No, “podcasting” is not a fishing term referring to plunking your lure into the midst of a small group of killer whales (and what an incredibly foolish act that would be, I think). The term is a concatenation of the words “pod” (as in iPod) and “broadcasting”, and is getting a lot of hype in the tech world right now. Here’s a quick primer so you can sound “hip” and “with it” amongst your tech-savvy friends (or kids or grandkids).
For the purposes of this discussion, I will use the term “iPod” to represent any of hundreds of sizes, shapes, and makes of personal digital music players (a market in which Apple’s iPod commands a 76% overall share). Plus, Apple has taken the lead in bringing podcasting “to the masses” (more on that later).
Unless you’ve been out bopping around through the asteroid belts, you know that iPods and other devices can play music. Specifically, they play a number of audio file formats, including (but not limited to) MP3, Apple’s AAC (Advanced Audio Codec), OGG (popular on the Linux platform), Windows Media Audio and RealAudio. Obviously, the content in these audio files doesn’t have to be music it can be the spoken word, as well.
So, over the last few years, a growing number of people have been producing audio content and posting it on the internet for all the world to download and listen to. The content runs the gamut from audio “blogs” (short for “weblog”, a popular method for people to publish their personal thoughts and commentaries), to archives of programming from commercial and public radio stations, to religious sermons, to movie reviews. If you know where to find it, you can go to the website and download the audio files to listen to on your computer or iPod. And, unlike streaming content, once you download it, it’s yours, and you don’t need an internet connection to listen to it later.
Until recently, accessing and acquiring this audio content has been very much a “manual” procedure, requiring the user to check back with the producer to see if new material is posted, and, if so, to download and transfer the material to the computer, and then the iPod, if desired. However, software has been developed to handle these chores automatically.
One popular “podcatching” application is called iPodder. iPodder lets you schedule downloading, informs you of new content, and manages the transfer of files to digital audio players. iPodder and other applications make use of another emerging technology, called RSS (Really Simple Syndication). To keep it really simple, RSS is coding within a website that provides short descriptions of site content, as well as links to the full versions of the content, which results in what is known as an “RSS feed”. Applications called “aggregators” keep track of RSS feeds and provide users with updates automatically. RSS feeds can also include links to files like (you guessed it) audio files. See? That wasn’t so hard.
The newest podcatcher application is Apple’s iTunes version 4.9, released this week. The new iTunes has a directory of over 3000 free podcasts, presented in a format similar to its Music Store. You can browse, find, sample, subscribe to, download, and transfer podcasts to the iPod, all from within the iTunes application. Once you subscribe to a podcast, iTunes automatically checks for updates and downloads new episodes to your computer. Hook up your iPod, and iTunes will move the new episodes to it.
Want to broadcast your own content? Although Apple won’t physically host your audio file, you can submit it to be included in the directory.
© 2005 Peter F. Zimowski