The podcast for This American Life allows listeners to

download the the shows and listen to them at their

discretion. The This American Life team contracts with

a site called to distribute the shows to

listeners who want to hear them. Despite calling their

offering a podcast, however, it is not, at least in the

normal sense of the word. A podcast refers to an online

setup with an RSS feed that is regularily updated, can

be subscribed to, and provides links to sound or video

files that can be downloaded and watched by the

subscriber. and This American Life do not

offer that. Instead, the show’s team allows

to receive money for allowing listeners to download the

sound files to the computer from’s web

site. The only RSS file involved is one specific to the

user which allows that user access to the shows they are

interested in. Even odder than charging for a supposed

podcast, the sound files downloaded are tied to the

specific user who downloads them. Unlike the vast

majority of podcasts, which allow the files to be

distributed and redistributed as the end user wishes,

without placing limitations on such, the This American

Life podcast restricts the file to a single user.

The podcast for This American Life misses the point of

what a podcast is intended to be, the free distribution of

information. The This American Life team is exploiting

the term podcasting, and the credibility and hipness that

is associated with the term in order to boost their own


On the other hand, the podcast for This American Life

may be where the rest of the industry is headed.

Although the technology was first adopted by

independent media groups that enjoyed it because of the

low cost of distribution and the close possible ties to

end users, that may change when podcasting becomes a

wider phenomenon. If podcasting is adopted by more

mainstream, corporate entities, the face of podcasting is

likely to change to one where a profit plan is required.’s plan of forcing users to subscribe and

pay for the feeds they want may be the way the

corporate world decides to latch on to and use

podcasting. The advantage of podcasting, direct

distribution of the media files to the user’s home

computer quickly and easily, is not lost if the system

moves to one revolving around profit.

Regretfully, the podcast for This American Life is

probably an example of what podcasting will be in a

few years. As much as locked media files that restrict

distribution may be repugnant to many of the free

information activists that curently dominate podcasting,

there is little to stop those who want to use the system

to make a profit from doing so.

Joshua Shoemaker

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