This article is for people that have absolutely no idea what a podcast is, how they can use them and why they would want to bother at all.
Before you continue if you have no idea what RSS is I strongly suggest you read this article first – What is RSS and How Do I Use It?. RSS forms the distribution method for podcasts and you should have a basic understanding of RSS before you start to play with podcasts.
The word “podcasting” is a portmanteau combining the words “broadcasting” and “iPod.” In case you have had your head in the sand recently or don’t keep up with popular technology an iPod is a portable music player produced by Apple Computers. Apple was lucky/smart enough that their brand was wrapped into a term for a new technology much like the Sony Walkman becoming the popular name for a portable radio/cassette player or inline skates being called “rollerblades”, which is brand name for a company that produced inline skates.
The most popular format of a podcast is MP3. An MP3 is -
Wikipedia: MP3 is a popular digital audio encoding and lossy compression format. It was designed to greatly reduce the amount of data (10:1 compression is common) required to represent audio, yet still sound like a faithful reproduction of the original uncompressed audio to most listeners. In popular usage, MP3 also refers to files of sound or music recordings stored in the MP3 format on computers.
Ahh, right. Some of that definition is quite technical, but all you really need to know is that an MP3 is a popular audio file type for podcasts. There are other audio file types that are used for podcasting but in general as long as you have a music player on your computer you should be able to listen to a podcast file.
Podcasting is a form of audio broadcasting on the Internet. The reason it became linked with the iPod in name was because people download podcasts (audio shows) to listen to on their iPods. However you don’t have to listen to podcasts only on iPods; you can use your computer with some music software such as Windows built-in Media Player or my favourite player, Winamp, or other portable music players (iPod competitors) such as Creative Zen or iRiver. It really doesn’t matter, as long as you have some way to play music on your computer you will be able to listen to podcasts.
What Makes Podcasting Different?
When I first heard of podcasting I didn’t understand what made it different from simply searching and then downloading a music file and listening to it much like I had been doing for years with MP3 music tracks. I had a knowledge gap because I still didn’t understand RSS and content syndication. After playing with RSS feed readers (which you should know about if you followed my instructions and read my primer article about RSS before reading this article) I understood the difference between searching and downloading music files and subscribing to podcasts. It’s all about having the files come to you through syndication instead of you going to the files through search.
You subscribe to podcasts much like you subscribe to blogs. In fact often podcasts are distributed through a blog and provided your feed reading software handles podcasts you should be able to either instruct your reader to download new podcasts whenever they become available or manually choose which podcasts you want to download by clicking a link to the audio file. These files can then be listened to on your computer or you can transfer them to your portable player to listen to later. Some podcast feed reading software are configured to download and transfer the podcast directly to your portable player automatically so you can plug it in and walk away a few minutes later with your latest podcasts downloaded and ready to digest.
A Practical Example – Entrepreneur’s Journey Podcast
This blog, the one you are reading now, has podcasts. You will find a podcast category and an audio tab at the top that lead to a listing of all the podcast shows I have created (more on creating podcasts later). Whenever I create a new entry to this blog that includes a podcast (distinguishable because it contains a link to an .mp3 file) podcast reading software will automatically download it or mark the podcast as including an enclosure, which is a method of signifying that a blog post contains some media content.
One of the most common podcast subscribing tools is iTunes. If you use iTunes and subscribe to this blog every time I release a new podcast audio show iTunes will download it for you automatically and if you have it synced to your iPod it will transfer it for you as well. This is what I would call true podcasting – automatic download of an audio file directly to an iPod.
My current feedreader, RSSOwl, handles podcasts a little differently. When RSSOwl reads a blog entry/RSS feed that includes a podcast (MP3 file) it will place a link to the file labelling it an enclosure which I can click to download to my computer to listen to later. I pick and choose which podcasts I download and either listen to them from my computer or manually transfer them to my iRiver portable MP3 player.
If you are still scratching your head in confusion I suggest you try iTunes and subscribe to this blog – look in the podcast -> business category in iTunes and you should find Entrepreneur’s Journey. ITunes will automatically download the files or you can click to download some of my past shows. Experiential learning is by far the best way to get a grasp of new technology so if you are interested in using podcasts get out there and have a go. It’s all free so you have no excuse.
Podcasting Killed the Radio Star
Podcasts usually contain talk back radio style content rather than music. This is mainly because of copyright law. If you broadcast music you don’t have the rights to use then you are taking a risk. Consequently podcasting has seen the rise of the home-based radio-like personality rather than popstar, with individuals recording talk-back shows from home and distributing to people all over the world. The popular podcast hosts have audiences numbering in the thousands and no doubt soon enough in the millions.
An Internet podcast star can potentially reach a much larger audience than any traditional radio personality ever could. With potential numbers in the millions it’s easy to see why there is so much hype behind the technology and many business folk eager to get behind it. Podcasts and blogs are leading a new content distribution revolution on the web that you are going to hear a lot about in the future.
Timeshifting is a new term that you might hear now and then associated with podcasts. To time-shift is to consume content when and where you want to, as opposed to live events, for example television, which must be attended at specific times (although inventions like TiVo are changing this). Podcasts allow you to listen to audio content whenever it suits you, for example on the train to work. Podcasts are considered to be part of the beginnings of a timeshifting revolution that with digital convergence will see all forms of digital media entertainment available on demand and timeshiftable.
One of the big hurdles facing podcasting at the moment is the difficulty everyday Internet users experience creating a podcast. Recording, uploading, hosting and distributing podcasts require some level of technical proficiency that presently is beyond the average web surfer. Going beyond just the basics, to produce a podcast show of radio style quality with music, samples and effects is a daunting task for even experienced Internet users. New companies working to simplify the podcasting process are popping up everyday and many are being heavily backed by venture capitalists so certainly the industry mood is positive and the things will become simpler in time.
Creating Entrepreneur’s Journey Podcast
As I mentioned previously I produce a podcast show for this blog titled Entrepreneur’s Journey Podcast. At the moment my podcasts are basic with only my voice recorded. I currently use my iRiver mp3 player which has a recording function to record my voice in WAV format (an uncompressed audio format). I take this recording and transfer it to my computer and then compress it to an mp3 using iTunes (you can right click a file in the iTunes library and choose Ã¢â‚¬Å“convert to MP3Ã¢â‚¬Â). I then upload the MP3 to the web server that hosts this site and create a new blog entry that links to the MP3.
Here is an example of one of my podcasts – Audio: Choosing a Business.
Podcasting and the Future
Podcasting is the start of a new media content revolution that is empowering individuals with the ability to globally distribute their ideas and create a following of like minded fans. It is impacting traditional industries such as journalism, education and entertainment allowing anyone to freely create and distribute news and media.
And this is only the beginning.
Videocasting, the big brother of podcasting, is the next step allowing individuals to create their own video content for the world to hear AND see. Over time television, radio and the Internet will merge into one channel of content distribution that will provide an unheard of level of personalisation delivered on demand in real time or timeshifted.
For today, have some fun, download a podcast or record your own and become the next Internet star.