Zune In To Podcasting

13Nov06

There are very few companies on planet Earth that can truly say they deserve ‘a second’ of our dwindling attention span. Microsoft and Apple are two such companies that fall into this exclusive group. And when you find these two corporate giants going head-to-head for market-share, it’s time to sit-up and pay attention. Apple got a head start in this market with the launch of the iPod. Yes, MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3, known better as MP3, has changed the way we listen to music today and spawned an industry that has put you, the consumer, in charge.

 Apple's iPod

Listening to an MP3 file is as easy as switching on your radio or, clicking a file on your PC or Mac. It’s this ease that has made MP3 a very popular format for consumers like us. But what Apple realized was, humans are actually creatures in constant motion and would never settle for sitting in one spot listening to music or a motivational tape. Their ‘light bulb’ moment led to the launch of a portable MP3 device called the iPod (though, credit has to be given to Sony for introducing this concept with its release of the Walkman). Today, the iPod has become a fashion statement for the young and trendy. If you don’t find it hanging round their necks as an accessory, you know it’s probably stashed away in their pockets somewhere.

Microsoft, who bore witness to Apple’s great strides in this market, plotted covetously for a piece of this pie; like Gargamel preying on the Smurfs. Zune – the latest offering by Microsoft is its ‘in-your-face’ reply to Apple. Or is it?

You see, the purpose of the long-winded introduction is to bring your attention to a burgeoning trend, known more familiarly as podcasting. The Diffusion Group predicted that podcasting will reach an audience of more than 56 million by the year 2010; this, within the U.S. alone. That’s like shooting fish in a barrel for advertisers. Apple foresaw this and quickly cornered the market with the iPod, so much so that the term podcasting has become synonymous with the iPod (podcasting =  iPod + broadcasting). This has much to do with Apple’s astute foresight, as it has to do with its brilliant marketing.

 Microsoft's Zune

Microsoft’s Zune (to be launched tomorrow) on the other hand, seems only capable of playing catch-up.  Because I’m not the sort who is overly concerned with looks (hence my taste in most things audio), hardware design is rarely a point of contention for me. What piques my interest in technology-based products is the ability to sustain current and future trends. Zune does not even come close in this aspect. You’ll understand why if you read Robert Scoble’s take on it.

A podcast, usually in MP3 format, is audio content that you can listen to on your Mac or PC or any portable MP3 player at your convenience. I say convenience because unlike radio, you determine what you want to listen to, how you want to listen to it, and above all, when you want to listen to it. This is made possible with a little help from RSS (a terminology you should already be well familiar with). Like a blog, where an aggregator fetches blog content that you specifically requested for –  by placing individual RSS feeds into it –  hence giving you the ability to read the content at your leisure at one location, a podcast works in exactly the same way. The only difference – you’re now listening to content instead of reading it. Groovy!

So How Do I Subscribe To A Podcast? 

The easiest method is as simple as visiting the podcaster’s website and listening to it there ( most podcasters offer the option of downloading an MP3 file directly to your computer). Alternatively, and the best method of course is to get hold of an aggregator (also known as a podcatcher)  and start subscribing to your favorite podcasting feeds.

Where Can I Download A Podcatcher?

Well, it seems almost obvious for what I’m about to tell you, but anyway, Apple does have a podcatcher. It’s called iTunes and it’s a free download for PCs as well as for Macs (goes without saying). Visit the iTunes download page, download the software and read the tutorial for a better grasp of getting the best out of it.

You’re now ready to start subscribing to podcasts. There is a podcast about practically any topic you can think of (yes, people really do have that much time on their hands). But if you’re not one of those who has time to spare, then you’ll want to separate the wheat from the chaff. You do this by visiting the more popular podcast directories like Podcast Alley and performing searches for subjects of your choice on Odeo, PodFeeder and Yahoo! Podcasts. Or, why not try searching Web 2.0 style with Pluggd. Here’s how TechCrunch describes Plugged:

Here’s how this new search will work. When users decide they only want to hear a part of a file concerning a given topic, they enter a search term. Pluggd then searches for instances of that term and related terms being used in the file. Relevance is displayed on the file timeline with a heat map, sections of the file most related to your term appear in red, less related in green and unrelated in blue. Hover over any relevant point on the timeline and you’ll see the terms used there that Pluggd determined were related to your search term.

Users can click to listen to the file at that point, or select another option to tag, describe and share a particular section of the file. Castro says the company aims to set that data free, not keep it trapped in Pluggd. All of this is being done first with audio, but the company intends to implement the same technology with video as well. Podzinger already uses speech recognition with podcasts but doesn’t offer the semantic analysis of terms related to your search query. Blinkx does something similar for video, but Pluggd is building on speech recognition and adding even more value to search results.”

