Technology

Feeding your brain

Podcasts deliver the latest of everything

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Too busy with class and studying to sit down and watch the news or keep up with your favouritehobby? Maybe it's time to investigate the burgeoning new medium of podcasting.

Podcasts are the public and pirate radio of the Internet. Anyone with a microphone, computer and Internet connection can produce their own podcast. Fortunately, the audience for podcasts has seen phenomenal growth beyond its humble roots. No longer is the range of subject matter limited to the geeky and salacious. News from around the world, updates on your neighbour's quest for the perfect potato and everything in between can be found in a podcast.

The nitty gritty

When the first podcasts began to appear on the Internet four years ago, downloading audio files from websites was not new, but the ability to easily subscribe to an audio program and have new episodes downloaded and delivered to your computer on a regular basis was a breakthrough. The technology behind podcasting is RSS, Really Simple Syndication, often represented by a small orange square on a webpage. RSS provides a content feed to browsers and other applications on your computer. RSS feeds can contain a variety of information, including headlines, article summaries and media files. Podcasts are RSS feeds containing audio files.

To subscribe to a podcast you need to register the feed with a piece of software called a podcatcher. Fortunately, Apple's ubiquitous iTunes software has offered podcatcher functionality since version 4.9 was released in late 2005. Another popular podcatcher is Juice (juicereceiver.sourceforge.net), which is free and runs on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. Adding a podcast is as simple as copying the feed's address into the podcatcher, in iTunes you paste the address into the "Subscribe to Podcast" dialogue under the Advanced menu. iTunes will even take care of moving new episodes to your iPod and deleting them after you've listened to them.

Building your playlist 

Both iTunes and Juice make it easy to find new podcasts by providing searchable directories. If you cannot find anything in the built-in listings there are a number of other useful sites including:

  • Directories such as the podcastpickle.com
  • Podcasting networks including mevio.com and twit.tv
  • Public broadcasters often provide podcasts of both regular and exclusive programming. Try searching for podcast on cbc.ca, bbc.co.uk and npr.com.

Settling on a regular line-up of podcasts to listen to on your MP3 player can be hard. Subscribe to too many and you will find yourself falling further and further behind. Too few and you won't have enough content to keep you entertained. When choosing podcasts consider how often new episodes are released and average episode length. Does your listening schedule include time each day for a new, hour long episode?

Paying the bills

Another major consideration for some listeners is how a podcast covers its costs. The bandwidth and storage space needed to provide new episodes to thousands or tens of thousands continue to fall in price, but are not free. Smaller, independent podcasters often cover these costs out of their own pockets, perhaps accepting donations through their websites. More popular podcasts, including many network members, sell advertising. CBC podcasts use this model, book ending each episode with advertisements for companies like Hewlett-Packard or General Motors. Other podcasts integrate ads into the content, similar to the "this program brought to you by" style of advertising popular in radio and television during the 1930s, '40s and '50s. If you can tolerate advertising, how much and what kind will be an important decision when building your playlist.

A third, growing category of podcast is those created and paid for entirely by organizations. Corporations, governments, political parties and many other groups are discovering the power of podcasting in getting their message across. Look for many of the candidates in the upcoming federal election to produce podcasts from the campaign trail.

Podcasts can give you a talk radio station in your pocket you program and broadcasts to match your schedule. Invest a little bit of effort in building a playlist then sit back and enjoy.'

From the editor's playlist

  • No Agenda- Global news, cynicism, paranoia, fine cuisine and the occasional nugget of brilliance. (noagenda.mevio.com, 1.5 hour episodes released weekly)
  • Quirks and Quarks- A rebroadcast of CBC Radio's national science show including exclusive bonus content. (cbc.ca/quirks, one hour episodes released weekly)
  • This Week in Tech- A review of the biggest stories in technology by industry veterans and Silicon Valley's movers and shakers. (twit.tv/twit, 1.5 hour episodes released weekly)
  • The JaK Attack- A less than regular podcast by a former Calgary couple now running a bed and breakfast in small town Nova Scotia. Fun and quirky with a tech twist. (thejakattack.libsyn.com, 30 to 60 minute episodes released on an irregular basis)
  • Lottalinuxlinks.com Podcast- Everything Linux and open source in a South Carolina accent. Motto is "Podcasting at 75 mph." (lottalinuxlinks.com/podcast, episodes are slightly less than an hour and are released on a weekly basis)
  • Inside PR- A podcast from Toronto with a panel of industry veterans discussing public relations, consulting and social media. Features 2008 Leacock Medal for Comedy winner Terry Fallis. (insidepr.ca, one hour episodes released weekly)
  • Radio Revolver- Dramas from the golden era of radio, digitally remastered for your listening pleasure. (jupiterbroadcasting.com/?cat=6, new episodes approximately an hour in length are released weekly)

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Comments

Thanks so much for the Inside PR plug. Great post on podcasting...