Adventures In Podcasting

Recently, I’ve been listening to a lot of different audio programs while programming at work. Apparently, I need a little change of pace from the usual music and radio programs that I listen to. Some of the streamed audio programs I’ve been catching up on include some from NPR: Brain Brew, Car Talk, and The Motley Fool. Often times I can’t catch these shows when they originally air, so it’s nice to be able to listen to them when I want.

One site I have only recently started to appreciate is called IT Conversations. This is an amazing site containing an archive of hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of hours of audio featuring interviews, presentations, and discussions with today’s leaders in information technology. Capturing the knowledge of all of these experts is a great venture, and IT Conversations is one way of doing it. The best part: It’s all free. They don’t even require you to register with a username and password. Awesome.

This leads me into Podcasting. Newsweek recently described Podcasting as TiVo for your iPod, which is a fairly accurate description. Basically, Podcasting allows people to subscribe to audio content in much the same way they can subscribe to web site content. Software on the person’s computer will check to see if new audio content is available. If so, it will download it and, in the case of the iPod , add it to an iTunes playlist so it will be automatically sent to the iPod when it is next synchronized.

Podcasting has really only been around for about two months, but I didn’t try it until just today. I use a news reader program called FeedDemon to aggregate and manage all of the web sites I frequently visit. Late last week, the creator released a beta version of FeedDemon that includes the ability to do Podcasting. The way it does it is surprisingly simple: FeedDemon will go out and fetch syndication feeds for all of the sites I request, and if that feed is acting as a so-called “enclosure” for an audio file, the program will display an attachment icon similar to what you would see in an email program. You can then read the description of the audio content and, if you are interested in hearing it, click on the attachment icon. At that point, FeedDemon will download the file and then add it to a special iTunes playlist called “FeedDemon Podcasts”. Then, when you plug your iPod in, it will get the new Podcast files and you’re free to listen to them whenever and where ever you want.

So far though, there is a lack of good content that is updated frequently. Right now, there are only four Podcasts that I can see myself listening to on a regular basis: IT Conversations (all of their audio content can be downloaded as a Podcast), .NET Rocks (I’m somewhat interested in learning about Microsoft’s .NET Framework), Engadget’s Podcast, and Leo Laporte’s radio show. I tried listening to some others, but they were, by and large, very boring. I think Podcasting is a great idea, and that it will eventually be as big as blogging, but I’d say it takes the right person behind the mike in order to make it work. Many of the Podcast pioneers are also bloggers, and while their writing skills are pretty good, I heard an awful lot of “ummm”‘s, “ahhhh”‘s, and other awkwardness in a lot of the Podcast’s I sampled. I’m not saying I’d be any better, because I’m sure I wouldn’t. I’m definitely a stronger writer than speaker, so for now at least, I’ll stick to blogging, thank you very much. I will keep my eye out for new Podcasts though, because as it catches on and as the software becomes easier to use, we should start to see better content. I just hope it doesn’t take too long…