How the MP3 Helped Create Podcasting: 20 Years of MP3

It was twenty years ago today – We could encode a song to play. It has never gone out of style, and we hope it will be around a while.So may I introduce to you – the codec you’ve used all these years…

Back on July 7, 1994, the Fraunhofer Society released the first software encoder called I3enc. The encoder would take a song and compress it for Internet usage. Using the .bit extension, you could turn a  It was changed to .mp3 on July 14th, 1995.

Suzanne Vega - Photo: Richard Huber

Suzanne Vega – Photo: Richard Huber

How Suzanne Vega Became the “Mother of MP3”

The algorithm for MP3 was created by comparing compression ratios with the song “Tom’s Diner” by Suzanne Vega. Because of this, Vega was referred to as the “Mother of MP3”.

Karlheinz Brandenburg was considered the “Father of the MP3”.

MP3 Logo

MP3 Logo

Creation of the MP3 Codec

Of course the digital compression of music has been around since 1977. Brandenburg stated in an interview with Intel how the project almost lost steam in 1991. By 1993, MP3 was technically called MPEG-1 Audio. Of course it wasn’t using the same codec.

Podcast

Official Podcasting Icon

The MP3 and Podcasting

It took 10 years before the MP3 started podcasting. When the first podcasts came out, they were encoded into a few formats – Ogg, WAV (uncompressed), AAC, wma, flac, and – of course – MP3.

The biggest hunt was to find bandwidth for podcasts. Hosting sites were not equipped to download MP3 – especially if the podcast was popular. 3 megabyte files on the server were not acceptable at the time and a few podcasters were shut down by their hosting services.

Then we had the issue of downloading the file. In 2004, only 64.5% was online and 88% was still on a dial-up connection. Downloading an hour long podcast (64 kbps) would mean over an hour online without interruption.

Today, some people can download that same file in .02 seconds…

The Changes of the MP3 – 2014 and Beyond

Since 2004, the MP3 codec has been improved with 128, 256, 320 kbps and beyond.  iTunes maxes out at 256 for puchased music and Google Play have opted to use 320 kbps over AAC (if you put your podcast in the catalog).

Some say that 320 kbps is closest to lossless encoding and higher bit rates won’t make much difference. Yet I can download a 2560 kbps MP3 file if I wanted to.

The bigger change might be to the ID3 tagging and RSS feeds. We still haven’t addressed a system for not only closed captioning, but also translations embedded in the audio file. It would be great if someone could get a Spanish transcript with the download of my MP3 file.

RSS feeds also may need some updating. Podcast companies like Blubrry put in special RSS code, while iTunes has created their own tagging system to move podcasts, or identify the show.

No matter what happens in the future of podcasting, if it wasn’t for Karlheinz Brandenburg’s work in 1977, the podcast might not be where it is today. Sure, we might have just adopted .ogg or .wma formats.  Would Dave Weiner have created the enclosure into the RSS feed in 1991? Would we have even used RSS feeds for podcasts? 

Happy anniversary, MP3. Here’s to 20 more years of all of my podcasts!

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  • I for one am most certainly happy that a time has come where podcasting is affordable and possible. My show the Tropical Entrepreneur show. Allows me to talk to some of the brightest and most amazing people in the world and I love it! Very interesting walk down the history of the Mp3 and how it lead to podcasting. Thanks, Josh