Podcasting: a Podcast Aggregating Technology Choices available for media professionals

The growth of podcasting is tied closely to the technology that drives it. This is not to say that bad content can succeed (after all, unwatchably bad content is still unwatchable). But podcasting offers an audience options that make watching your programs convenient. In this day and age, there is no shortage of content, but making good content easier to acquire and consume increases the likelihood it will be watched. Podcasting technology ensures that finding and downloading programs is easy, and that the fi les are broadly compatible with several playback devices. Below i highlight some of the key podcasting technology that today’s media professional should know;

Using a Podcast Aggregator
In order to make podcasts easier to find and consume, most people choose to use a podcast aggregator. An aggregator can be a stand-alone software application or a website. Consumers use podcast aggregators to browse podcasts that they are interested in. The podcasts can then be subscribed to for consumption of future episodes.

An aggregator automates their process of checking for new content. The users specify how often their aggregator should check for new content: check every fi ve minutes, check every hour, check once a day, and so on. Once new content is found, the user can also specify what should happen. An aggregator can download everything that’s new, download the latest episode, or simply inform the user that new content is available. If a user wants to consume video podcasts, a broadband Internet connection is very desirable. While a podcast can be consumed over dial-up, dial-up is a very slow way to pull down large fi les. There are podcasting software solutions for Windows, Mac, and Linux users.
Aggregators can also be content-management systems. For example, users can manage their podcasts using Apple’s iTunes or Microsoft’s Zune software. They can choose which episodes to sync with their portable players as well as how to handle old content (such as automatically deleting previously watched episodes to save hard drive space).

Apple iTunes
platform solution for podcasts. It began its life as a simple MP3 player, fi rst introduced in January 2001 at the MacWorld Expo (nearly a year before the iPod was revealed). The player has evolved into handling everything from music and audio books to internet radio and podcasts. The application also ties directly into the iTunes Store, which is the number one marketplace for both digital music and podcasts.
The iTunes application is available as a free download. It works on Mac OS X, Windows XP, and Windows Vista. Many people install the application for its integration with Apple’s iPod and iPhone product lines. Still, people choose to use it on its own for its flexibility and convenience.
With the latest releases of iTunes, Apple has added support for podcasting. Users can choose to manually enter an RSS feed to subscribe to a podcast or they can browse the iTunes Store. Apple’s podcast directory in the iTunes Store is the largest available, and most podcasts see the bulk of their subscriptions coming from this source.
Sony Media Manager for PSP
While the Sony PlayStation  Portable (PSP) (www.sonycreativesoftware.com) is thought of first and foremost as a gaming system, it has several options for playing back video assets. Sony enabled content to be viewed via UMD discs, but only commercially produced titles are available this way. To allow for broader content, Sony enabled podcasts to be transferred to the device. Additionally, the PSP includes a wireless Internet connection and a web browser. These tools allow the PSP to actually subscribe to podcasts and have them download directly to the device.
Microsoft Zune Marketplace
The Microsoft Zune player (www.zune.net) is designed to be an alternative to Apple’s iPod. As such, it has a few features that were not standard on the iPod line, such as an FM tuner and a web connection. Over time, these features were added to the iPod. At its original launch though, the Zune lacked what other portable media players had: support for video podcasts.
In late 2007, Microsoft updated the Zune player line, as well as their software and marketplace. Support for MPEG-4 video is now native (previously, video podcasts had to be converted to a Windows only format). The store has a much smaller collection of podcasts to choose from (launching with just 1000 podcasts at its start). But over time new shows have been added. Podcasters can suggest their own shows to the Zune editorial team through a link on the podcast home page.

Adobe Media Player
The Adobe Media Player (www.adobe.com) is an evolution in podcast aggregators. The tool was designed from the ground up to enable end users to view Flash video content in more convenient ways (including offline viewing).
In late 2007, Flash evolved to be able to play H.264 encoded video as well. This significantly broadened the capabilities of the Adobe Media Player which launched in the Spring of 2008. The program offers fairly standard features similar to those of other podcasting aggregators, including the ability to catalog and search for shows. The Adobe Media Player supports RSS, which allows subscriptions and automatic download of content. Where the player becomes unique is in its customization. The player offers advertising or branding space, which allows graphical content to be preloaded into the player. New graphics can also be dynamically loaded. This opens up options for both internal uses for corporations and broader advertising solutions. The player also supports significantly more powerful measurement tools that can offer statistics to the podcaster about viewership habits and consumption.

Miro Podcast Player
The Miro podcast player (www.getmiro.com) evolved from a previous product called the Democracy Player. The player software is unique in its broad support for platforms. Besides supporting Windows and Mac, the software runs on several versions of Linux, including Ubuntu and Fedora. Miro is well suited for several types of online video because it can play MPEG, QuickTime, AVI, H.264, Divx, Windows Media, and Flash video. The software is an open source project, which means it has been developed by several programmers in an open-access model, as defi ned by the Open Source Initiative (www.opensource.org). Like other podcatching software, Miro supports the use of playlists and RSS subscriptions. You can also group your content and organize your shows, setting them to expire if you want to manage your hard drive usage. The tool is quite elegant and offers an open source option to those who shy away from the larger manufacturers. Most importantly, Miro is the link that brings podcasting to other platforms besides Mac and Windows. The software has also been localized to more than 40 languages, which makes it a popular tool outside of the English-speaking world.

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