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Podcasting's Popularity Explained

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Podcasting's Popularity Explained

Digital Life

Podcasting's Popularity Explained

Podcasting's Popularity Explained

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Everybody's "podcasting" these days, from politicians to preachers to physicians. So what's the hype all about? Tech contributor Mario Armstrong fills us in on the trend.

ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon and this is NEWS AND NOTES.

A whole lot of people seem to be podcasting these days, but some are wondering, what's all the hype about? NPR's Farai Chideya got the scoop from NEWS AND NOTES tech contributor Mario Armstrong.

FARAI CHIDEYA reporting: What is a podcast?

MARIO ARMSTRONG (Tech Contributor): Okay, so a podcast is basically the practice of making audio files available online in a way that kind of allows software to automatically detect new files and download them. It's really just bringing audio files to the internet and allowing people to subscribe to those files, and when a new audio file is placed on that website, that can automatically be downloaded to the subscribing computer and onto their iPod or MP3 player.

CHIDEYA: So, it's kind of like a magazine subscription, but just with audio?

ARMSTRONG: That's exactly a great way of putting it. It's just like signing up for a magazine subscription except with this magazine, every time there is a new article as opposed to just a new magazine, you will be notified of that new article, and you can then listen to it at your leisure.

CHIDEYA: So, what kind of technology do you need to make use of this? What kind computer or what kind of internet connection?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Technically, this is very easy to do, which is why it's growing leaps and bounds. In Apple iTunes, they have their own podcast directory, and I believe right now they're up to about 20,000 podcasts. These are 20,000 shows essentially, and continues to keep counting. So it's very easy to do.

First off, the software is pretty much already on your computer. You need a microphone. You can buy a very el-cheapo microphone from your neighborhood electronics shop, plug that into your computer, and download a free audio editing software, like Audacity, which is a free tool that you can download and starting recording your voice or your interviews with people, or your thoughts, save that information; and then use what's called a pod posting type of program or a pod software program to upload that to the internet.

So you need an internet connection, you need a computer, and you need a microphone and audio editing software. But if you have those four elements, you are two or three clicks away from being set up.

CHIDEYA: Now, a lot of people have started blogs, and then they're like, wow, this takes too much time. I can't do this. I'm sure with podcasts it's the same thing. People start them, and then they get tired of it. Should you or shouldn't you have a podcast? How do you make up your mind about that?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: And herein lies the question. What makes a good podcasts? Because, trust me, there's enough junk that's out there if you just search any of these podcast directories from places like ipodder.org, or other places online that you can go to, podcasting news, and you can see all the varying degrees of different shows, programs where you have people that are just hanging out in their barn in the country life talking about their daily activities, all the way over to someone who is actually maybe giving you financial tips on how to save your money or pay for your son's college tuition or daughter's college tuition.

So it really runs the gamut which you're finding. Essentially though, Farai, what this allows people to do is if you have an interest about something, and even if only maybe 500 other people have an interest in that same something, you can now publish your thoughts to that. So it really all depends on what is your goal. Is your goal just because you have something that you want to share? Maybe you like to do storytelling; maybe you're big into audiobooks; sports coverage; cooking recipes; whatever you want to publish, you can, in fact, do that. So the key is will it be consistent, and will it continue on past this hype phase

CHIDEYA: Now, what if you are someone who has no desire to make a podcast. You just want to listen to something, whether it's, like you say, a special interest or a religious interest, a work training interest, and you don't even use your computer that much; you're not that savvy. Where should you start?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: I would start with iTunes, only because I think on the iTunes.com, they really spell it out very simply and easily if you want to publish podcasts, or if you just want to listen to podcasts. Their director is very easy. Unlike other websites, iTunes really has it mastered in terms of what specific content are you looking for.

So if you're interested in religious content, you can quickly find that. If you're interested in health related content, you can quickly find that. And then it walks you through the steps on how you would subscribe to that particular podcast, and then how you would access it through your MP3 player on your home computer.

CHIDEYA: Now, iTunes is a platform that was created by Apple Computer Company. Do you have to have an Apple computer to use it?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Great question. No. Podcasting works across all variations, everything from Windows to Linux to Apple. It really doesn't matter what type of operating system or what type of computer you use; you just need to have an MP3 player or not--you don't have to have an MP3 player to listen to a podcast.

CHIDEYA: Because you can just play it through your computer.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: You can just play it. It's an audio file that's been downloaded to your computer. Most people are choosing to then take that audio file that's been downloaded on the computer, have it sync up automatically to their MP3 player, so that when they commute or when they go work out, or when they travel about, they are doing what's called time shifting, being able to listen to content when they want to listen to it.

CHIDEYA: Final question for you. Do you have a podcast? Are you going to come up with a podcast?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: I do have a podcast. I better, as a digital guru. I'd better have a podcast, even if it's only just to stay up with the hype. It's called the Digital Café, and it can be found at wypr.org.

CHIDEYA: All right. NEWS AND NOTES tech expert, Mario Armstrong also covers technology for Baltimore area NPR stations WYPR and WEAA; and he podcasts, as well. Thanks for joining us, Mario.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Thank you, Farai. Have a great one.

GORDON: That was NPR's Farai Chideya. Just a note, you can download a podcast from our roundtable at our website at npr.org.

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