Attack of the Pod People

Radio sucks. iPods are everywhere. So someone got the brilliant idea of bypassing the vast audio wasteland that is the radio dial nowadays, and broadcasting original content directly to people’s iPods.

Well, almost directly. The idea behind “podcasting” is brilliantly simple. We’ve already got a standard for syndicating text content on the Web, called “RSS” or “Really Simple Syndication”, that will display headlines and short summaries of stories on your computer. The idea is you subscribe to a bunch of these feeds, and then you only need to browse the headlines in your RSS reader. It allows you to keep current with all your favorite sites, without actually having to surf all them every day.

Podcasting takes this one step further. Content creators can encapsulate audio files into an RSS feed, which listeners can then subscribe to using a specialized bit of “iPodder” software. That program then continually checks those feeds, and downloads any new content to your computer, where it is automatically updated to your music management software, and then to your MP3 player.

The technique was first used with Apple’s iTunes software, specifically for downloading audio files to iPods. It has since expanded beyond that, and can now incorporate other Windows-based music managers too.

The Revolution Will Be Podcast

“Podcasting” appeals to me on several levels. First, I’ve made no secret of my distaste for the banalities of modern radio, so any alternatives to mainstream radio. Second, I already use my iPod to listen to Internet radio during my 2+ hour commute every day (primarily in the form of Mortality Radio, so this is just an evolution of what I’m already doing.

Third, one of the biggest challenges that internet radio has (aside from issues with licensing music) is reaching an audience. Podcasting offers people another way to promote their shows, hook new listeners, and — perhaps most importantly — keep those listeners hooked! Right now, if I want to listen to Mortality, I have to go to their sight, find the archives, find the most recent show, download and import it into iTunes. With podcasting, I’d just have to subscribe to their RSS feed (not that have such a feed, but if they did…)

And there’s the fact that this is all just so … damn … geeky. This is the way I love to see things coming together — a bunch of geeks who have an idea and then turn around and make it happen. It’s the same sort of spirit that lofted SpaceShipOne to its suborbital heights, albeit somewhat scaled down.

Of course, I say all this, and I haven’t even tried it yet — the mind is willing, but the body has too many deadlines. But eventually, once those deadlines have been met, I’ll be taking some time to sit down and tinker with podcasting. ‘Cause it’s just too cool not to.

If you’d like to learn more about podcasting, I suggest you check out iPodder, a site dedicated to the iPod, but with a particular emphasis on podcasting. I also recommend reading this entry on Doc Searls’ blog — it provides a good overview of the phenomenon, and discusses some of the shows you can find online

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