Podcasting is a perfect computer term. It has both technological and science fiction auras to it. In the aerospace industry, a pod is a detachable compartment on a spacecraft for carrying personnel or instruments. A pod person, in at least two science fiction novels and movies, is an alien.
Those people who are involved with podcasting may seem like aliens to those who aren’t, but podcasting is just another new communications technology that just seems strange at first.
Podcasting is the recording and broadcasting of audio, typically verbal rather than musical, for playback. It is often done through a portable digital media player such as an iPod. The content can also be video or other multimedia files, and players can also be notebook or desktop personal computers.
The name “podcast” comes from iPOD broadCAST. But any portable digital player will do, including Creative Technology’s Zen (www.creative.com), a competitor to Apple’s iPod (www.apple.com/ipod/ipod.html). In fact, Creative Technology has suggested, with some validity, that podcast might better be described as “Personal On Demand broadcast.”
The “on demand” part is key because the appeal is control. You listen to what you want when you want, just as with music on an iPod (or Zen) or television with the help a digital video recorder such as a TiVo.
The audio you listen to can be news, sports, discussion, or newer creative forms of content. One example is “sound seeing,” which is the extemporaneous audio recording of a person’s experiences when traveling or doing anything else. Other examples include magazines and newspapers offering audio content from print interviews to subscribers, teachers providing audio class notes to students, politicians delivering speeches to constituents, religious leaders delivering sermons to congregants, and police departments distributing safety messages to the public.
Subscriptions to podcasts are either free or paid. Podcast.net (www.podcast.net) is a compilation of about 40,000 podcasts in categories from entertainment and arts to business and computers. The technologies typically used are RSS (Really Simple Syndication) and MP3, the same format used for digital music.
You can download podcasts over the Internet from a Web server to your personal computer using a software program alternately known as a media aggregator, podcast receiver, or podcatcher. Examples include Apple Computer’s iTunes (www.apple.com/itunes/download) and the open source Juice (juicereceiver.sourceforge.net). You typically keep the program on all the time, and it downloads new podcasts in the background at the time interval you specify.
Many people use their PCs to listen to podcasts, but for ultimate flexibility the best choice is still a portable media player.
When podcasting first became known among the geek community in 2003, it was used primarily by individuals who wanted to distribute their own radio shows. Now this new media is increasingly being noticed by the old media, with traditional radio and television broadcasters experimenting with delivering some of their programming through podcasts.
Still, there are lots of opportunities for nonmedia types (including individuals and businesses) to podcast. One good example for companies is speeches by company management.
Being a podcaster today is a bit like being a desktop publisher in the mid-1980s, when it first came on the scene. Podcasting takes a bit of technical savvy, and it’s something that early adapters are attracted to more than others. You can find lots of tutorials on the Web.
“How to Create Your Own Podcast - A Step-by-Step Tutorial” (http://radio.about.com/od/podcastin1/a/aa030805a.htm) is a detailed About.com offering that walks you through the process.
Podcast Expert (www.newmediaexpo.com/podcastexpert) is a Web site that includes podcast subjects ranging from beginner’s tutorials to microphones and other equipment. Exemplifying the populist nature of podcasting, anyone can create such a podcast, and anyone can rate the podcasts of others using one to five stars.
As you might expect because of its newness, podcasting is still a niche area. According to a survey published in November 2006 by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, only 12 percent of Americans who are online have thus far downloaded a podcast. But this figure is up from 7 percent from 9 months earlier. Podcasts are more popular among males—15 percent of online males indicate they’ve downloaded a podcast compared to 8 percent of females online.
Podcasting does have negative aspects. It’s less useful for breaking news than feature material because of the time interval between creating the content and listening to it. Still, it’s a new communications technology that’s worth keeping an eye on—and an ear to.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.reidgoldsborough.com.