Podcasting is catching on and spreading like wildfire. But what the heck is it? Well, the best way to explain podcasting is to start with a little story: imagine a radio station that plays whatever you want to listen to, whenever you want to hear it.
One with no advertising and no annoying deejays. One you could listen to at home or on the go. Oh, and by the way, one that’s absolutely free. How cool would that be?
Podcasting is very cool indeed. A “podcast” is a little radio show, usually recorded by someone just like you and me, and saved as an MP3 file. You can listen to podcasts on your computer, or download them to your iPod (or other portable device) to take with you.
There were upwards of 8,000 podcasts in existence as of mid-2005, with new ones being born every day. You can find podcasts about nearly any topic you like: astronomy, current events, knitting, Frank Sinatra, religion, technology, running a small business, and so on. A great many podcasts also focus on playing independent music by unsigned bands. It’s an incredible DIY universe.
In order to get you properly addicted, let’s get you started listening to some podcasts. If your computer can play mp3 files (and most can), you’re in business. If yours can’t, just download a free program like Real Player.
Now, visit some podcast directories and find some podcasts that interest you. Podcast Alley is the mac-daddy of the directories these days, but you may find Podcast Pickle and Podcasting News a bit easier to navigate. And by the end of July, Apple’s iTunes will also contain a directory of podcasts.
When you find a podcast you’d like to hear, just locate the button on the site marked “listen,” give it a click, and the show will play right on your computer.
Spend some time listening to various podcasts. It’s a different experience than radio, because podcasts are made by hobbyists rather than professionals. Podcasts are not perfect – you’ll hear people cough, or flub a word, or say “um...” a lot. But podcasting is unique and personal, and listening to people’s podcasts makes you feel delightfully connected to the human community. This connection tends to overshadow any little audio flaws.
When you find a few podcasts you really love, you can subscribe to them the same way you subscribe to people’s blogs. That way, every time the podcaster records a new show, you’ll be notified automatically.
To subscribe to a podcast, you’ll need two things: the “feed URL” for the podcast, and an “aggregator” of some kind. Let’s explain those separately.
A “feed” is an internet broadcasting tool. All podcasts (and blogs, too) have a feed of some kind. You may be familiar with the terms RSS, or XML, or Atom – and if you’re not, it’s not a big deal. These are just different types of feeds. They all work the same way: they bring you the freshest content from any website or podcast you’ve subscribed to.
A feed looks just like a web address -- hence the name, “feed URL.”
Here’s a sample one: http://www.slackerastronomy.org/slack-live.xml
To subscribe to this feed, you’d also need an “aggregator.” This is simply a software program that reads updates from all the feeds you subscribe to. You can download plenty of free ones – iPodder is simple to use if you’re new to podcasting. If you already have an account on Bloglines to help you keep up with your favorite blogs, you can also use it to subscribe to podcast feeds. And if you have iTunes, stay tuned for their new podcast aggregator, coming in July.
So, subscribing is just a matter of taking that feed URL and pasting it into your aggregator program. Voila! You’ve subscribed to a podcast! Now every time you use your aggregator to check the feed, you’ll get the most updated shows from that podcast.
After you’ve been listening for a bit, you just might get the urge to make your own podcast. And good for you! It’s easy to do, and it’s easy to get the tools you need. While this part of the article might sound a little techie, just take it step-by-step and you’ll be podcasting in no time.
First, check to see if your computer has an internal microphone. (Most models built after 2000 tend to have one.) If not, you’ll need to figure out how to connect a microphone to your computer. Now all you need is some recording software. I recommend downloading Audacity, a free and easy-to-use program that will record and mix your audio, and then convert it to MP3.
Great, now you’re ready to get busy recording! There’s no right or wrong way to make a podcast. You can make your show sound like anything you want. The only guideline I’ll offer you is this: give some thought to how much time you want to spend on your podcast on an ongoing basis. If you decide to make a daily podcast, you can be sure it will take over a big part of your life. A weekly or monthly podcast gives you more lead time. I produce a podcast every week, and they generally take about four hours each, including research, writing the material, recording, and mixing the audio. But podcasts can also be biweekly, or monthly, or just “whenever you feel like it.” That’s the beauty of podcasting--there are no rules.
You can add music to your podcast if you like-–just remember that playing RIAA-licensed music in your podcast is illegal. Instead, visit GarageBand.com for a whole slew of “podsafe” tunes you can use. Or, if you or your friends have a band, this is a great way to gain some exposure.
When you’ve recorded your podcast and converted it to MP3, it’s time to share it with the world. You’ll want to list it on several podcast directories so people can find and listen to it. In order to do that, you’ll need to create your own feed.
It’s very easy to make a feed. Just go to Feedburner.com and set up a free account. Feedburner will then give you your very own feed URL. (Another nifty thing about Feedburner is that they track the number of subscribers your podcast has, so you can tell how many people are listening.)
Once you have a feed, you’ll need a server to host your MP3 files. Don’t worry, this is much easier than it sounds. Just go to OurMedia.org, and sign up for a free account. You can now upload your podcasts to the OurMedia archive, where they’ll be hosted for free and the world can access them.
Now you can go to several podcast directories and submit your podcast. (Again, Podcast Alley, Podcast Pickle, and Podcasting News are good ones.) Most of the directory sites will ask for your feed URL, your email address, and a short description of your podcast. Then, they do a quick check to make sure your feed is working properly, and then notify you when your listing is completed.
Keep in mind, too, that if you already have a blog, you can post your podcasts as blog entries. This is nice to do, because it allows you to write some “show notes” for your podcasts. Show notes are usually a little summary of what the podcast it about, plus links to any websites you might have mentioned in the show. If you don’t have a blog, you might want to start one for your podcast. With your free account on OurMedia.org, you also get a free blog -- how easy is that?
If you get stuck anywhere along the way, you can always visit the forums on Podcasting News or OurMedia.org to ask questions and get help from experienced podcasters. The podcasting community is very friendly and very tech-savvy, so you’re bound to find good help.
Once you’ve listed your podcast, congratulations! The world will be able to listen to your shows, and subscribe to your feed. The only other thing there is for you to do now is this: participate in the community! If you like a podcast, be sure to let the creator know, and be sure to tell your friends about it. One of the nicest things about being part of the podcasting community is making friends with other people who make media--that and saving the world from corporatized media, one podcast at a time.