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Podcasts: subscribing and finding

Mushrooms on felled poplar at home, Falmouth, VA, USAThe term podcast, as  noun, comes from a contraction of the iPod and broadcast. Here’s the definition from the Oxford English Dictionary:

A digital recording of a broadcast, made available on the Internet for downloading to a computer or personal audio player.

2004 Cnet (Electronic text) 8 Oct., A network of bloggers is offering up ‘podcasts’{em}or pre-recorded Net radio shows that can be downloaded as a single file to an iPod. 2005 Wall St. Jrnl. (Central ed.) 16 Dec. B1/4 While most viewers stumble across vlogs while Web surfing, others find them on Apple Computer Inc.’s iTunes directory, which lists some vlogs, calling them video podcasts. 2008 C. PAHL Archit. Solutions for e-learning Syst. 81/1 Podcasts are architecturally unique in their relationship to e-learning, in large part because of the many different ways they can be employed. also has a useful definition:
Main Entry: podcast
Part of Speech: n
Definition: a Web-based audio broadcast via an RSS feed, accessed by subscription over the Internet
Example: There is a podcast directory of offerings.
Etymology: 2004; iPod + broadcast
Usage: computing

To listen to a podcast all you need is an mp3 player on your computer or digital device. If the podcast happens to be a video podcast then you’ll need to have some sort of media player installed to view it. These are all common on all modern computers/devices, so it is no hassle. But it is much more interesting to subscribe to a podcast, since most of the podcasts follow a regular publishing schedule. That way you can track the podcasts, select the ones to listen to, and usually see a brief summary of what a particular show or podcast is about. To subscribe toa podcast you need to download the necessary software to your computer or digital device. The software is called an aggregator or sometimes it is called a podcatcher. The two most popular of these is Juice and iTunes. The site Podcatcher Matrix provides a comparison of  iTunes and Juice.  To my way of thinking iTunes has an advantage because:

  1. iTunes naturally works well because it is brought to you by Apple,  the same people  who brought you the iPod. Rmember that podcast is a contraction of iPod and broadcast.
  2. iTunes includes a player so it’s all one piece, nothing extra to do.
  3. The iTunes store provides a decent interface to find podcasts. Don’t worry, it’s called a store because Apple would like you to buy music but you don’t have to buy anything to subscribe to a podcast.

If you use Juice then you have the advantage of using an open source project, and they are working on getting a version that works with Linux. But as long as you have an mp3 player on your computer/device then when you subscribe with Juice, the podcasts are played by the mp3 player. I’ve used iTunes for some time and it is my default audio player, so when I tried Juice the podcasts I ‘caught’ with Juice were played by iTunes.

Both iTunes and Juice have ample documentation about how to use them. Part of the reason for their popularity is their ease of use.

When you ‘catch’ a pod cast you are subscribing to an rss feed. That means you’ll be giving a URL to the podcatcher or aggregator to represent the podcast. Then the aggregator contacts the sight that hosts the feed, you get a list of podcasts to listen to and review, and the aggregator software keeps the list of podcasts up to date.  For example, the URL for the podcast  the NPR Business Story of the Day is

Searching for/Finding Podcasts

You’ll find podcasts on most sites that deal in broadcasts. For example: NPR, BBC, and CNN each have a portion of their site dedicated to podcasts.

The next places to look are search engines or search tools that specialize in podcasts. One that I especially like  is PodCastAlley because of its design and because  it provides lots of information about a podcast to help you decide whether you subscribe to it. In Web 2.0 fashion the site also lets registered users comment on and vote the podcasts listed. You can search by genre, most popular, or key word. If you are producing a podcast you can also submit the podcast to this site. The site is very nicely done.

iTunes also has a nice interface to searching for podcasts. After you install iTunes and register at the iTunes store  you are ready to go. Start iTunes, click on Store in the menu bar of iTunes, then select Search, and then select Podcasts from the drop-down menu you see after clicking on Power Search. At that point you can search by category, title, author, or description. Once search results are returned they are listed in order of popularity by number of subscribers. This too has a very useful interface. It doesn’t have a feature where users can comment or vote on a podcast.

I wrote this blog entry to help get my thoughts organized about this topic organized for inclusion in a chapter of the upcoming 5th Edition of Searching and Researching.

While you’re waiting, in case you are waiting, get yourself a copy of Searching & Researching on the Internet & World Wide Web, 4th Edition

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