Bob Stepno's Other Journalism Weblog
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Podcasting & Video Blogging

See sections below for History & Context, Podcast Tools, Media Mentions

A quick definition: Podcasting is a method of offering listeners subscriptions to audio (or video) over the Internet through websites that offer amateur or professional programs as digital files. As the name suggests, "podcast" software also can put the downloaded shows on a listener's iPod or other portable audio player. Less-mobile listeners may do all the subscribing and listening on their computer. (Some people call receiving podcasts "podcatching," although the word seems as unnecessary as "radio-receiving" or "TV-ceiving," which we usually call "listening" and "watching.")

  • For the podcaster, podcasting is like having a personal broadcast transmitter.

  • For listeners, it's like having a free VCR or TiVo for audio or for Web video -- a way to listen or watch programs at any time. As a bonus, because podcast programs can download overnight, users are spared some of the network buffering problems of "streaming" live or archived programs.
Podcasting was popularized in 2004 by a handful of weblog software developers and bloggers, including two professional broadcasters on opposite sides of the Atlantic who had both found themselves blogging between radio and TV jobs. (More about them below.) Bloggers and software developers launched their own podcasts, adding a much more informal tone. While the idea of "Internet talk radio" was more than 10 years old in 2004, podcasting took advantage of more recent technologies: high-speed Internet connections suitable for downloading large files, digital music player software and devices, the ubiquitous MP3 audio format, weblog software, and the blog-inspired subscription format called  RSS (Really Simple Syndication). The popularity of the iPod music player, which inspired the "podcast" name, probably gave the concept a boost...  In turn, the independent developers' use of the "pod" syllable probably tempted Apple to look closely at the technology.

By mid-2005 most major newspapers had reported the phenomenon, thousands of podcast programs were being offered, and the stage was set for a commercial push. In June 2005, Apple (as journalists put it) "took podcasting mainstream" in the click of an mouse -- a year after those weblog-and-audio innovators created their hybrid medium and (oops?) adopted a name base on an Apple product. They should have seen (and probably did see) what would happen eventually:

"Apple Computer... has thrived by executing the same essential formula over and over: Find an exciting new technology whose complexity and cost keep it out of the average person's life. Streamline it, mainstream it, strip away the geeky options. Take the credit." (from The New York Times)

All Apple had to do
was make the "podcatching" part of its iTunes software, which already took care of transferring sound files to iPods. Some fans of the form, probably conscious of Apple waiting in the wings, had insisted almost from the beginning that the "pod" in "podcasting" was short for "personal online delivery" or something similar, not the name of the pocket-size Apple music player. But the ability to syncronize an iPod with downloaded music really was part of the inspiration for podcasting: The first "ipodder" programs were simple scripts that moved downloaded MP3 files from an RSS aggregator (Radio Userland) in-box to a playlist in iTunes, which already was designed to transfer its files to iPods.

More advanced ipodder-style programs developed in 2004 were their own RSS aggregators, but still relied on iTunes or other music-player software to load files onto portable players. Apple simply went the final yard, with a new version of iTunes that collected the RSS feeds itself. Apple added a podcast directory to its Music Store site, which was already on the iTunes menu -- immediately making itself a major "gatekeeper" for podcasts. And Apple posted instructions on how to build podcasts using Apple tools including Apple Garageband and Quicktime Pro. Before June 2005, podcast-receiving software, podcast directories, and podcast-production tools were all being developed by separate groups of programmers. Apple brought its well-known name and marketing into all three areas, and attracted millions of users.

Who is it for?
  • The "receive" side of podcasting ("podcatching" if you insist) is for anyone who wants something new to listen to, generally for free, or for people who would rather synchronize an iPod than synchronize their lives to broadcast station schedules.

  • The "send" side of podcasting is most useful for folks who plan to publish audio files regularly -- frustrated DJs or talk-show hosts, or people who are addicted to exploring new media. Public radio stations became "early adopters" of podcast technology, using it to reach listeners in cities that didn't carry a particular program, such as WGBH's Morning Stories and WNYC's On the Media, or who found both the fixed-time broadcast schedule and streaming-audio on a computer inconvenient.

Giving it a try myself...

