Understanding the Podcasting Revolution
Since podcasting first emerged as a form of mass communication, typical people - professionals, housewives, computer nerds, and teenagers â€“ have been making digital recordings of themselves doing little more than talking. The subject matter ranges from anything in general to nothing in particular - life, romance, music, sports, gadgets, arts, computers, losing weight, politics, religion, the list goes on and on. They banter about their pet peeves, recount how their days went, and make fun of people. Podcasts give them a place to make their opinions known, without censure, rules or conventions. And thereâ€™s no cost to listeners: itâ€™s all free via the Internet.
Thereâ€™s good reason to believe that podcasting will be even bigger than it is already. Google the word â€śpodcastâ€? and itâ€™ll turn up almost 1.7 million hits, even though podcasting did not exist one year ago.
What is a Podcast?
A podcast is an audio mini-program, in MP3 format, broadcast over the Internet. You can download and listen to the podcast on any MP3-compatible digital music player, preferably an iPod, hence the name. The key innovation is that subscribers can subscribe to lists of MP3 podcasts and choose when to download them, taking their recorded shows on commutes, treadmills or flights, unlike traditional Internet radio, where music or other audio content is streamed at particular times and is not always made available for free. You can either download a podcast once or subscribe to the RSS service for regular doses of your favorite shows. Your podcasting software checks for new content and begins to download when you say so. Ideally, you connect your iPod to your computer and have it automatically sync the latest feeds via iTunes.
The beauty of podcasting is that itâ€™s easy and generally free for listeners, while costing relatively little to producers. At least, this is true for listeners with unlimited broadband Internet access and large hard disks, since a 30-minute feed can mean a 20-Megabyte download. This means that podcasters also have to host large files. But podcasting means you, the listener, are your own radio program director: you can decide when, where, and how often to listen to an audio program.
How Podcasting Started
Podcasting is the brainchild of Adam Curry and David Winer. Curry, formerly of MTV Music Television fame, last year wrote iPodder software that could organize and download to his iPod newly posted audio files from websites of his choice. He encouraged others to improve on his coding, and volunteers from all over the world subsequently helped him perfect iPodder. He started his own half-hour podcast in the fall, â€śDaily Source Code,â€? featuring talk on new and interesting podcasts, tech news, and general chit-chat, with small bits of music in-between, and has attracted some 50,000 listeners.
Podcasting is a natural extension of the blogging phenomenon, which has continued to grow over the past few years. Many podcasters start out as bloggers, only to expand their platform further to the audio blog.
Listening to a podcast for the first time from the author of a blog youâ€™ve been following religiously for months can be an almost surreal experience: suddenly you can match a voice to the name. This is how people must have felt when they first heard the voices of beloved actors after the silent movie era came to an end.
What You Need
What do you need to hear one of these audiocasts? All you need is a podcast software client that will download the feed via your Internet connection. Conveniently, there are multi-platform podcasting applications such as iPodder, which is Windows-, Mac-, and Linux-friendly. At the moment, Windows-only apps include NIMIQ, podfeeder, and Doppler, whereas on a Mac you can choose between iPoddumFeeder, PlayPod, and iPodderX.
Podcasters themselves also have it pretty easy. All they need is something to talk about, a microphone, a computer and some editing software. Upload it to the Internet and voila. Sounds easy, right?
Well, it does get a tad technical. In fact, many podcasters want to know how to get top audio quality, the right microphone to buy, how to use editing and MP3 conversion software to erase errant sounds, and how to get an RSS feed onto their blogs. Some have it easy. Most traditional blogging tools already automatically generate RSS files. Others have to do this themselves.
Getting the audio file into an RSS feed requires that you either copy and paste code already available from helper sites, adapting it to your needs, or, for the more savvy, write the code in HTML yourself, defining your content into â€śitemsâ€? (title, description, links, language, date, etc.) and string these items into â€śchannels.â€? The MP3 file is placed into an enclosure tag featuring the URL, duration of file in bytes, and type. Then youâ€™ll have to decide which RSS format or version to use (0.91, 1.0 or 2.0) and get your RSS file validated and syndicated. For details on all of these issues and more, see these links:
What is Podcasting Like Today?