(Source: TechCrunch)

Other podcatchers that may entice you, well, there’s ‘Yahoo! Podcasts‘, which doubles as a directory of popular podcasts. Though not technically a podcatcher, as it still requires iTunes for subscription or Yahoo’s very own ‘Yahoo! Music Jukebox‘,  it does come in handy for a quick glance of what piques your listening pleasure.

Just one more podcatcher that you should know; Juice. An open-source software, Juice (formerly iPodder) is one of the more popular podcatchers around. You’ll still need your default MP3 player on your computer to listen to your subscribed podcasts. So, the choice of podcatchers is entirely up to you. Play around with them and choose the one you’re most comfortable with.

Hey, This Podcasting Thingy Is Still All Gobbledygook To Me

Alrighty then, how about watching a few short albeit excellent videos that could paint a clearer picture for you? It’s free and all you gotta do is click on the links below to watch them on your browser (nothing to download). These videos are courtesy of Andy Wibbels (hope you don’t mind me sharing these videos with my readers, Andy), who has created an intensive course on podcasting:

  1. How Podcasting Works
  2. The Big Deal About Podcasting
  3. Downloading and installing iPodder (now called Juice)
  4. Getting Started With iPodder (now called Juice)

I may be overdoing it here but, how about a short demo on subscribing to a podcast from a website? 

Ok, let’s suppose you’re a news junkie. Reading the newspaper ain’t enough of a fix for you. You need something stronger. Radio might not cut it because to get the information you want, you’re at the mercy of the station’s programming schedule, not forgetting the advertisements you’ve to sit through. Or the DJ/host/presenter/news anchor just talks too much! Same goes for television.

Here’s where podcasts can come in. Go to CNN, U.S. edition (just one of many news sites that offer podcasts). Look for the podcast subscription’s link or logo (scroll down a little and you’ll find it).

 Screenshot 1

For the International edition, you can find the subscription link right at the bottom right corner of the web site.

Screenshot 2

Browse through the content offered.

 Screenshot 3

 

When you find something you like, click on either the iTunes  logo,  (this launches the feed directly into your iTunes) or, the ‘subscribe pod’ logo .

 This link will send you to a page which looks like this:

Screenshot 4

The rest is as easy as finding your podcatcher logo, clicking on that logo and you’re done.

If the podcast happens to carry ads, try using the forward button on your iPod, or whatever player you’re using (that’s the beauty of podcasting. You’re in control).

Of course, we’ve got the whole other matter of subscribing to a videocast. But the steps are similar to that of podcasts. So now, instead of just listening – you can listen and watch at the same time (oh right, I’m sure you already knew that, with a television in your home and all…hmm).  

In future posts, I’ll be writing about applications for podcasting in your business. How you could be the ‘Howard Stern of business radio’ and be profitable at the same time. Like blogs, proper tactical applications of new media will lead to a massive boost in your business growth. So stay Zuned or iTuned (had to sneak that in)….



3 Responses to “Zune In To Podcasting”

  1. this is a great writeup about the state of podcasting. thanks for mentioning pluggd. one of the most interesting parts you wrote was ” say convenience because unlike radio, you determine what you want to listen to, how you want to listen to it, and above all, when you want to listen to it.”. That’s the key. I’m a podcaster and thats what I stress to people.

    Have you checked out our HearHere technology? Would love to hear your feedback, because our goal with it is to let people further determine what they want to listen to.

  2. Thanks Drew for your kind words. It’s great to see you do the work you do. Checked out the ‘Best Damn Tech Show, Period’, and it’s awesome! That feed is definitely goin’ into my aggregator.

    “Radio as we know it is about to die,” gotta luv that Drew. Would throw in a couple more racier quotes from that particular episode, but I think I’ll just let Technopreneur readers watch it for themselves here —> http://www.bestdamntech.com/best-damn-tech-show-period-111306/

    HearHere is definitely an awesome technology, the kinda stuff that offers consumers and users the ability to get what they’re after. I’ve checked it out myself and it works exactly as it’s described on pluggd.

    I’ll be playing with it more and sending feedback from myself and Technopreneur readers if any.

    Search is one area where everyday users are having problems with. You guys at pluggd are on your way towards alleviating this problem.

    Keep up the great work Drew, and lookin’ forward to further developments with this.


  1. 1 Podcasting « ChalkTalk

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