How to Set Up Podcasting and Vodcasting

There are various forms of web syndication available to web site owners. The syndicated distribution of media is known as Podcasting. In this article we will focus on delivering different audio and video (sometimes called Vodcasting) media to your subscribers.

At its most basic level, a Podcast or Vodcast is simply an RSS feed.  Users can subscribe to your feed through any of the standard RSS methods including news aggregators and readers and browser plug-ins such as Live Bookmarks.

To begin, you first need to determine what media you wish to present to your subscribers.  Your audio and video clips can be original music and videos, presentations, instructional videos and tutorials, or any other form of media in which your subscribers would be interested.

Keep in mind that Podcasting and Vodcasting were originally designed for use on portable media devices such as Apple’s iPod.  You should format your media accordingly and I’ll discuss that later in this article.  But that doesn’t mean that you are limited to those devices, it simply means that you need to make sure your subscribers know what they’re getting.

The first step in this process is to get your media into the correct format.  Many news aggregators such as Apple’s free iTunes and the open-source Democracy Player support many different playback formats.  However, if you want to be compatible with the highest number of readers and devices you should stick to the standards.

The most popular format for audio distribution is MP3 and the most popular video format is MP4.  If you have a direct audience, you could easily distribute AVI, Flash, or any other file type using the same methods I will be presenting to you.

{mospagebreak title=Preparing your media files}

In this section, I am going to demonstrate a couple of easy ways to create media files.  If you already have media files that you would like to distribute, you can skip the next section.

If you’re interested in creating audio files you first need to find an audio creation program.  There are very good commercial products available such as Adobe Audition that have very powerful audio creation and editing abilities.  If you’re not interested in a commercial solution I suggest taking a look at Audacity, a free, open-source cross-platform sound editor.

In either case, these programs are able to record live audio from different MIDI sources.  Simply record your audio, make any necessary edits, and save.  Both Audition and Audacity support saving directly to MP3 format.

For video creation you’ll most likely want to do some sort of video recording.  There are plenty of software solutions to choose from like TechSmith’s Camtasia Studio.  If you are creating instructional videos or tutorials I highly recommend using Adobe Captivate.  Of course, if free is your preferred price then you might want to take a look at BoByte’s AviTricks and AviScreen.

Nearly every video creator/editor that I’m aware of exports to AVI format which can lead to very large file sizes.  Don’t worry about that.  Sticking to our model we’ll be converting it to a compressed MP4 format anyway.

So you have your audio or video file and you’re ready to distribute it.  Most likely your audio file will already be in the MP3 format.  If it isn’t, there are many free MP3 encoders available.  I recommend using the open-source Lame MP3 Encoder.

Due to licensing, the Lame MP3 Encoder must be installed separately in order to add MP3 functionality to Audacity.

MP3 is a compressed format, but it still doesn’t hurt to tinker with the settings.  Remember that most mobile devices still have a limited amount of storage space.  You also don’t want to kill your subscribers in download time or yourself in bandwidth.

An audio rate of 128kbps is plenty.  In most cases you can use a lower bit rate without a noticeable loss to the end user.  Especially for videos, slight changes can make drastic improvements in file sizes.  For example, most portable media players have very small displays so you can safely reduce the resolution on your videos that are designed for mobile playback.

Converting video from AVI to MP4 is a largely similar process.  I personally use Free iPod Video Converter by Jodix.  It has a nice wizard style interface and is capable of performing batch conversions.  You can also save commonly used settings and edit ID3 tags on the fly.

{mospagebreak title=Publishing your Podcast}

In order to publish your Podcast you will need to create an RSS feed enclosure.  I’m not going to go into great detail about creating the feed.  You can find more information about creating RSS feeds in my article “Simple Web Syndication with RSS 2.0.”

The important point here is the use of a media enclosure.  Enclosures are only available in RSS 2.0.  The RSS 2.0 namespace includes an Enclosure tag for adding enclosures to your feed.  Simply put, an enclosure is a way of supplying a media file with a particular feed item.

However, the use of an enclosure tag isn’t enough for a Podcast.  We also want to include another feature specifically for mobile devices, or more appropriately, for the software used to manage your mobile device.

I’m talking about the iTunes namespace.  There are a series of iTunes tags used specifically to mark an item for use on a mobile device.  To implement this namespace we need to declare it in our RSS tag by linking to its DTD.

<?xml version="1.0"?>

   <rss xmlns:itunes="http://www.itunes.com/dtds/podcast-1.0.dtd"

       version="2.0">

Here we’ve opened our file by defining it as an XML document.  Next, we’ve linked to the iTunes DTD to allow use of the iTunes namespace.  Now we have to construct our channel and add items.

<?xml version="1.0"?>

   <rss xmlns:itunes="http://www.itunes.com/dtds/podcast-1.0.dtd"

       version="2.0">

       <channel>

          <title>&quot;News You Can’t Use&quot; by Developer Shed –

              Audio</title>

          <link>http://www.developershed.com</link>

          <category>News</category>

          <language>en-us</language>

          <copyright>Copyright &#x2117; and &#xA9; 2007 by Developer

              Shed, Inc.</copyright>

          <description>Fresh every Wednesday, &quot;News You Can’t

              Use&quot; by Developer Shed brings you the latest

              offbeat tech news stories from around the world–stories

              so crazy it’s News You Can’t Use!</description>

           

          <item>

              <title>Developer Shed’s News You Can’t Use for

                 2-28-2007</title>

              <enclosure url="http://images.devshed.com/technews/casts/audio/
technews_02282007.mp3" type="audio/mp3" />

              <guid>http://images.devshed.com/technews/casts/video/
technews_02282007.mp3</guid>

              <pubDate>Wed, 28 Feb 2007 17:00:00 GMT</pubDate>

          </item>

       </channel>

   </rss>

This is what our weekly “News You Can’t Use” feed looks like after adding the iTunes DTD.  While this feed is fully functional at this point, changing document type hasn’t done any good because we haven’t made use of the iTunes namespace.

