Podcast 102

Podcasts, part 2

Yesterday, we talked a bit about what podcasts are and where to find them. Today we’ll learn a little more about my favorite way to let my computer entertain me while I work and drive! Almost everything in podcasting is done in several different ways by different podcasters and services, so please excuse all the generalities in this article!

Let’s talk about how podcasts (or webcasts, netcasts, or ‘casts) are put together and how an RSS feed works. The major ‘cast directories (Podcast Alley, Odeo, and Podcast Pickle) all have links to How-to articles, but basically, the author of the show uses a microphone and headset (sometimes available in our Cool Gadgets section) to record the audio onto his or her computer. Some ‘casters prefer to leave the audio as unedited as possible, while others edit extensively before exporting the file in .mp3 format.

In either case, this .mp3 file is posted to a website where it can be downloaded by the listener. Some ‘casters use their blogging software’s file posting and RSS feed generation features. Some website hosting services also include these features.

That brings us to RSS feeds. “Really Simple Syndication” feeds are encoded in XML (a computer language like HTML). They usually include at least the title of the recently posted file, the name of the ‘caster, a brief description of the episode, and a link to the audio file and home page of the ‘cast. Then they send this feed to aggregators.

The listener subscribes to the show’s feed and then gets an alert in their feed aggregator whenever a new episode is available. You may already have an aggregator program and don’t know it, like Mozilla Thunderbird* (more on this in today’s feature) or the RSS section under My Yahoo*. If not, don’t worry. You can set up free accounts at most of the major podcast directories (Podcast Alley, Odeo, and Podcast Pickle)*.

Either way, when you open your aggregator or log into the directory of your choice, you’ll see a list of your feeds. You can specify where the new episodes will be saved to your PC. Like I said yesterday, dialup users may want to look at the size of the file before downloading. A typical ratio is around 1 Mb per minute. For that reason, you might want to make a practice of deleting old episodes.

Happy listening!

~ Chris Fisher

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