Thursday, November 24, 2005
Talking turkey about podcasts -- what, where and doing one's own
By DAN BARNETT
Last June my wife and I headed to Grass Valley to begin a multi-state vacation. She was anticipating the impending family wedding in Idaho and so was I. Then the thought struck me, out of the blue, as we were making the long climb up from Marysville. My school needs a podcast!
As the miles flew by I realized that with a few simple pieces of equipment the dream could become a reality. Not long afterward my first campus interview was online and listed in Apple Computer's popular iTunes, the free jukebox software. Faster than you can list all the cliches I've used in these first two paragraphs, my free little podcast was ready for the world!
"Little" is the operative word here. My podcast boasts a few dozen listeners while others, like the immensely popular "This Week in Technology" (TWiT) with Leo Laporte, claim hundreds of thousands of listeners. But never mind that. Podcasting is not about reaching a large audience; it's about reaching the right audience. There's one podcast that features avant garde music from Scotland and another, called "Baking with the Bard," that is hosted by a 16-year-old chef. We're talking niche market here. But that's the beauty of podcasting. It's like radio for peculiar people. And we're all peculiar.
If the world of podcasting is fairly new to you, one of the best places to turn is to a new book from Bart G. Farkas, "Secrets of Podcasting: Audio Blogging for the Masses" ($19.99 in paperback from Peachpit Press). "In a nutshell," Farkas writes, "podcasting is a World Wide Web-based form of broadcasting that allows anyone with a computer and/or a digital media device to download and listen to content. Formed by the combination of the words iPod and broadcasting, podcasting involves the creation of 'radio' shows that are not intended to be broadcast over Marconi's invention. Indeed, these podcasts can be downloaded and enjoyed only through access to the World Wide Web." (Farkas does note later on that a few radio stations have now begun airing podcasts.)
Do you have to have an Apple iPod to listen to a podcast? Certainly not. As Farkas points out, the podcasting name is an homage to the leading MP3 player, but you don't really have to have a special music player to listen to a podcast. A computer will do. You can visit Web sites and download podcasts for later playback on your computer.
Farkas notes that podcasting really gained impetus with the development of what is called RSS, or "really simple syndication," a bit of behind-the-scenes code that enables content to be sent out on the Internet for anyone to download. The other big development is iTunes 4.9, released at the end of June, which was the first version of the software to feature a podcast directory. Way back then (five months ago) there were about 4,000 podcasts in the directory. Now there are many times that. Mac or PC users with iTunes can simply click on a podcast to subscribe, and presto! Every time a new show is released, it's automatically downloaded to the subscriber's computer. Free.
You don't even need iTunes. Farkas reviews 15 other podcast "aggregators," some free, some inexpensive, which can be quickly downloaded and installed on a computer to give the user access to the vast podcast universe. There are now dozens of podcast search directories (such as Podcast Alley), and Farkas looks at them, too. He includes interviews with various podcasters, a resource guide, and a simple glossary.
"Secrets of Podcasting" is divided into four chapters: podcasting basics, jumping in (finding podcasts and podcast players), creating a podcast (from script to finished product), and distributing the podcast (with a look at free or low-cost Web site packagers). The book's text is clearly and cleanly presented, and jargon is kept to a minimum -- though you will have to know about "Ogg Vorbis," a type of audio compression format that might one day replace the good old MP3 format. You need to learn this terminology because one day someone will ask a difficult question and you'll need to change the subject.
I should try that in my classroom. When my students ask me a toughy, I can just ask them, "But what about Ogg Vorbis?" My luck, one day I'll have a room full of podcasters. And they'll know!
Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2005 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.