When I heard that Sight was going to upload its first podcast online, I was quite impressed that the website had gone so high-tech. I have always wondered what podcasts were but never really bothered to find out because, like most people, I thought you'd have to spend at least $500 to buy an Apple iPod, not to mention be savvy enough to find out how to magically download it onto the iPod via an iTunes subscription. It was at that point that I threw it in the too hard basket, along with the wireless network card, Bluetooth and anything remotely connected to Linux.

PICTURE: Jannes (www.sxc.hu)

My curiosity eventually won out, however, and with my Y chromosome “what does this button do?” mentality, I logged back on to Sight and clicked the “download this episode now” button. Surprisingly nothing happened. So I clicked another button and got half a page full of pretty writing. What to do now? The challenge had been set; I had to listen to this podcast. My first stop was the web’s free online encyclopaedia Wikipedia. To my surprise I found out that I didn’t need any special software to listen to a podcast - just a regular media player like Windows Media Player or Quicktime. iTunes plays podcasts automatically so I had another go at the download button and looked at my firewall and noticed that I was actually downloading stuff, so I kept the page open as I got out the Microsoft Solitaire and waited for the download to finish.

The name podcast is a combination of two words - iPod (Apple’s MP3 player with audio and video capabilities) and broadcast. Podcasts are a growing trend among Web site developers for getting their material across to a specific audience. Simply put, it is an MP3 file that is put onto a website for the purpose of broadcasting a message. That message could be a song, conversation, information or an idea. The difference between a podcast and an MP3 file though is the RSS feed. RSS is short for “Really Simple Syndication” This is a small XML file that tells a podcast reader where the file is and when it is updated. The podcast reader or “RSS aggregator” looks for the URL of the RSS feed and checks every so often to see if the Podcast you have subscribed to has been updated, then the reader lets you know that there is a new episode to watch or listen to. It is automatically downloaded into a predetermined folder to either add the MP3 to your PC or download it to your MP3 player. Using a Podcast reader is like setting your VCR to tape a whole heap of shows at the same time, with the main difference being you will never get a repeat. Podcasting is spreading across the net and could be the standard for getting information in the next few years, just like your own custom radio or TV station.

I did get to listen to my first podcast because I had installed iTunes, but for serious listeners I recommend downloading a podcasting client but it might require you to install “Microsoft .Net Framework”, this is a free download will not harm your computer, the one that I tried is called Doppler (http://www.dopplerradio.net/?page_id=64). I was elated, I finally figured out how to work it, and successfully download it to my new player, and at the same time I'd found out there was a whole community of podcasters and listeners out there. The first place I looked was Podcast.net, there was tonnes of topics to listen to including music, art, science, and stuff for the kids. Podcasts could be a little addictive though so make sure you have a decent internet connection, a reasonable download limit and a whole lot of time.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

• Podcasting clients - http://www.podcastingnews.com/topics/Podcast_Software.html
• Podcast creators - http://www.podcastingnews.com/topics/Podcasting_Software.html
• Free podcasts - http://www.podcastalley.com/
• Christian podcasts - http://www.tfc.edu/radio/podcasting/

What's been you experience - both as a podcast creater and a listener? Come across any good podcast-related resources you'd like to tell others about? Leave your comments below...