Vast Active Library and Information Science blog. From a recent library science graduate in Wellington, New Zealand. A focus on reference and current awareness tools and issues, especially free, web-based resources.

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Saturday, August 13, 2005
Trying to grok podcasts  
[Which turns into the story of how I found out a few things about podcasting, where I looked, and what I still need to know].

I can tell that something that formerly appealed only to techies has reached the mainstream when my non-library/non-techie friends start talking about it. With podcasting, that point was reached all at once last week when three friends, seperately, mentioned podcasts. That indicated to me that I really needed to make an effort to understand the concept.

I'd never been much interested in podcasts, for several reasons. I don't take in information well aurally. I've tested as being a kinesthetic learner, rather than visual or aural. I prefer making sense of things myself, by trial and error, rather than learning by listening to someone else (which made school a riot, I can tell you - luckily most of my teachers figured they could just leave me alone). Added to that, I'm partially deaf (the hearing aid is on its way, eventually - the good thing about a public health system is that treatment is free - the bad thing is that it's incredibly slow). And finally, I don't have a portable media player, or speakers on my work PC. So my only time to listen to podcasts is at home.

Still, I thought I'd better at least try to understand them (partially because an iPod or equivalent is on my Christmas list, even if I have to buy it myself, and partially because I figure it's just something I need to know).

So the process. First stop was Wikipedia's podcasting page (with the number of geeks on Wikipedia, they should understand podcasting, right?). Which answered a few questions I had (notably one of my friends had indicated that podcasting used radio waves, which I was sure was incorrect, but didn't have any evidence to back myself up. I was right. Podcasting is the transfer of audio or video files over the internet. It uses RSS to aggregate and syndicate the files, and make them available to listeners using feed-readers.

So far so good. I understand RSS, blogs and readers, obviously. The Wikipedia article had links to some sources of feeds. I checked out, a source of independent music feeds. I grabbed a couple of likely looking feeds and subscribed in Bloglines. I hit Apple's iTunes podcasting page, billed as a clearing house for huge numbers of quality feeds. It was disappointing as it only allows subscriptions through the iTunes store - which isn't available in New Zealand yet.

I now have three feeds in Bloglines. I've been trying for the last few days to play them, without any luck at all. I click on the 'link' or 'enclosure' links provided with the item, and if I'm lucky it opens Quicktime, which plays about a three second fragment of the song, and nothing else. If I'm unlucky, it crashes my web browser. I've tried saving files to my hard drive, but then I can't get them to play in either Windows Media Player or iTunes. I don't think I'm an idiot, but I can't get this working for the life of me.