As a user of Radio Userland, which collects "enclosures" from RSS feeds, and by being a regular at Harvard's blogger meetings with Dave Winer and Chris Lydon, I was listening to Lydon's proto-podcasts in September, 2003. It took me more than a year to get my microphones and camera set up to try a test podcast of my own. With  no time to think up or produce a regularly-scheduled program, I at least tried to help get the word out with some blog entries -- about defining podcasting, getting news by podcast, early podcast-style video bloggingthe pope and Paris Hilton getting into the act, and a with note inspired by Jeff Jarvis's line that "now the people own the broadcast tower."

My own first attempt at a podcast used a video file I'd stored online a couple of years before. I already had an RSS feed for my weblog, so I added an audio enclosure to a blog entry titled Podcasting for the non-geek. All I had to do was paste the address of the video clip into my usual weblog program, Radio Userland, which had been the first to offer the "enclosure" feature in RSS. I decided to identify any audio-carrying pages as a new "category" within my blog, which caused the program to generate a separate RSS feed.

When I posted the first weblog entry, the program created an XML file at this address:
http://radio.weblogs.com/0106327/categories/podcast/rss.xml

Later, I started another test podcast (and another RSS feed here:
http://radio.weblogs.com/0106327/categories/podfolk/rss.xml

(Without the "rss.xml" at the end, the address leads to a weblog page about my latest podcast item. After a brief trial, the "podfolk" feed became a mostly-text blog about folk music and related podcasts, which it will remain until I find time to add more audio. I also may use it to showcast photos of musicians that I took at folk festivals in the 1970s and 1980s.)

In either case, all an iPodder user has to do to subscribe is paste either address into iPodder's "add feed" box.

Getting a trial podcast feed online was ridiculously easy. The hard part would be finding time to offer interesting content often enoughfor anyone to bother to subscribe. (I started out by fantasizing about dangling a microphone from the end of my banjo, sitting on a Knoxville Market Square or World's Fair Park bench, and interviewing anyone who walked by and showed an interest. But I was either too shy or too busy; probably both.)

Onward

For more attempts at explaining podcasting, see the articles linked to the bottom of this page, as well as the "about" pages provided on most podcasters' websites or blogs -- often linked to an orange XML icon or one with the word "Podcast." WNYC, along with podcasting its On the Media and other radio programs, was among the first broadcasters to post its own short intro to podcasting. (Thanks to Dave Winer for pointing it out.) The page also linked to the Wikipedia podcasting page, which I've been keeping an eye on -- and have contributed to, off and on.

(Sidebar: Wikipedia is a special place... both accurate and inaccurate information comes and goes. At one point, I had written or edited about a third of that podcasting page, so it looked something like my own chronology below. The next time I looked, the contents had shifted. Maybe it's more up to date than this page is right now. There are a lot more hands helping, but some of those hands could be promoting their products or themselves. Moral for journalism students and the general public: Always corroborate "facts" before you pass them around. At least Wikipedia does let contributors include footnotes and Web links. When they do, check them out.)

History & Context

This list puts podcasting on a timeline with related phenomena...
  • Mid-1980s -- The Macintosh and the laser printer make amateur print publishing easy.
  • 1992-94 -- Publishing -- and multimedia -- come to the Internet. Tim Berners-Lee's invention, the World Wide Web, makes it easy to share text and pictures online. In October 1993 he talks about it on Carl Malamud's Geek of the Week show, a series of audio files on an server. Within a year, university radio stations like WXYC are figuring out ways to put live signals on the Web.
  • Late-1990s -- Weblog programs with hosting services and online Edit this Page editing make many-to-many text-and-pictures publishing even easier.Various streaming multimedia technologies spread to public radio, commercial radio, television, educational and business applications.

  • 1999-2000 -- RSS (Really Simple Syndication) adds a workable subscription model to Web publishing and survives having two approaches using the same abbreviation. RSS developer Dave Winer titles a blogging program Radio, even though audio isn't the point... yet.

  • 2001-2002 -- Winer adds the ability to attach large media files to RSS feeds in 2001, citing Adam Curry as his inspiration. Userland Radio, his company's combination blog-editor and RSS-aggregator program, adds the ability to send and receive attachments. Blogging, audioblogging and RSS pick up steam.