Let’s begin with the channel section.  There are several tags available that help us better define our channel’s content.  After my channels description tag I add the following piece of code.

<itunes:subtitle>Weekly Audio Tech News Segment

</itunes:subtitle>

<itunes:author>Developer Shed, Inc.</itunes:author>

<itunes:summary>Fresh every Wednesday, &quot;News You Can’t

   Use&quot; by Developer Shed brings you the latest

   offbeat tech news stories from around the world–stories

   so crazy it’s News You Can’t Use!</itunes:summary>

<itunes:owner>

   <itunes:name>Developer Shed, Inc.</itunes:name>

   <itunes:email>technews@developershed.com</itunes:email>

</itunes:owner>

<itunes:category text="Technology">

   <itunes:category text="Tech News" />

</itunes:category>

<itunes:explicit>no</itunes:explicit>

Okay, the subtitle, author, and summary tag pairs are pretty self-explanatory.  Next we add the owner tag pair.  This contains tag pairs that hold information about the channel owner.  The email address provided should be an email where concerns about the channel can be received.

The category tags get a little tricky.  There are predefined categories to choose from listed on Apple’s website.  You can find these along with the complete tag listing by skimming through the iTunes namespace technical specification.

The first category tag is a surrounding pair with a text attribute that defines the main category listing.  Multiple sub-categories can be listed inside of this pair within self-closing tags.  You can list as many combinations as you like or need.

The explicit tag is used to rate the content of the media being offered.  iTunes will not list a feed in its directory without an explicit tag.  Possible values are “yes” if it contains explicit material, “no” if it doesn’t, or “clean” if it’s the edited version of an explicit recording.

<item>

   <itunes:author>Developer Shed, Inc.</itunes:author>

   <itunes:subtitle>Video news segment for the week of

       February 28, 2007</itunes:subtitle>

   <itunes:summary>Fresh every Wednesday, &quot;News You

       Can’t Use&quot; by Developer Shed brings you the

       latest offbeat tech news stories from around the

       world–stories so crazy it’s News You Can’t Use!

       </itunes:summary>

   <enclosure url="http://images.devshed.com/technews/casts/audio/
technews_02282007.mp3" type="audio/mpeg" />

              <guid>http://images.devshed.com/technews/casts/video/
technews_02282007.mp3</guid>

   <pubDate>Wed, 28 Feb 2007 17:00:00 GMT</pubDate>

   <itunes:duration>5:31</itunes:duration>

   <itunes:keywords>devshed, tech, news, developer, shed

       </itunes:keywords>

</item>

Once you have created a channel you need to add your items.  This is a basic example.  Again we have our iTunes tags that are specific to the item itself.  I’ve also added my enclosure.

The enclosure tag is a self closing tag.  The first attribute is the URL to the media file.  The second attribute defines the MIME type.  The third attribute, which I’ve left out of this example, is the length in bytes of the file.

Once you’ve created your feed you can save it with either an XML or RSS extension and upload it to your website.  Just provide a URL directly to the file.  You can provide a URL specifically for iTunes users that will open the file directly in the iTunes software.  Just replace the http:// in the URL with the itpc:// protocol instead.

{mospagebreak title=Distribution, licensing, and legal concerns}

There are several ways to distribute your Podcast or Vodcast.  You can provide a direct URL on your website, in emails and newsletters, or on printed material.  There are several online listing services available as well.

Before distributing your Podcast there are a couple of things that you need to take into legal consideration.  Any media that you provide in a Podcast or Vodcast falls under copyright laws.

If you are distributing your own original works, you have little to worry about because you inherently own the copyright, but if you are redistributing others’ works or works based on someone else’s work then you should be careful that you are not violating any applicable laws.

Copyright laws are far beyond the scope of this article.  Stay safe by making sure that you have written permission to redistribute any material that is not your own original work.  For a more detailed explanation of how copyright laws affect podcasting, take a look at the Podcasting Legal Guide or consult a professional.

If you would like to research this further on your own, take a look at the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and International Copyright Laws.  The University of Washington’s “Copyright Connection” website is an excellent resource and a great place to start.

It’s also important that you provide your subscribers with a usage license.  Most commonly Podcasts and Vodcasts are released to the public under a Creative Commons license.  There are a couple of CC licenses to choose from based on what you wish to allow your subscribers to do with your content.  For more information visit the Creative Commons website.

The final thing you should take into consideration before releasing yourself to the public is your content.  Make sure that you target only your intended audience.  You should also take care that your feed is not available to those who shouldn’t see it—especially if it contains explicit material.

While there is no content ratings system in place for Podcasts at the time of this writing, there is an initiative to start one.  You can take part in the beta Content Self-Ratings System for Podcasts being developed by Podtrac to help establish guidelines for a ratings system similar to those of the MPAA for movies and the ESRB for video games.

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