Jacques' HappyBlog

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Podcasts - What are they?

Podcasting is a new web-based broadcast medium. Audio files (most commonly in MP3 format) are made available online in a way that allows software (aggregators) to automatically detect the availability of new files (generally via RSS), and download the files for listening at the user's convenience.

The word podcasting is a portmanteau of the words iPod and broadcasting. A podcast is like an audio magazine subscription: a subscriber receives regular audio programs delivered via the internet, and can listen to them at their leisure.

Podcasts differ from traditional internet audio in two important ways. In the past, listeners have had to either tune in to web radio on a schedule, or they have had to search for and download individual files from webpages. Podcasts are much easier to get. They can be listened to at any time because a copy is on the listener's computer or portable music player (hence the "pod" in "podcasting"), and they are automatically delivered to subscribers, so no active downloading is required.

Podcasting is functionally similar to the use of timeshift-capable digital video recorders (DVRs), such as TiVo, which let users record and store television programs for later viewing. They can also be delivered to properly equipped Pocket PCs and Smartphones.

To best enjoy podcasts, you need an aggregator such as iPodder which works as follows. You subscribe to a set of feeds, and then can easily view the new audio files from all of the feeds together, or each feed separately. But now, instead of reading the new content on a computer screen, you listen to the new content on your own computer or on a portable hardware player such like the iPod or an other mp3 player. Think of your player with podcasting as having a set of subscriptions that are checked regularly for updates.

If you wonder what they sound like, here is a podcast of a NASA story titled Picking on Einstein.
You can listen to it via streaming audio at http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2005/images/gamma/audio/story.m3u
or you can download the mp3 file at
or you can also read the story the old fashioned way at

But if you want to do it the new way with this new Podcast technology, download your own free copy of iPodder from their download website. Install it, run it and select podcasts from its extensive lists and you are on your way. It is a clean program, small and free of spyware or addware. I have used it for several weeks now and I just love it.

I listen to my podcasts on my $149 MP3 player, the MuVo TX FM from Creative Labs. It has 1 GB of flash memory, enough for 32 hours of audio. Other mp3 players with less memory start at $39. iPods from Apple start at $99 and go up to $449.

Happy Podding.


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