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Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Open up your favorite dictionary of modern communications terms and pencil the word "podcasting" into the margin between "poco a poco" (which means "little by little" in musical directions) and "podium," which is not far from "political communication." (While you're at it, add the new word "ipodder" next to "iPod," if Apple's portable audio device is already in your lexicon.)

Little by little, technologies have come together to make it possible for you to create not only your own online newspaper (if that's the kind of blog you want), but your own radio station.

Just ask Adam Curry, a radio and TV pro who has been weblogging almost forever, and Chris Lydon, formerly a National Public Radio talk show host, now a man of many blogs -- including BoPnews (short for The Blogging of the President: 2004).

Dave Winer, a catalyst for both Curry's and Lydon's blogs, has written and promoted programs and protocols for weblogging through a company he started, Userland Software, and his blog, Both Curry and Lydon have used Winer's blogging tools, which also create Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds. Now Winer and Curry are making fascinating use of a new wrinkle...

To most people an RSS feed is the technology that lets webloggers quote each other, or subscribe to headlines from the New York Times and other content. To that mix, Winer and Curry added the idea of multimedia "attachments" -- which means RSS reader programs can be programmed to not only download headlines and blog items, but 40 megabyte MP3 files, timing the download for early-morning hours when network loads are lower.

As a result, not only are Curry and Winer posting individual daily "shows," they are now collaborating on "Trade Secrets," a two-man talk show minus the radio -- they chat using Internet audio, with Curry in Belgium and Winer in Seattle, or wherever his travels take him. Topics range from presidential politics to baseball. Unlike radio broadcasters, trapped by set time slots and FCC regulations, these guys don't watch the clock (or their language) -- one day's feed might be 36 minutes, the next 66.

Meanwhile, Curry has brought together a team of open-source programmers to build iPodder, a free program that not only downloads an audio feed overnight, but moves it into Apple's iTunes (on Windows or OS-X), where it can autosync into the owner's iPod in time for the morning commute or trip to the gym.

Curry's is a new blog listing the latest "podcasts" coming from around the globe, from tech-geek talk shows to music and humor. The site also has a history of the podcasting phenomenon, and a growing directory of producers.

Audio on the Internet isn't new -- I remember Carl Malamud's "Geek of the Week" interview program from 11 years ago, but back then I rarely had access to a computer that could handle a network connection and play audio at the same time. Now my laptop does it all, with a wireless connection anywhere on campus and at two of my favorite restaurants... and the iPod is an audio computer in my shirt pocket! (Hey, would someone please convert Carl's old GotW programs to MP3 and add an RSS feed? It would be great to have all that network history in my iPod, including an early interview with Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the Web.)

Another audio-online pioneer is Roger McGuinn. (Old folkies may remember him as Jim McGuinn, leader of the folk-rock band, the Byrds.) He started singing a song a month into his computer about nine years ago. Among other things, folk songs are free of copyright hassles. Now Roger has added a podcast to this "global community service" through UNC's iBiblio, which I'll be watching for more poddish developments. After all, it's the home of the Internet Poetry Archive, and the real Paul Jones is on the case.

I've been meaning to blog about podcasting for weeks, but finally cleared a few minutes today -- just in time to see Dave's post reminding us of the dozens of top-quality interviews Chris Lydon has posted at his Harvard site over the past year. With his site and others, if you don't have iPodder or an iPod, you can still listen to individual interviews online or download them with a Web browser.

Dave also posted the news that another public radio vet is podcasting -- Jon Gordon's Future Tense. His site includes a succinct definition: "A podcast is a talk or music radio show that's sent directly to an iPod or other digital music player through your computer. It's a new take on the growing technology called RSS that pushes text-based Web content to computers. But with podcasting, a listener subscribes to audio feeds."

Maybe I'll get my banjo in tune one of these weeks and give it a try myself. I've always wanted to see whether I could play "Arkansas Traveler" and read a news report at the same time.

Happy listening... to the future.
updated oct 21

3:07:06 PM    comment []

Why do people go online looking for political information? Where do they go?

I have some ideas on the subject, but my colleague Barbara Kaye at UT Knoxville and her research partner at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale are trying to be scientific about it.

They conduct an annual online survey that examines the motivations for accessing the Web, weblogs, chat rooms, bulletin boards and other Internet resources for political information. (The survey has been approved by the University of Tennessee institutional review board and is being conducted for academic purposes only.)

Knowing that I do not say much about politics here, Barb thought my blog might be a way to reach a few readers (and bloggers) who have broader interests than just politics, such as, say, the Berkman Center bloggers.

So here's Barb, explaining what she'd like:
"We are specifically looking for individuals who connect to online political information to fill out our survey. We are wondering if it would be possible for you to link to our survey. All we are asking is for an icon that directs your readers to the survey URL.

"Your help would be greatly appreciated and we would be more than willing to share our findings with you."

The survey takes about 20 minutes to complete.

Survey URL:

11:39:58 AM    comment []

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