Podcasting - so amazingly fracking easy I couldn't believe it

My obsession du'jour is podcasts. I knew a little about how they worked, having looked it up way back when they first gained popularity, but I'd never tried to DO one to learn all the guts and gears.

At the most basic level, a podcast needs only a few things to work.

First is the 'thing' you want to podcast. This is usually an MP3 file (audio) or an MP4 file (video). Since most podcasts go through iTunes and these are the two file types that iTunes likes, I don't know if any other file types will work since I couldn't find any examples. But these two are excellent containers for information, so it doesn't really matter. Once you have the file, it needs to live somewhere, so you'll need to upload it somewhere to the Internet.

One note on that: it's vital to have a direct link to the file you want to podcast. Some services, like YouTube let you put the files on their servers, but they do not offer a direct link to the file. If you are able to download it at all, you might be offered a virtual link. The main difference is, a virtual link can and probably will change and does not work well for permanent linking. A direct link will not. It's hard to explain it without going into some great detail. Basically, if you're not paying for a file server service, you probably don't have a place to upload your files where you can directly link to them. There are exceptions and I will mention one below.

Second is a feed file. This is an XML file that defines your podcast (think "channel"), and the individual files you are offering (think "programs"). You can write your own, but there's a lot of information you'll need to gather and put in the right format for podcast readers to recognize.

Which brings me to the last thing you'll need, a podcast reader. The most famous of these is iTunes. (The term "podcast" comes from product iTunes was designed for, the iPod.) But there are other programs out there that allow you to use podcasts. What these programs do is read the feed file, recognize any "programs" in the "channel" and download them for you to use. The best ones will notice programs you've already used and delete them for you and make sure you don't download them again.

So, for example, you have an audio file named "pointlessramblings.mp3". (There are many programs you can use to create an MP3, just search for "audio recording software". You'll also need a microphone if you want to record your voice.) And say you want to broadcast it as "Really Important Information" on a podcast you'll name "Things In My Brain". You've already uploaded the file and you know where it is. In your feed file you're going to tell it the name of your "channel" and the name and location of your "program". You're going to put the feed file somewhere on the web as well. It can be in the same place as your mp3, but it doesn't have to be, it just needs to be in some place a podcast reader can "see" it. Then, everyone who wants to "tune in" to your podcast just needs to tell their podcast reader where your feed file is.

iTunes also gives you the ability to add your podcast to their directory. Think of it like iTunes has a TV Guide of all podcast channels, but you can tune in to any channel from there. I don't know what the rules are for getting your podcast listed, but it's not automatic. For other podcasts you have to know the web address of the feed file (the "channel" file, not the "program" channel). Every podcast reader is different, so consult your program's help for how to do this.

Easy, right? Well, OK, I didn't give you very great detail, but the basics are really easy! Now, let's make it even easier.

You can turn your Blogger blog into a podcast machine. You still need to have a "home" for your files, but you can link those files into your blog post, then use the feed from you blog as your "channel". I won't rehash all that here, you can follow these directions if you'd like to try.

But there's an even easier way! I have a couple of friends who do podcasts and they suggested Podbean.com. There are probably other services that do the same thing, but I haven't investigated them. Podbean lets you upload your file, automatically creates your feed file, and gives you the information to plug into a podcast reader. Bing. Bam. Boom. Done. Granted, the free service at Podbean does have limitations, but it's a good place to start for a newbie. Their paid services are reasonable and flexible and are good enough to please the professional podcaster.

So, that's it! Everything you ever wanted to know about podcasting! Wait... what? No it's not? OK then. In my next post I will give you a step by step in making your own podcast.