What Is Podcasting and Why Should You Care?

(UPDATE: Here are the basics in how to receive and listen to podcasts.)

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve recently discovered a very intriguing new online media channel. The good news is that I think it holds considerable promise for creative, diverse, and useful audio programming that can serve a wide variety of audiences and purposes. The bad news is that it’s saddled with a rather unfortunate name: podcasting.

(Brief aside: I know some very smart and talented pioneers like Adam Curry and Dave Winer are already attached to the term “podcasting.” I truly don’t wish to demean them or their valuable contributions to this emerging medium. However, the reality is that to average non-geeks, “podcasting” sounds dreadfully geeky and faddish, as well as potentially exclusive to the overhyped and overpriced Apple iPod. All of that is misleading. OK, enough said on the name issue for now.)

Let me explain a bit about what podcasting is, how to use it, and why I think it’s pretty important…

WHAT IS PODCASTING?

In a nutshell, podcasting is simply online audio content that’s delivered via webfeed. (Background: What’s a webfeed?) Think of it as radio on demand. However, it gives you far more options in terms of content and program style than radio. While the field of radio has generally settled into few established types of programs, podcasting reflects more of the variety that is available on CDs.

Plus, podcasting is like TiVo for radio. That is, you can download whatever programming you want and listen to it whenever and wherever you want. You also generally have full access to the audio archives for the programs you like. This removes time, use, and content restraints.

WHAT CAN YOU DO WITH A PODCAST?

The options are nearly infinite. So far, most podcasts emulate the kind of audio programming we’ve grown accustomed to in the radio world: music shows, talk shows, commentary and analysis, etc. So far there isn’t too much news content in podcasting – but this fields holds many interesting possibilities for journalists and news organizations.

Off the top of my head I can imagine lots of ways to put podcasts to good use. Here are a few:

  • Backgrounders or interviews to supplement news coverage or commentary
  • Audio recap of the top stories on a news site (as a way to draw traffic to the news site or provide an additional advertising channel)
  • Bands, musicians, comedians, and other vocal/music performers can release their latest songs or clips, or provide spoken concert notes.
  • Issue updates from advocacy organizations or their PR firms
  • Specialized industry news from professional or trade groups (NAM, AIA, etc.), or from foundations or educational/research institutions.
  • Investor news (such as EarningsCast)
  • Language lessons or other educational materials that benefit from audio
  • Recipes or other how-to instructions for hands-on tasks
  • Self-guided walking tours
  • Hiking trail guides
  • Yoga, meditation, visualization, or self-hypnosis instructions
  • Sermons, speeches, or debates
  • Audio from conference sessions (plenaries, panel discussions, etc.)
  • Informational content (word of the day, business tip of the day, weekly birdwatching tips, etc.)
  • Storytelling for children or adults (maybe even the return of the audio soap opera)
  • In-house news or updates for a company or organization (delivered via intranet)
  • Training enhancement or reinforcement
  • Expanded access to online content for the blind
  • Sportscasts for niche sports
  • Quick highlights from newly academic or scientific research papers (abstracts translated into plain language)
  • Entertainment, including porn (hey, you know someone’s going to do it…)

…What creative podcasting uses can you think of? Comment below.

HOW TO MAKE AND RECEIVE PODCASTS

I’ll try to address this without getting too deep into the technology, but some basic technical info is necessary to understand how this medium works. So bear with me.

  1. Create your audio content. This can be any kind of audio content, from spoken commentary, to news, to presentations, to audiobooks, to language lessons – you name it. If you can hear it, you can podcast it.

    To create a podcast, you must be able to save your audio content in the form of a digital audio file. The file format should be readily usable by any of the popular portable digital audio devices generically called MP3 players (even though most can store and play a variety of digital audio file formats besides MP3). There is a broad and ever-expanding range of ways to create such files.

