RealTime IT News

Podcasting For The People

In just a year, blogging went from a preoccupation of the technorati to a mass medium. Podcasting is set to join it.

Podcasting is an audio version of RSS feeds, a way of publishing Web content with metadata that lets users subscribe and receive new files as they're posted. Using special software, users can download podcasts and play them back using desktop computer media players or portable MP3 players.

Users can listen to everything from professional newscasts to public domain novels read by amateurs. Odeo is a free beta service that makes it easy to subscribe to podcasts, while the iPodder project offers an open source podcast receiver.

In moves that will help move Podcasting into the mainstream. AOL recently announced the launch of Podcasting 101, a step-by-step guide to finding and listening to podcasts, as well as expanded programming on AOL Radio. It also began providing Podscope, a podcast search engine, through an agreement with TVEyes.

Blogging is already considered a mainstream activity, thanks to the free and relatively consumer-friendly tools provided by Web publishers including Ask Jeeves' Bloglines, Google's Blogger, MSN Spaces and Yahoo 360 and SixApart's TypePad.

Blogs took their place in mainstream culture in 2004, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project; about 8 million Internet users said they had created a blog.

But creating a podcast requires an array of skills from users who may not love to fiddle with hardware and software. A podcaster needs to reliably record sound, produce an audio program using audio editing software, encode it for syndication, and then upload it to a Web host.

Two new services aim to make podcasting as easy as blogging. For example, at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference last week, MixMeister Technology introduced Propaganda, a graphical software tool that lets users record, arrange and edit audio content, then publish it as a podcast.

"It's designed for people who have listened to podcasts and would like to get started but don't have a background in that," said Dave Sampson, MixMeister director of marketing and business development.

The $49.95 tool for Windows XP imports music, sound effects and recordings in MP3, WAV or WMA formats, and it comes with a small library of sound effects. Clicking the "publish" button uploads the audio to a Web site with full RSS, XML and HTML support.

Propaganda 1.1, which MixMeister expects to release this week, will include 90 days of free hosting by Liberated Syndication, a media distribution service for do-it-yourself publishers. Liberated Syndication offers four levels of inexpensive service, and it promises "podcasting in minutes."

A new podcast service from Conference Calls Unlimited lets people phone in their podcasts: Up to three users can participate in a conference call that's recorded and digitized by the company. For fees starting at $40, customers can choose to process the recording themselves or let Conference Calls Unlimited host and syndicate the podcast.

Nearly half of those bloggers do it as a form of self-therapy, according to an AOL study released on Friday. When it came to relieving real-life pressures or dealing with personal issues or tragedies, six times as many respondents preferred writing in their blogs or reading blogs written by others with similar problems to seeking professional counseling.

If those numbers hold true for podcasting as well, it will give new meaning to the phrase "talk it over."