Podcast Services Help Users Connect With New Content
As podcasts morph from the latest craze into a permanent presence in cyberspace, services are springing up to help users seek out their favorite downloads. Listeners can catch podcasts on the Web as streaming programs or subscribe to every issue in an ongoing series by using a podcast client (also called a podcatcher) such as iTunes or iPodder. Podcast clients use RSS, a syndication format for aggregating updates to podcasts, to "catch" podcasts as they become available.
"If you can't find a show you like, you can, fairly easily, create your own show," said Elisabeth Lewin, publisher of PodcastingNews.com, which offers tutorials on how to use services like Blogger or Feedburner to create and host podcasts. Sites like iPodder.org and iTunes.com are podcast clients that allow users to subscribe to every version of a specific podcast. Via these clients, each production of a show is automatically downloaded to a users’ hard drive or media player.
iPodder.org has a podcast directory organized by genre as well as its own list of updated podcast feeds. Categories include animals, beer, finance, golf, hacking, medicine, gadgets, poetry, and tequila.
Apple's iTunes.com music store allows user to first search for--and sample--various podcasts. On the left of the page is a list of the day’s Top Podcasts. To make the search a bit easier, podcasts are divided by genre--such as food, family, and talk radio. Popular podcasts on iTunes include “News Hour with Jim Lehrer,” the CNN News Update, and ESPN Radio. The site also has music videos, movie trailers, and audio books. The cost is generally minimal--and sometimes free.
Microsoft has also jumped on the podcasting bandwagon. "Microsoft believes RSS is key to how people will use the Internet in the future, including how they discover and consume audio and video content," said Kevin Unangst, director, Windows Digital Media at Microsoft. “"We’ve enhanced our WMPlugins.com site with podcasting tools and information."
Microsoft has announced plans to integrate support for RSS throughout the Windows Vista operating system. "This will make creating, viewing, and subscribing to content of all types, including podcasts, easier for users," says Unangst. Microsoft is also working with companies like Doppler to ensure it can take advantage of the open architecture in Windows Media Player for its podcast applications.
Moving forward, podcasting will evolve thanks to ongoing experimentation by content creators. “That’s what’s happening now,” said Ted Schadler of Forrester Research, a technology and market research company. According to Schadler, there will also be disillusionment with podcasts--people may discover that the thrill wears off and they don’t have time to listen to them. "Then there will be value-driven adoption, where consumers find and regularly listen to things that they truly value and can’t get any other way," he said.
Lewin, of PodcastingNews.com, believes podcasting will keep growing until broadcasters look at podcasting first and radio as an afterthought. "Podcasts can make money from Internet distribution in addition to radio distribution," she said.
Anything can be recorded through podcasts, which may draw some red flags. The FCC does not regulate podcasts and some material that comes through may be offensive. Some observers believe podcasting is a vehicle for free speech and unlikely to be regulated.
“With podcasts, the notion of political free speech is clear: Podcasts, like blogs, are a powerful and global distribution network for political commentary," said Forrester's Schadler.
Understandably, this is a contentious issue. In August, Pod Show Inc., launched the PodSafe Music Network. An independent online community, PodSafe Music Network connects artists, podcasters, and users in an environment where music can be used royalty-free and free of restrictions imposed by the recording industry.
How long podcasting remains free of FCC oversight and the long arm of the recording industry and other interests remains to be seen.
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