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Podcasting a new approach to delivering audio content on the web - and it's not just for iPods!

What is 'podcasting'?

The term 'podcasting' just hit the internet within the last couple of months. It's getting a lot of mention by bloggers and other internet publishers, some going so far as to say it's the "next big thing".

Fine. But what is it?

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Podcasting is a term coined by Adam Curry (of MTV VeeJay fame, and one of the web's modern pioneers) that boils down to this scenario:

  • An on-line publisher produces audio content in the form of an mp3 file.

  • That mp3 file is referenced as an enclosure in that publishers RSS Feed.

  • Folks who want to listen to that content subscribe to that RSS feed using a program called iPodder.

  • iPodder automatically downloads the mp3 file when it's published. Typically folks schedule this overnight when the computer and its internet connection would otherwise be idle.

  • iPodder automatically loads the mp3 file into iTunes, Apples digital music player.

  • iTunes automatically loads the mp3 file onto the listener's iPod portable music player. (Hence the term "podcasting")

  • Listeners get up in the morning, grab their iPod and listen to the content they want, when they want.

Most people think that podcasting is limited to RSS feeds that provide content in enclosures, and that you need iTunes and an iPod to do it. Not true at all.

If you read through that scenario, podcasting is really nothing more than a structured synchronization of certain types of files. Any of those steps listed above can be replaced or augmented with several different alternatives.

Let's run that scenario again:

  • An on-line publisher can actually produce content in just about any form. MP3 files are certainly the most common and arguably the most useful, but it's quite possible you'll see alternate audio formats as well as video files being made available sometime soon.

  • That content can certainly be delivered in an RSS Feed, but other alternatives are also possible. My current favorite is using Replay Radio (essentially Tivo for internet radio) to record regularly scheduled broadcasts of stations that broadcast on the internet.

  • iPodder + iTunes + iPod is a great, streamlined solution. However, Jake Ludington has put together a good overview of how that scenario can instead be: iPodder + Windows Media Player + your own MP3 player in this article: Podcasting with Windows Media Player. It's not quite as streamlined yet, because iPodder currently won't automatically populate Windows Media Player with the downloaded files.

  • Listeners grab their favorite portable (or non-portable) MP3 player and listen to the content they want, when they want.

Naturally I've been experimenting with this technology as a consumer, and I think it has a lot of promise though for now I think it remains in the realm of gadget or computer geeks who can put all the parts together. I've used iPodder to download Adam Curry's daily show which is provided as an RSS feed. I've used Replay Radio to grab various shows off of the internet so I can listen to them when I want to. I've played some with using Windows Media Player to manage the synchronization to my SD flash ram card, and fired up the MP3 player on my Treo cell phone, as well as my portable TDK MP3 player. There are a few missing links (I don't understand why car stereos still don't have an audio input jack), but overall it's enabled me to make better use of my time as I listen to what I want, rather then whatever's on.

I'm also experimenting with this technology as a publisher. I've upgraded the Ask Leo! RSS feed to carry attachments when present, and have recorded audio versions of several recent articles, including this one. In theory, that means I'm podcasting as the scenarios I've outlined above can all now consume my audio feeds. It's been suggested and I plan to try podcasting my next video tip. There's nothing really standing in the way.

A final, somewhat editorial thought; one person I talked to was unconvinced that podcasting was going to be very interesting because the podcast he happened to catch was "boring". Certainly new content delivery technology, which is all podcasting really is, isn't going to make the content any better. Publishers still need to have something good to publish. To me, podcasting is an interesting approach because it puts me back in control of what I choose to listen to, and when. If it's boring then I won't subscribe, and I'll listen to something else. The challenge to the future of podcasting is the same as any budding technology; make it easy for the masses to consume and good content will follow.

Article C2205 - October 15, 2004 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?


Derek Scruggs
October 15, 2004 5:49 PM

I'm the one who thought it boring. :) I guess my real point was, Adam Curry and others make a big deal about what a revolution podcasting is, but it's hard to hear the revolution if the messenger sucks. That said, I don't even have an iPod, so it's something I experience at my desktop computer and thus is not much different than just downloading an mp3 file manually. If I actually had an iPod my opinion would probably change.

July 10, 2005 7:37 PM

I have also heard of podcasting sites where anyone
can record thoughts, music, poetry etc., and post it so anyone can hear it. This sounds like an exciting way to start underground podcasting shows, which could them move onto the mainstream podcasting sites.
A page like this could also use podcasting; instead of reading this post you could be listening to it.

October 22, 2005 1:10 PM

My biggest worry is that I'll have all of these cool ideas for my podcast but the technology will get in the way.

So do I have to go spend money, or can I go downstairs in my makeshift studio, record my podcast any way I want, convert it to an MP3 and I'm ready to download onto a podcast site?

Fortunately Adam Curry is entertainment savvy AND a tech geek, so the balance is there. Unfortunately, I'm just now understanding how to attach a file when I email someone, but I've got tons of ideas, concepts, projects, etc.

The technology is holding me hostage from participating.

October 22, 2005 8:28 PM

My recommendation: just start. Get a reasonable microphone, use your PC to record, and make a few practice podcasts. See how they sound to you.

My weekly podcast is done with a plantronics USB mic and headset, my PC, and Audacity - the free open source sound editor. That's it.

Ross Giddings
March 17, 2006 8:57 PM

The big assumption in all this is that everyone has something interesting to say and are fluent enough to say it. My long-held belief is that everyone should only do the things they're very good at doing. In the past this "natural selection" ensured that only the best minds were heard or read. Now any vacuous drivel can get spread around. At the present rate civilisation will soon be going backwards.

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