A Look at Podcasting

Podcasting, what is it?

Using the internet as an audio broadcasting tool is nothing new. For years people have been able to tune in to streaming audio programs featuring anything from political commentary to Jewish Klezmer music. However streaming audio is not an easy break-in format for people on a low budget wanting to deliver regularly updated content. Maintaining a server that hosts streaming audio or relying on a service that will stream the content for you is often too cost prohibitive for the small time broadcaster.

Another option for broadcasting is to create stand alone audio files and distribute them to whoever wants to listen to your show. Broadcasters who tried this method found problems coming up with a way to distribute updates to their listeners. A user who might have 5 or 6 shows that he regularly listened to would have to remember to check back on those 5 or 6 websites to see if there had been an update.

Podcasting was created to overcome the difficulties for both listeners and broadcasters. Using the RSS technology that exists for delivering updated content to web pages, podcasting allows the listener to subscribe to a feed which, using appropriate software, can automatically detect and download updates. Whenever the user launches his reader file of choice, the program will check and see if any of the feeds that the user has subscribed to has been updated. If an update exists, the software can be configured to download that new content immediately so that it is available for listening.

To make things ever easier for the listener, programs have been written which will automatically upload the updated content to a selected media device, such as an iPod from which the term “podcasting” was derived. With one piece of software a user can download updates to his favorite program and have it ready for listening on his MP3 player. This is not required however; users can still listen to the downloaded files directly on their PC.

Available podcasting content

While podcasting is a term that is just now beginning to appear in the mainstream media with any regularity, the process has been around for a few years. Podcasts currently exist covering just about anything you would care to listen to, and several portal sites are up and running that can help you find the addresses to plug into your podcast software.

Some popular podcasts include:

News feeds about current space projects and upcoming astronomical events such as eclipses, direct from NASA. (http://science.nasa.gov/podcast.xml).

Comedy troupe Firesign Theatre, often heard on National Public Radio, has a podcast of their albums and performances. (http://science.nasa.gov/podcast.xml).

Adam Curry, former MTV Video Jockey and one of the men responsible for the creation of podcasting distributes a daily audio blog. (http://radio.weblogs.com/0001014/categories/dailySourceCode/rss.xml)

This is just a very small sampling of the podcasting fare that exists today. As podcasting continues to grow, the content that is available for downloading will naturally grow with it. Many commercial media outlets are already sticking their toes in the water, experimenting with delivering regularly updated content through podcasts.

For even more content links, visit PodCasting News.

Listener tools

In order to enjoy podcasting, you must acquire a piece of software that will allow you to subscribe to the various streams available, and download the audio once it has been updated. There are several good free programs on the net today that allow you to do just that.

iPodder is designed for iPod users, and is one of the more popular pieces of podcasting software today. It exists for Windows, Mac OS X 10.3 or higher, and Linux. You can download the software and learn more about it at http://ipodder.sourceforge.net/index.php

Doppler is a Windows application for subscribing to audio feeds (podcasts). It allows you to preview the podcasts before downloading them, and works with iTunes and Windows Media Player. You can read more about it or download it from http://www.dopplerradio.net/

Broadcaster tools

If you’ve got the broadcasting bug in your heart, there also exists a ton of software for creating and distributing your own material. Please note that these packages let you create your audio files and RSS code, they do not “host” your files. You will still need to find a net-accessible home for your audio files from which listeners can download them.

Unlike the listener programs, a good many of the packages for creating your own podcasts are not free. These tend to be the packages that include audio creation as well as the RSS files. There are free programs that can be found to do both tasks independently of each other, however. Audacity is a fine program for recording and mixing audio files, and for creating the RSS files needed to place your show on the web, you can choose from several free programs available on Sourceforge. Just go to Sourceforge.net and enter “podcast” into the search box and you will find all the software you could need.

Conclusion

Podcasting is an exciting development in the world of user created audio programs. Using this technology, anyone can create and distribute their own audio content, whether it’s a voice blog or your latest garage band’s concert. While podcasting does not allow you to interact in real time with your audience, it does break down the cost barrier that currently exists when using streaming audio.

People who are just looking for something new to listen to at work or on the road should rejoice. Obtaining new and interesting audio content is now easier than ever, and as time progresses and the technology improves the amount of free content available is going to explode.

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