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What is a Podcast?

Facts and Myths About Podcasts

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I've Posted my MP3, Isn't That a Podcast?

A podcast is not simply a link to an MP3 file that your customers can download off your Web page. While it is certainly possible for someone to listen to your recording on their iPod or other MP3 player, just putting the MP3 up does not make it a podcast.

What is a Podcast?

A podcast is an MP3 or other audio file delivered off a Web site via an RSS feed.

Let's break it down. Podcast is derived from the terms "iPod" and "broadcast". It is attributed to the original creators of podcasting who used iPods to listen to their RSS broadcasts. Then Apple added an RSS reader to the iTunes software, making it simple for anyone with an iPod to subscribe and listen to podcasts. All you need to know is the URL of the RSS or XML.

Subscriptions to Podcasts?

Unlike radio, you can listen to MP3 files at any time. However, podcasts combine the ability to subscribe to a Web site and learn about any new additions immediately with the MP3 downloads. So, unlike radio, when you sign up for a podcast, you can listen to either older editions of the podcast, or you can wait until the author creates and uploads a new one. You then set up your iPod to check periodically for updates. When a new podcast recording is available, iTunes downloads automatically.

How Often do Podcasts Update?

Podcasts can update as often as the author has time to make a recording. For example, some of the podcasts I subscribe to only update once a month or so. While others update daily and sometimes more often than that.

Why Should I Use RSS For My Podcast?

Disregarding the fact that if you don't use RSS for your podcast, you're not actually podcasting, using RSS has other advantages as well:

  • RSS allows you to update your listeners automatically whenever you add a new recording to your site
  • RSS is easy to use, and once you understand the tags, you can edit it in simple text editors
  • Most blogging software programs automatically write the RSS for you, and many have added the podcasting tags for connecting to iTunes as well.
  • Setting up a subscription encourages people to come back to your site. Whenever they notice there's a new podcast in their iTunes they are reminded of your site and have the opportunity to return.

Is Podcasting for Everyone?

There is a growing concern that podcasting is becoming "too commercial". That big industry is now moving into the podcasting space and is going to push out the "little guy". While this may be true, the reality is that a lot of the sites that offer podcasts probably shouldn't. Here are some tips to know if you should avoid using podcasts, at least at the moment:

  • You don't have decent recording equipment.
    I'm not saying you should have a sound-stage and recording studio to create a good podcast. But recordings that are scratchy and hard to hear or understand are annoying, and most people will unsubscribe from them.

  • You don't have interesting subject matter
    Some of the most boring podcasts available are where people simply read the articles they wrote into a microphone. While this could be considered more accessible, as it allows visually impaired people to listen to your site, in practice it tends to just be boring. Also, not every topic is well suited to podcasting. For example, I don't think you'll ever hear my voice on a podcast on this site, as Web Design and HTML really don't lend themselves to the medium.

  • You don't have a lot to say
    While I do have a subscription to a podcast that only updates monthly, in general this is a bit sparse. If you're not going to update at least once every couple of weeks, your customers will forget why they subscribed in the first place.

  • You're just podcasting because "everyone else is doing it"
    Podcasting is an interesting idea, but putting up a podcast just to be part of the pack is silly. Chances are no one but your mother will subscribe, and she'll unsubscribe a week later.

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