    On the low end, you can use a digital voice recorder with a plug-in microphone, or the microphone that came with your computer. Or you could use a service like Audlink or Audioblog to record your online audio content and save it in digital format simply by making a phone call. Also, some high-end voice mail services like jConnect save voice mail messages as MP3 files and deliver them to you by e-mail.

    Of course, such low-end recording options offer limited audio quality. More accomplished podcasters use professional microphones, audio editing and mixing hardware and software, backup systems, etc. Still, the technical barrier of entry to this medium is low compared to that most common distribution channel for audio content: radio.

  2. Post and announce your audio content online. You’ll need access to a server where you can store your audio files – your web site or blog host can help you with that part. Also, it helps if you have a weblog that is supported by software that automates the creation of your webfeed. Your feed will include enclosures.

    After you create, edit, and format/compress an audio file (technical details on that part vary, but don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be complicated), you upload the file to your server and attach it to a weblog posting. When you publish that posting, an item is added to your webfeed that includes a link that says “Enclosure.” That “enclosure” link also appears on your weblog items, for people who are visiting your site rather than reading your feed.

  3. People download and listen to your audio file. Podcasting is getting popular because portable MP3 players are getting so popular. These handly little devices offer all the core benefits of a portable CD player, portable radio, and all-purpose digital file storage in a much smaller and fairly affordable package.

    When people learn (via your webfeed, a podcast directory, or by visiting your site or blog) that you’ve posted a fresh audio file, they can download that file and store it on their MP3 player. Then they can take your file with them to listen to it in the car, at the gym, while cooking or cleaning, in line at the bank, etc.

    Webfeeds make this process even easier by automating it. Adam Curry is developing a nifty program called iPodder, which can detect new enclosures on the webfeeds you subscribe to and automatically download them to your MP3 player. (More about iPodder) This means that you can hook up your MP3 player to your computer, and while you’re showering and having breakfast it downloads all the latest editions of your favorite podcasts. Then you grab your Mp3 player and listen to all those new programs while you ride the train to work. Cool, huh?

    However, the only things you absolutely need to receive and listen to podcasts are broadband internet access and some way to play audio files. That’s right – You don’t actually need a portable MP3 player, let alone an iPod, or ipodder software, to listen to podcasts. You can download podcasts to your computer simply by right-clicking on the enclosure link and play them from your computer using common programs that come bundled with many operating systems (such as WinAmp, RealPlayer, or Quicktime Player).

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

Here are a few links to get you started:

…I’ll be posting more later about podcasting, but this should get you started for now.

I’d like to close by acknowledging that, like webfeeds, podcasting is still nascent and as yet too geeky for the average person. The unfortunate name doesn’t help, either, but that can be gradually overcome or accepted. There is a lot of hype about podcasting, but beneath all the hype and the geekiness I see a new audio medium with a ton of potential. I love audio, so I’m very eager to get involved in podcasting and see how this field develops.

Stay tuned….

7 thoughts on What Is Podcasting and Why Should You Care?

Comments are closed.

  1. Podcasting’s Possibilities
    Amy Gahran has an excellent post called What Is Podcasting and Why Should You Care? She outlines several ways people can put the technology to good use. Many of them tie directly into what PR people do every day. Highlights

  2. Great explanation of what Podcasting is.

    We have a Review site for Podcast and only list
    Postcast that have the Audio Quality worthy of the IPod or other digital player.

    Podcasting is like a radio dial, some you want to listen to and some you don’t.

    Radar from the Bunker
    http://www.podcastbunker.com

  3. Podcasting for the Music Business
    Amy Gahran has a great entry to her blog called What Is Podcasting and Why Should You Care?. Amy says, “In a nutshell, podcasting is simply online audio content that’s delivered via webfeed. (Background: What’s a webfeed?) Think of it

  4. The 2 sides of PODcasting
    Server side (casting) and client side (POD). The server application server it is simply the blog). The client application is the desktop aggregator, more what will be selected for reading the files (desktop application : iTunes or portable device : iPo…