The increasing popularity of podcasting can be attributed to the ubiquitous nature of the iPod. Tens of thousands of freshly baked iPod owners have been filling up their little babies with free podcasts, complementing their paid music collections.
So far, podcasters are not in it for the money, but rather for the idealistic nature of what they are doing â€“ making their thoughts, noble causes, and rants available to a worldwide audience. And they are quickly becoming stars. Suddenly musicians previously unknown and unsigned are selling their music online after being featured on a podcast, and some websites running podcasts see their hits increase astronomically. Itâ€™s like the proverbial word of mouth, spreading buzz in the virtual universe like wildfire.
Typically podcasters are known among themselves within the community and usually mention fellow podcasters, as well as up and coming podcasts â€“ serving to spread the word. Even a bare mention on Curryâ€™s Daily Source Code is enough to increase your downloads exponentially. There are so many podcasts available on every imaginable topic that it has almost become difficult to find content you would be interested in, which has of course made the birth of podcast directories a necessity.
And the scope of podcasting is now growing outside of the US â€“ there are a few Australian and European pioneers sending their message out over the airwaves, including the beer-based babblings of Australian Craft Brewers, one Polish feed, the German-language Wanhoffs Wunderbare Welt der Wissenschaft about science, the universe and insects; or a really fantastically named French podcast Bebop & Loola â€“ a cultural voyage of discovery of architecture, festivals, clubs and bars in Berlin. There is even a podcast in Native American Mohawk.
Though itâ€™s already beginning to happen in the technology space with Internet-savvy broadcasters such as Your Mac Life and Leo Laporte, traditional non-tech broadcasters are likely to jump on the bandwagon too, making their shows available as free feeds, something that would not have been conceivable years ago. Big names will also want to be involved, corporations and celebrities alike â€“ in a way to communicate with or influence their target audience or fans more effectively. And somebody is bound to find a way to make money out of it â€“ hopefully at a reasonable rate for both producers and subscribers.
With more and more people getting into podcasting â€“ both listening and scrambling to get their own podcasts together, the sky will be the limit for future possibilities. One area is video podcasts: Rocketboom is already one example.
And of course, the technology and software will become even more refined, making podcasting easier to enjoy and use. Podcasting is another phenomenon that shows that the iPod will continue to influence urban, suburban, and rural lifestyles all over the world, spawning parallel industries in its wake and creating novel uses for all of us.
With podcasting still in its teething stage, itâ€™s not easy to find criteria to judge the best out there. What do successful podcasts have in common? Interesting content and consistency. Generous doses of humor, a bit of good music, and a specific topic of conversation. And also regularity.
According to leading directories, the most popular podcasts are the Daily Source Code, the Dawn and Drew show, Rock and Roll Geek show, Coverville, Insomnia Radio and IT Conversations. Listeners can cast their vote on their choices for best podcast on the very handy Podcast Alley. iLounge has made two of its own podcasts available, as well, with plans for new editions in the near future.
You yourself will be the best judge of whether a podcast is worth a second and third listen. Yes, you may have to listen to many podcasts before you find the gem youâ€™re looking for. But itâ€™s a journey of discovery worth taking.
Best Sites for Podcasting Information
We recommend the following sites as great resources for both podcasters and podcast listeners.
Want to Discuss Podcasting?
In addition to the comments thread below, definitely visit iLounge’s new Podcasting Discussion Forum, available at this link. You’ll find information on interesting new podcasts and podcasting there, as well as fellow podcasters to share tips and insights with. And maybe you’ll even meet the author of this article there, too!
Portable Media Expo showcases the present and future of portable content with demonstration exhibits and conference sessions devoted to creating, editing, delivering, viewing and profiting from unique audio and video media. Visit the iLounge “lounge” booth November 11-12, 2005 at the Ontario Convention Center, California.
Alicia Bankhofer currently resides in Austria with her husband of 11 years and their three mischievous cats. She relaxes from her daily grind by answering multifarious cries for help in iLounge forums as a forum moderator (“ginalee”), and in general spends too much time surfing the net.
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