Podcasting Essentials: Part I

I’m starting a new series around podcasting based on my experiences at Suicide Fan. It may be added to on an ongoing basis as I learn more and have more to share (rumor has it I’m going to get to talk to some folks at a prominent Silicon Valley podcasting company soon).

This entry will be mostly an overview and theory piece.

What is a Podcast?

Podcasting is a name that has been given to, what is best described as, audio blogging. Of course, a good podcast is complemented by a good blog for reasons that will become clear as this series continues. It is not a good idea to simply replace blogging with podcasting.

Podcasts in their simplest form are audio files. Usually they are MP3s, though they can be OGG, AAC or even WAVs. MP3 tends to be the preferred format due to their smaller filesize, portability and cross-platform nature. Podcasters who want to use advanced features and cater specifically to the iPod crowd, can create Extended Podcasts, which adds interactivity to the format, but doing so restricts the format to Apple’s protected AAC files (.m4a) and are only compatible with iPods themselves. If you’re just beginning with podcasting or are thinking of it, I recommend sticking with MP3.

Why Podcast?

Podcasting offers a couple of unique benefits over typical blogging. For one, it’s a change from the ordinary. Many readers don’t like change, but a healthy change of scenery now and then doesn’t hurt. If you plan on podcasting regularly (i.e. creating your own show), you probably should consider building a new audience on a new site with a new domain.

Secondly, podcasting caters to a special kind of audience – specifically, the mobile audience. Some of your audience may choose to use a podcast aggregator such as Juice, but more often than not, they prefer to be able to get their subscriptions on their iPod or MP3 player. In an increasingly busy society where multitasking is prime, having podcasts on MP3 players allow your audience to walk the dog, workout or even listen to the shows on their commute to work.

Thirdly, podcasting opens up a new medium of communication. I have long said that text sucks as a medium, yet ironically I blog mostly by writing. Exceptional writers can overcome the weakness of text, but for many the frustrations of not being able to communicate via intonation or other verbal communication builds a wall between them and their readers. Podcasting gives the chance for the podcaster to verbalize feelings and opinions and express themselves in ways that perhaps text wouldn’t.

How do I publish Podcasts?

There’s a completely different aspect of publishing podcasts that will be tackled in other entries – that is, the recording, editing and other technical parts of publishing. There are variations in mics and soundcards and software. Outside of those issues, if you can get your show into MP3 format and upload it to the server, then you can allow platforms like WordPress, which supports podcast “enclosures” by default, and podPress, a plugin for WordPress which makes WordPress support podcasts better do the work.

How do I subscribe to podcasts?

The simple answer is to use an RSS aggregator. The better solution is to use iTunes, particularly if you have an iPod. While I detail this further later, in iTunes, you can simply select Advanced > Subscribe to Podcast… and add the Podcast URL to the subscription list. In iTunes preferences, you can tweak how often iTunes will automatically go looking to see if you have published a new show. It’s pretty neat and a great way to keep people tuned into shows.

Other Parts in this Series