  • 2003 -- In Canada, educational technologist Stephen Downes uses RSS aggregation to collect audio files for his Ed Radio project. Winer brings blogging to Harvard's Berkman Center, where one of his colleagues, former NPR talkshow host Christopher Lydon, uses his blog to offer downloadable audio interviews, large (10 megabyte or more) MP3 files. After a few months, Winer creates a special RSS feed for the Chris Lydon interviews, which are very professional chats about blogging, culture and presidential campaign politics. In October, Winer organizes a BloggerCon gathering at Harvard, where Adam Curry and Lydon meet. Curry, who had experimented with attachments in the past, becomes a Lydon fan and loads his iPod with Lydon's MP3 enclosures. He and various programmers, including Kevin Marks and Werner Vogels, experiment with an audio feed Curry calls SyncPod and scripts to automate the Web-to-iTunes-to-iPod process.
  • 2004 -- Ben Hammersly of the Guardian interviews Lydon and gives podcasting its name. Winer posts audio files while blogging the Democratic National Convention in Boston. He and Curry create a podcast of their transatlantic conversations, called "Trade Secrets." Curry inspires & promotes programs (e.g., iPodder) that not only subscribe to and download audio attachments, but also transfer them to MP3 player software or hardware. Another Berkman regular, Andrew Grumet, at first distracted by experiments with BitTorrent, eventually joins the open-source team writing iPodder Lemon, later renamed Juice -- presumably to get out of the way of Apple lawyers. Feedburner lets bloggers and others add podcasts to their RSS feeds. Other software, directories and resources appear, including podcastcentral.compodcastalley.com, podcastdirectory.com.
  • 2005 -- Fans of video bloggers, who have been sharing downloadable movies for a couple of years, get their own ipodder-like subscription software, ANT, created by friends of the Rocketboom video blog team. Meanwhile podcasting-for-profit becomes a goal for many. A few broadcasters charge for their podcast feeds; others solicit advertising.  Curry and Lydon try different approaches to incorporating podcasting into radio programs. In a burst of enthusiastic hyperbole, GarageBand.com begins offering a Podcast Garageband Studio, telling readers, "All you need to do next is field calls from radio stations offering you a job." Apple announces an iPodder-like function for iTunes, then it not only delivers, it adds its own directory of thousands of free podcasts at its online music store, along with tutorials on how to create podcasts with Apple tools. Venture capital firms shortly discover podcasting, and developments get increasingly difficult to keep up with... which is why this article fades out here.

  • For more recent developments, see Wikipedia's podcasting page, but cautiously check its "history" tab for any recent "who did what first" debates or signs of vandalism. (Follow page links to corroborating information.)  Example: After their initial collaboration, Winer and Curry went their separate ways as podcasting evangelists, Curry forming a commercial company without Winer. Partisans in their disputes, or people who just like to fan the flames, have been known to "rewrite history" at Wikipedia. And fans (or operators) of various podcasts and  services appear on the Wikipedia page from time to time, adding promotional links, which other Wikipedians usually remove before long.
    • Meanwhile, if you see any errors on this page, drop me a line.

Create Your Own Podcast: Tools & Techniques

How to record a podcast, by Glenn Fleishman (Macintosh)
How to: Podcasting, by Philip Torrone (engadget.com)
Mac Applications & Setups at podcasters.org

Windows Applications & Setups at podcasters.org
How to create your own podcast show on Windows, by Zef Hemel
Mixcast Live, tool for Windows

Feedburner tool for converting feeds to handle enclosures
Info on Podcastamatic and more tools from Robin Good

Audioblogging
blog includes built-in player.

How to videoblog (Windows)
How to videoblog (Macintosh, Steve Garfield)
Videoblogging.info "how-to" pages
ANT videoblog feed reader
Mefeedia videoblog feed reader

News Media Coverage of Podcasting & Video blogs

PBS NewsHour (Feb. 23, 2005)
New York Times
       on podcasts (Oct. 28, 2004) (Dec. 16, 2004) (Feb. 19, 2005 & sidebar)
                           (May 12, 2005) (Oct. 30, 2005)
       on video (Feb. 25, 2005)
       on Odeo startup (Feb. 28, 2005)
USA Today (Feb. 8, 2005)
Boston Globe (Feb. 28, 2005)

Wired (March 2005)
Techsoup (May 2005)
BBC (April 2005) (May 2005) (How-To for BBC trial podcasts)

Most recent update here, Dec. 5, 2005.

 


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© Copyright 2007 Bob Stepno.
Last update: 8/6/07; 12:03:51 PM.