Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Hear me?

`Podcasting' is what the buzz is all about. Tune in for some pleasurable news on the technology front.

HAVING outgrown his fame as the creator of the web logging service that was later bought by Google, Evan Williams is working these days to give finishing touches to his latest start-up Odeo.
Odeo intends to `humanise' the new Web-based broadcast medium known as podcasting.
For the uninitiated, podcasting is the latest promise for those addicted to Internet audio programming, but unable to catch up with their favourite shows or take the time to download them manually.
Podcasting spells added convenience as the audio content is sent directly to an iPod or portable MP3 player.
"Not only do these devices play it, but you don't have to put it there yourself... it happens automatically," says Adam Curry, the brain behind the first podcasting aggregator named iPodder.
Availing of audio feeds was never so easy: simply connect your MP3 player to the computer, go online, subscribe to the feeds (a la audio magazines) you want of the podcasting service and sit back for the audio content to be pushed from the original source to the reader or aggregator and then to you for your shot of aural pleasure at your own convenience. What's more, you don't even need to check for updates.
The term podcasting may well be a portmanteau of `iPod' and `broadcasting', but let that not mislead you into thinking that gadget from Apple is a prerequisite to use this technology.
Podcasting works just as well with any digital audio player or computer that can run an appropriate aggregator to convert podcasts for playback. And while most podcasts are MP3 audio as of now, a way out of common bandwidth constraints could lead us to video podcasts as well.
Think this could be your key to unlocking the universe of audio content? You're no longer alone.
For one, you've got company in Williams. Given the raging success of the blog phenomenon Williams kick-started a few years ago, his passion for podcasting could well be a sign of its potential when it goes mainstream.
According to Cark Franklin, the host of an online technology talk show, podcasting brings convenience of choice to Internet audio that was previously the preserve of digital video recorder users.
While it is true that most of the podcast content now available largely appeals only to geeks, easier technology looks poised to draw more people, even amateurs, into creating and disseminating audio content — on anything from weekly musings, music, travel and gardening to quilting, college hockey and even `sexcapades'.
Curry even sees traditional radio advertising models being applied to podcasting. That the radio has made a resounding comeback in most societies augurs well for this technology. Also, with regulatory complications shrouding radio spectrum and broadcast licences in most countries, podcasting is seen an easy alternative.
How else can podcasters like Walter Anaruk and Mark Cuebas, a Web developer and a waiter, record their podcasts on football and wine from the former's Palm Harbour garage without as much as shutting the garage doors? Or how can Michael Oster, a New Tampa sound engineer, take to the microphone with a pot of macaroni to describe a bobcat in his backyard?
It is therefore no surprise the Pew Internet and American Life Project reveals that nearly a third of the adults possessing iPod and MP3 player (half of them aged 18-28) have downloaded podcasts. Odeo's Williams associates this with the "democratisation of media."
Several radio stations, such as New York's WNYC, Boston's WGBH, Seattle's KOMO or Toronto's CBC Radio One - have already gone into the podcasting mode. Interestingly, the short segments of Internet programming being promoted by Al Gore and other prominent entrepreneurs in the US is called `Pods'.
Close on the heels of Viacom's Infinity Broadcasting announcing plans to convert a talk radio station in San Francisco to an all-podcast format, Sirius Satellite Radio is reported to be launching a podcast featuring a daily selection of its popular do-it-yourself programmes.
Even local radio stations such as the Santa Monica-based KCRW have started displaying their podcast availability. While the Heineken Beer Company is using a podcast to distribute DJ Daniele Divoli's interview for its Thirst DJ competition, students of music and foreign languages at the Duke University are using university-provided iPods to download shows and audio material from an internal Web site, instead of going to the library to listen to them.
For the moment though, it's Odeo that podcasting aficionados are eagerly awaiting. As a distribution and creation platform for audio content, Odeo, which will offer downloads in the MP3 and AAC formats, aims to "make it easier to discover, subscribe to and create podcasts" and make popular audio "more consumable."
According to Williams: "The discovery part includes Web-based aggregation of all the available audio content that we can find... The subscribe-to part allows people to get the content on an ongoing basis and synch it with their iPod or MP3 player. And the creation side involves various tools for publishing audio."
Now, why wouldn't we want to believe this is nothing short of a cultural breakthrough?
Picture by Parth Sanyal
The author is a freelance journalist and can be reached at by Harsh Kabra