In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, you’ve probably heard something about podcasting, a term coined by Adam Curry back in 2004. The name “podcasting” is actually a bit of a misnomer, as it implies something that might require owning an Apple iPod, but podcasting really refers to the process of publishing digital audio, accompanied by metadata expressed in RSS to syndicate the content so that software can automate the download of the content. Pointing such software at the podcast RSS feed and instructing it to download new content when it is published is known as “subscribing to the podcast” — the idea is that with an always-on broadband connection to the Internet, you could use podcast client software such as iPodder, which will periodically poll the various RSS feeds and “notice” when new content is available and download it. This way, when you want to listen to the content, rather than having to wait as it streams in real-time over the network, you can play it like any other digital media on your hard drive, since that’s exactly what iPodder will do, download the podcasts and store them on your hard drive. The logical next step is to then synchronize your portable music player, such as an iPod, with this newly downloaded content, so that you can listen to it wherever you like. This is presumably where the podcasting moniker came from — the idea that you could remotely broadcast content to an iPod, or podcast it. I’m not sure if the cuteness factor of the name outweighs the initial confusion it creates with folks new to the term, but I think the term is here to stay, so it’s better to just educate folks on what it means.
With the introduction of excellent software like iPodder, which is free software available for Windows, MacOS X and Linux, it’s become easy for the average user to subscribe to and enjoy podcasted content. But, what if you’d like to publish your own podcasts for others to listen to and enjoy? Well, the folks at Red Square have created Podifier, which is also free software, which simplifies the process of creating the RSS metadata which is used for syndicating the audio content — the software makes it easy to create your podcast feed. This solves half of the whole podcast publishing problem, the other half being finding a place to host both the audio content and podcast feed data. The typical free web hosting available is geared towards hosting HTML which is plain text and generally doesn’t require much bandwidth. Digital audio, on the other hand, requires much more bandwidth — so, your average free web hosting company may not be adequate for hosting your podcast. I see this niche as a great opportunity for companies, just like Flickr has gone after the digital image hosting space.
I hope you’ve found this explanation useful, and maybe you’ll check out a few podcasts or even publish your own!