Revolution or evolution?

Hype aside, MP3 players - from mobile phones to the iconic iPod - are actually kind of cool. I mean, here we have stylish and compact critters with snowballing capacities that let us store contacts, everyday-files like Word documents and most of all, hours of our own hand-picked music.

With so many tunes at our finger tips (let alone other modern digital distractions and gadgets), some tech-savvy audiences - especially the younger crowd - may be starting to tune out of regular broadcast radio, increasingly perceived as bland or overly commercial.

But what alternatives are there to hear music or discussion that still surprises and inspires? Some­where for niche sounds we've not already found, searched for, or heard before?

There's no doubting community radio stations continue to play an important role in providing diverse content and there's also streaming Internet radio, as I've covered in this column previously - but quality streams can require a bit of bandwidth. Satellite radio is also interesting, but usually isn't free. Well, MP3 player connoisseurs can now add Podcasts to the list.

Podcasts explained

Although pre-recorded, Podcasts are largely just like regular radio programs. They can showcase music, talk or anything in-between. Although video is a future possibility, distribution is currently via MP3 files.

Shows can be obtained manually or with free Podcasting software that automatically retrieves the latest editions of shows using RSS feeds (for more on RSS, flick forward to page 124). Put simply, using Podcast software is sort of like setting your VCR to record your favourite TV shows each week automatically.

Because Podcasts are down­loaded to your PC and not just streamed over the Internet, you're able to transfer shows to your portable MP3 player for fresh, commercial-free (in the main) content wherever and whenever you like.

Hot... or hype?

Podcasting is the brainchild of former MTV presenter, Adam Curry and software developer/Web log evangelist Dave Winer. It's a continuation of the momentum fostered originally by Web logs (blogs) and later, MP3/audio/radio blogs.

All are prime examples of how the Internet is changing the way we access the media and more personalised and opinionated information as a whole. We're moving away from solely relying on traditional means. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, so long as we continue to question details and seek trusted sources that are balanced, objective, credible, accountable and experienced.

Podcasts are often low-budget productions with a distinct DIY flavour - like many an Internet radio stream or even old fashioned pirate radio. There are thousands of different Podcasts with varying quality (and legality) of content.

Podcasting isn't regulated - anyone can create one to say or play anything - so it probably won't be long until we see a new string of copyright lawsuits.

Interestingly, there are intentions to find commercial applications to Podcasting, using the wider audience that the Internet offers to make a business model out of delivering niche content. For example, The Podcasting Network is funded by sponsorship or advertising and seeks to address quality concerns for the several shows its production team manages. And in reality, the mainstream isn't going anywhere just yet.

Triple M and 2Day are developing ways to deliver content to MP3 players via the PC and even directly to mobile phones (see here). Nova has also stated it should trial Podcasting later this year. Expect interviews, recorded concerts and other extras.

Elsewhere, ABC's dig radio and Triple J's Dr Karl (science), Hack (current affairs) and 30 years of Triple J shows are all available now as edited Podcasts. Stan Correy of Radio National's Background Briefing show has also produced a fantastic audio report on Podcasting. See Starting out.

Casting off

Here's how to get started using iPodder (http://ipodder.sourceforge.net), a free Podcast receiver avail­able for Linux, Mac OS X and Win­dows. Version 2.0 (in final beta stages at the time of writing) will be completed soon, so check the Web site before you install versions 1.1 or the 2.0rc3 beta from the cover CD.

iPodder 2.0 has four main tabs: Downloads, Subscriptions, Podcast directory and Cleanup. The Download tab is where you can monitor the status of Podcasts you've opted to retrieve from under the Subscriptions tab - where you'll spend most of your time.

You'll find that the Subscriptions tab (screen shot) is separated into upper and lower window panes. The upper area lists Podcasts that you've subscribed to, while the bottom displays the various episodes available to download. To get an episode: tick it and click the green check for new Podcasts icon. When it's downloaded, you'll be able to right-click on it and press Play file.

However, you'll need to subscribe to a Podcast in the first place. The green plus icon allows you to add in Podcast addresses (often ending with .xml).

Alternatively, you can just click on the Podcast directory tab and browse through some of the most popular Podcasts available!

Next month I'll be looking at using effects to improve the quality of audio in video, and voice recordings - perfect if you're interested in creating your own Podcast. See you then. n

STARTING OUT

Here are some feeds to get you started:
Computerworld Live
www.computerworld.com.au/live
Triple J's various Podcasts
www.abc.net.au/triplej/hack/podcast
ABC Radio dig Podcast
http://abc.net.au/dig/podcast/default.htm
G'day World and tech Podcasts
www.thepodcastnetwork.com
Adam Curry's Daily Source Code
www.dailysourcecode.com
Podcast directories
www.ipodder.org
www.digitalpodcast.com
www.podcastcentral.com

JOIN THE iPARTY!

iPod ShuffleWhat on earth is an iParty you ask? Well, it's all the rage in the States and they've made their way onto our humble shores. iParties involve registering to play songs off your own iPod to a nightclub crowd. There's even a regular event called MiTunes in Sydney, see ww.onthefly.com.au/mitunes.htm for more details. Then there's also iPod-to-iPod swapping. The wireless technology behind the idea is still quite new, but it's likely to become the latest craze in file sharing. The two concepts are bound to mix - if you've got a friend into LAN gaming, except to be invited to an iPod music swapping party soon. In the meantime, there's a bevy of iPod accessories to improve your digital lifestyle reviewed in the feature starting on page 30.

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Danny Allen

PC World
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