What It Is
Podcasting is a way of publishing MP3 audio files on the Web so they can be downloaded onto computers or portable listening devices, such as iPods or other MP3 players. Podcasting allows users to subscribe to a feed of new audio files using "podcatching" software (a type of aggregator), which periodically checks for and downloads new audio files automatically. Any digital audio player or computer with audio-playing software can play podcasts. Users can also download podcasts to their desktop computer. The benefit of podcasts is that users can listen to them whenever they want.
"Podcasting" is a word that combines the words "broadcasting" and "iPod." The term can be misleading since neither podcasting nor listening to podcasts requires an iPod or any portable music player.
Why It’s Important
- Web users are finding podcasts (as well as RSS feeds) to be a very efficient method of keeping up with current news that interests them.
- Millions of Americans own iPods or MP3 players and have downloaded podcasts from the Web so that they could listen to audio files at a time of their choosing.
- More and more government agencies are using podcasts as a quick and easy way to distribute audio as an addition to existing text.
- It’s another way to increase awareness of government information.
- Adopting new communication channels leads to better communication with the public.
- The process for developing a podcast is relatively simple and inexpensive.
As you can see, there are many benefits to using podcasts. However, as with other technology, you need to offer alternative means to view the material if the technology is not widely available or accessible.
Specific Policy, Legal, or Other Requirements for Doing This
There are no specific requirements for government agencies to use podcasts. Podcasts are an emerging technology that agencies can consider as an alternative way to quickly deliver news and information.
How to Implement
Creating a podcast is not very difficult. But you’ll need some specialized software before you get started. Here are the steps to place a podcast on your website:
Determine the content
- First, you need to figure out what type of content will be most effective and relevant to your audience via a podcast. When selecting content for a podcast, make sure it’s something that will be updated on a somewhat regular basis.
- This is important because users subscribe to podcasts to download the latest entry every time the broadcast is updated. If a topic doesn’t get updated frequently (such as information that is only updated annually), a podcast may not be the best way to get that information to users.
Find recording software
- You’ll need software that will let you record the audio from the microphone onto your computer, and save it as an MP3 file. Alternatively, you can take existing audio files and convert them to MP3 format or extract audio from existing video and convert it to MP3 format. MP3 is a very compressed audio format that is common on the Web. Almost all podcasts are presented as MP3 files; however, it is not strictly required.
- There are many software packages to help you record audio files onto your computer. One good freeware multi-platform software is Audacity.
If you do use Audacity, you should also download LAME, a freeware MP3 encoder. It will let you save your audio files in MP3 format from within Audacity. See directions on how to download LAME.
Create the audio file
To record audio files onto your computer, you will need:
- a computer with a sound card and a microphone
- software that will let you record the audio onto your comupter, as explained above; alternatively, software that lets you convert existing audio to MP3 format
Create the podcast feed
Once you’ve recorded the podcast, you’ll need to create an RSS feed.
Use Common Terminology
There’s not yet a standard convention for displaying or naming podcast pages. Currently, government and commercial websites use different icons to display podcast links.
The benefit of using standard URLs and common terminology is that it helps the public find information and services across government websites.
Use Common URLs
There’s not yet a standard URL naming convention for podcast pages or a standard way of displaying links to podcast pages. However, many sites use “agencyname.gov/podcast” as a standard URL.
(See our disclaimer for non-government links)
- The Podcast page at Wikipedia offers extensive resources on podcasts, including a detailed definition and history.
- Pew Internet and American Life Project report on podcasts—August 2008 report that details how the public is using podcasts.
- iTunes music store podcast publication information—Apple has a page on special elements you can add to your podcast RSS source file to make it more usable on Apple iTunes.
- Feedburner podcasting service —One way to track subscription stats for podcasts.