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Podcasts Explained; How To Understand The Roles of The Media, RSS Feed, Podcatcher or Aggregator, and The Podcast Directory

The Beauty Of Podcasting Is It's Simplicity, But We Do Need To Understand What's Going On Behind The Scenes...

You know the score, install Itunes, connect your Ipod, subscribe to a 'cast and you get all the new episodes easy as that. But how does it work? What goes into creating this seamless user experience? Lets take a look....

We'll start with the easy bit - the media files, the audio or video you watch / listen to on your Ipod, computer or mp3 player. This is the bit that you record on your PC, with your camcorder or with a portable sound recorder. Usually an mp3 file for audio podcasts, you will be creating this file, then uploading it to a server on the internet. The server is simply another computer which exists to "host" your podcast episode, or episodes, so it's available to anyone to download, 24/7. This website for example, although created on my pc, is "hosted" on a server so that you can read in in your internet browser whenever you want. You'll probably have to pay for this "hosting" - it's pretty cheap, about $10 a month max. You can't host your Podcast on your own PC because: 1) You turn it off; 2) Your Internet connection couldn't handle the amount of data being uploaded by your listeners.

Next is the Feed. Without this file your Podcast is just another audio or video file sitting on a server somewhere. The feed, or RSS Feed as it is sometimes called, is a file which describes your podcast, what it's about, and a list of the episodes, when they've been published, what they're about, and instructions on how to find them. The feed is a bit like the contents section at the beginning of a book, when you add another episode or show, you add its description and location to the feed, and your subscribers get an updated contents. New episodes are downloaded automatically. The feed is written in a special way, according to certain rules (xml if you must know), but it's easy, and some Podcast Hosting Companies will even build the feed for you. Your Podcast feed too has to be "hosted" somewhere, and again your Podcast host will probably handle this for you.

The rss feed is the thing that has made podcasting possible. It works like magic, telling subscribers to download the next episode, pointing them to where it is, and contains all the descriptions of your Podcast episodes. You can enhance your feed by using services such as Feedburner. These sit between your feed and the Podcatcher's and Podcast Directories, and offer added feature such as multi-podcatcher compatibility and comprehensive subscriber stats. If your Podcast Host is handling your feed, they'll normally have a stats package thrown in, so you don't need Feedburner.

The Podcatcher, or Aggregator, is the program that runs on your (or your subscribers) pc's. It checks your Podcasts RSS feed every day to see if any episodes have been added, and if so, it downloads them for you to listen to. If you've got an Ipod, Itunes (running on your pc), the Podcast bit of it, is your Podcatcher. You could use Google Reader, Podnova, Newsgator, Yahoo Reader, etc. In order to get your listeners or subscribers to download your podcasts, all you need to do is give them the address of your feed. You could do this by listing it on your website, emailing it to friends and family, or by using a :

Podcast Directory. These directories are simply lists of Podcasts, their details, descriptions and most importantly, the address of your Podcasts' RSS Feed. Users can browse through the different Podcasts and choose to subscribe to what they like the look of. When they click on the "subscribe" button, the address of the feed is given to your Podcatcher. Your Podcatcher then takes over, checking the feed and downloading the latest episode. The most popular Podcast Directory is the itunes store, but there are lots of others, such as Podcast Alley, Odeo, Yahoo, and many more. Once your Podcatcher has the address of the feed, it doesn't need the Podcaster Directory anymore, it just always looks straight at your feed to check for new episodes.


So you see, to make our Podcast we need to make our audio file and upload it to a server. Then we create the rss feed, and upload that too (or get our Podcast host to do it for us). Then we need to tell the Podcast Directories the address of our Feed so people can find it and subscribe. Then we create another episode, upload it, add its details to the feed - then the Podcast Directories will automatically list the new episode - and the Podcatcher's will download it too. Easy!


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