It is widely believed that the podcast came into being with the iPod. Not entirely true, but not entirely untrue either. Podcasting has been around since before the Internet, but back then it was used primarily for educational purposes and was distributed through different media such as television, radio and CDs.
As with the radio, the word podcasting refers to the content and the medium. You don’t necessarily need an iPod (or any portable audio device) to listen to podcasts. A computer is sufficient.
So what is a podcast?
Imagine you and I have a conversation and we record it. The conversation was interesting and we decide to share it with others. We simply make the recording available to whoever is interested.
Then, we have another conversation that’s even more interesting, and want to share that as well. But, how do we ensure that at least the same group that heard our last recording listens to this one as well? If the first one was distributed using an RSS (really simple syndication) feed, we can ensure they get the second one too.
We upload the audio file to a web server and, in an XML (extensible markup language) file, refer (link) to this audio file. Users interested in listening to both the files and other instalments need to add this file to their audio players such as iTunes or even an RSS reader. So, when we put in our second and third conversations, they are notified of it as soon as it becomes available and they just need to click to listen.
To sum up, a podcast is an episodic audio show that listeners can subscribe to and be informed of as soon as a new one is available.
Creating your own podcast
You need the following equipment:
• A microphone to record audio: This could also be the inbuilt microphone on your computer.
• Software to mix and encode the audio: The files you finally release should be in MP3 or WMA (windows media audio) format since these two are played back on almost all computers.
• Space to upload your audio to: It can be either your own web server or one of the many free services that allow hosting of files. You must have the direct URL for the file since you will need to point to that in your XML.
• The XML to be written and made available on your site: Ensure that the location of the XML is permanent. An XML normally looks like any other URL with the terms RSS/XML at the end. So, if you change your URL, the XML may also be affected and your listeners may lose out.
Of course, there are some more fine points one needs to consider, such as the size of the file, the audio quality and how much additional sound effects would add to the file size. A good way to start is by circulating your podcasts among friends and taking feedback.
What is the real purpose of a podcast?
It can be a good addition to your blog or site and can offer interesting ways of offering your readers new and fresh content. After you have created your podcast, it is important to popularize it.
This can be a daunting task. Submitting your podcast to podcast aggregators such as iTunes, Yahoo or iPodder.org is a start. You can just search for one of the many directories and submit your podcast. Popularity is now just a holler away.
Better sound or smaller files?
This can be a tough decision. While you would want listeners to have the best experience when they listen to you, remember that most of them may well be using slow connections, and downloading or streaming your podcast may prove troublesome. It’s always best to let everyone listen easily even if it’s not the best quality.
A 44kHz, 16-bit stereo is a good setting and would work on most connections. You can always create an original higher-quality podcast and save it for later.