/message/syndication/698

Later that month, Dave Winer, who was steering efforts around RSS, organized a dinner at Katz’s Deli in New York (my hometown at the time) so I went to plead my case. There, I found out that Adam Curry seemed to want to solve a similar problem on his end. So we talked more about this and Dave took all that input and turned it into something useful.

Dave made some critically important changes to my initial idea:

  1. Instead of having a separate sound and video tag, he merged them into a single <attachment> tag, which could deliver ANY media. A big improvement over my approach
  2. My proposal wrongly tagged the content outside of the item tag. Dave put it inside the tag, which is where it should be
  3. Dave added a <description> tag to the next version of RSS, adding the content in a clear and consistent fashion
  4. Dave accepted the idea that each item should be dated as I presented it

Dave then went on to evangelize the concept of podcasting, building his own and getting other people started.

Based on that evidence, you can decide whether I deserve credit in the foundation of podcasting. My intent with this page is only to set the record as to what my participation was and when it happened. If others want to question that or have different claims, I would only ask that they bring similar proof to the table in presenting their case.