Podcasting appears to be one of the more interesting developments in current culture and technology. It is one of the earliest nonbusiness representations of the value and power of XML (Extensible Markup Language). XML is subtly and quietly being used to link digital documents together, and more significantly, databases, much like the Internet itself linked individual computers into a global network.
The power of XML is yet to be fully recognized, but its expression in podcasting has far-reaching effects and consequences all by itself. Way beyond extending audio distribution over the Internet and providing relatively easy access for creative types to a global distribution channel, podcasting may alter and extend the distribution of content in ways never experienced before, having repercussions for political communication, social expression, and democracy itself.
Podcasting can be considered, in general, a melding of several elements: digital audio, weblogs, radio, Tivo-like recording/playing devices, and RSS (Really Simple Syndication). RSS is the protocol extending XML allowing creators to publish content to audiences who can easily subscribe and partake remotely in both space and time. It is much more than merely an alternative to conventional radio.
Given all of this asserted importance, the new book, "Podcasting Hacks: Tips & Tools for Blogging Out Loud" is perfectly timed to provide guidance on how to find, listen to, and subscribe to podcasts as well as how to create, publish, and market audio and video content. This is a comprehensive introduction to nearly all aspects of podcasting. It covers not only the technological elements but the content and creative elements as well. Much of the later material draws on analog sources like radio and television broadcasting. Many of the content elements are shared across the technology distinctions. Good interviewing techniques and content stylings, for example, are the same regardless of how produced and distributed. The major theme here is how to produce quality audio which can attract audiences via digital distribution over the now ubiquitous Internet.
The book has 11 chapters covering how to find podcasts, starting out in listening and creating podcasts, producing quality sound, using formats, interviewing, blogging, publicity, basic editing, advanced audio, mobility, and video blogging.
The main author is Jack D. Herrington, a software engineer and developer and technology writer and reviewer. There are 20 other contributors to the book, including journalists, multimedia consultants, radio and video producers, web editors, and podcasters themselves, particularly several who have popularized the medium.
The book has two main focuses - how to find and listen to podcasts and how to produce your own. The later focus consumes most of the book and deals with producing the best sound (with the lowest noise), producing interesting content, marketing, getting involved in the community, and even how to get your audio masterpieces into syndication.
Although this book is part of the venerable O'Reilly series of "Hacks", the 75 "hacks" contained here work more like captions for various sub topics under the podcasting rubric. The book is less a collection of individually-packaged solutions to discrete problems or issues, but a primer on the whole of podcasting.
The first two chapters provide a list of the best and most popular podcasts, and directions on how to search directories of podcasts on the web. Apple's iTunes software broadly popularized podcasting only a short while ago by including a built-in directory of podcasts in version 4.9 of iTunes. How to get and use the right podcaster for your interests is explained, as well as some recommendations of specific applications - iPodder gets good reviews. Hack #2 offers a perl script which allows one to aggregate and rebroadcast feeds from other sources. Hacks 3 & 4 also describe perl scripts to build your own podcasts and to import podcasts into iTunes, (both PC and Mac versions.)
Using perl scripts is not for everyone, but the content of this book is fairly broad, having interest and value for a wide range of technological types, from higher level geeks to the person who is only casually interested in this new technology and content. Throughout, when discussing common software applications, the authors pointedly cover each of the main platforms - Windows, Mac OSX, and Linux and both technical production and content. Hack 10, for instance. is a technological hack; it relates how to create your first podcast using the freeware, Audacity. Hack 11 is a content-related hack instructing how to produce the content of a podcast and how to understand the respective roles of producer, writer, engineer, host, editor, and performer.
Surprisingly, one can get started producing podcasts relatively easily using a very modest amount of hardware and a little software, including mostly freeware or modestly-priced applications. The authors go out of their way in many of the hacks to point out how to select and acquire production materials at low cost. They often recommend specific products and services making it as easy as possible for readers to believe they can actively participate in podcasting with relatively modest efforts and budget.
The segments on formats describes what a format is in terms of duration, structure, content, and production elements. Some of the many types of formats are itemized and described - news, story show, personal show, political, mystery science theatre, music, sports, technology, and news. The segments for each of these contains information on important sources for content, examples of use, and tips for producing content. Each type has its own strengths, limitations, and pitfalls. An overly enthusiastic personal show, for example, can get you fired from your job if your boss accesses and hears something he/she doesn't like. (It has happened more than once, according to news resources).
There is an enormous amount of material presented in this book with excellent attention to details. The audio theatre type of format, for example, includes an itemization of the structure of a typical show - the story, script, studio setup, performances (with directorial prompts), mixing and encoding audio, and even how to make your own sound effects. Hack 33 describes techniques professionals use in producing interviews - types of interviews, location considerations, preparing guests, interviewing techniques, using environment sound ambience, and even microphone techniques. A large handful of the contributors make reference to how to use microphones properly emphasizing the need to control wind, voice pops, environmental noises and the like. There is even guidance on training one's voice for audio (Hack #19).
Virtually every possible element of podcasting is noted in this book. Some other topics include: how to record telephone interviews, including Skype conversations (#34); how to podcast using blogs (with examples of HTML and XML coding); how to manage bandwidth (#39); how to use ID3 tags for your audio to facilitate searches (#40); how to market, connect with the community, and even how to make money while podcasting (#48-49).
More advanced topics are handled later in the book. Learn basic editing using the right audio tools in Hacks#50-58. Hack 61 details how to set up a home studio. A very interesting section tells how to be mobile while podcasting including making a small recording rig for travel as well as podcasting directly from your car while driving. (Sounds unsafe to me and illegal in some states, as noted by the authors). Other sections take up, directly and at length, the legalities of podcasting covering copyrights, libel, licensing, and more. An interesting explanation of "Creative Commons" licensing is contained in #67- 68. To cap it all off, there is a useful glossary of digital and analog audio terminology and an index.
As you might expect, given the presence of 21 contributors, not all hacks are as good as some, and there is considerable repetition of some elements, like microphone handling, production concepts, and others. However, these are small quibbles for such an information- packed volume of modest cost.