Broadband Expansion Spawns 'PodCasting'
As part of a holiday promotion, Verizon doubled the speed of my DSL connection, upping it to a blazing 3 Mbps. Ma Bell also threw in a free DSL modem with integrated WiFi router, all for less than $30 a month. My sizzling Powerbook hasn't looked back since!
Several years ago, when I got my first broadband connection at home, I was so blown away by being freed from the demons of 56K dial-up that connection speed was not a huge consideration. Now, with all the video and music I access online, Verizon's speed bump is the online version of moving to HDTV.
Video images are now rock-solid, without the jerkiness and fishbowl opaqueness that marked the early days of streaming media. And the sound--the choppiness is mostly gone. Now, audio quality is good enough to drive a decent home sound system.
My blazing new broadband connection also made me realize something else. I probably now watch more video online than I do on TV. I've been playing DVDs for several years on my computer, but in recent months--especially during the election season--I gradually chose the computer more often than the TV for news and information.
Like so many others, I'm gradually being sucked into the vast whirlwind of personalized media. Whether it be TiVo, video-on-demand or the 24/7 instant gratification of the Internet, it's hard to avoid being lured by the compelling idea of "anything you want" content on-demand.
With this trend, of course, comes extraordinary fragmentation in program production. Today, anyone with the energy and modest resources can create programs and distribute them to the world. No one ever promised that the Internet would guarantee quality content or ensure that its users had a modicum of talent.
Just as personal blogging is impacting major newspapers and broadcast news operations, now a newer form of even more targeted Internet technology has exploded onto the scene in an attempt to reach the hearts and minds of audiences. It's called "PodCasting," and some predict the day will come when it challenges traditional commercial broadcasters.
PodCasting is deceptively simple, as are most great ideas. Essentially, it's rooted in the syndicated content feeds delivered by the XML-based file format called RSS (Really Simple Syndication). Instead, however, of pushing text from a Web site to content aggregators, PodCasters send their content directly to the listener's Apple iPod or other MP3 audio player.
Yes, I said audio because that's how the PodCasting phenomenon has begun. However, there's nothing to prohibit it from evolving into video or other hybrid types of rich-media content. The idea is to directly "cast" programming, with a distribution middleman, from the creator to the end user.
According to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, the term "PodCasting" was coined by Ben Hammersley in his article, "Audible Revolution," in the Feb. 12, 2004, edition of The Guardian. The technique was made popular by former MTV video jockey and Dutch Weblogger Adam Curry's original script, called "Ipodder."
Combining the concepts of "broadcasting" and "Webcasting," PodCasting was an unintentional side effect of Apple's wildly popular iPod portable music player and iTunes desktop software. PodCasters added the capability for automatically downloading media files to RSS.
Originally, RSS gave Web sites and blogs a means to summarize or list new content added to the site. The addition of media file listings to RSS, and the addition of media file downloading to RSS feed readers opened the door.
Rather than being a push technology, PodCasting allows listeners to pull (download) the contents automatically. PodCasters publish files, often in the form of radio shows, to any individual who initiates a request through his or her subscription and automatic download of the program.
To make the system user-friendly, PodCasters can also publish descriptive data and metadata associated with a program. RSS files used in PodCasting can include dates, titles, descriptions and Web links.
A popular PodCasting application for the Macintosh is iPodderX ($19.95, http://ipodderx.com), written by August Trometer and Ray Slakinski. Most simply, iPodderX is a newsreader that reads RSS 2.0 feeds with enclosures.
It takes those enclosures--they can be audio, video, photos or any other file type--and automatically downloads them in the background. If the file is an audio file, it then moves it to iTunes for download to the user's iPod. Connect the iPod, and--within seconds--instant content!
If the user sets iPodderX to "Auto Check"--a pre-selected list of feeds--the application will automatically fetch the feeds, see if there is any new content, and download anything it doesn't already have. It will do this even when the application isn't running.
"It's aggregating audio content, but it's taking one extra step, in that it's putting it on your device," Adam Curry told Wired News. "Not only do these devices play it, but you don't have to put it there yourself. It just happens automatically."
With the explosion of portable media players on the market combined with the wide availability of high-speed broadband connectivity, it's easy to see how "PodCasting" can evolve if there's desirable programming to drive it.
I'll be curious just how long it takes before a major media company tries to co-opt the emerging technology.
For more on PodCasting, visit: http://audio.weblogs.com; www.ipodder.org ; Dave Winer's "Scripting News" at www.scripting.com ; Adam Curry's "Daily Source Code" at www.dailysourcecode.com ; and Dave Slusher's "Evil Genius Chronicles" at www.evilgeniuschronicles.org )
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Frank Beacham is an independent writer based in New York.