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Book Reviews Books Media

Podcasting Hacks 89

jsuda writes "Podcasting appears to be one of the more interesting developments in current culture and technology. It is one of the earliest nonbusiness representations of the value and power of XML (Extensible Markup Language). XML is subtly and quietly being used to link digital documents together, and more significantly, databases, much like the Internet itself linked individual computers into a global network." Read on for the rest of Jsuda's review.
Podcasting Hacks: Tips & Tools for Blogging Out Loud
author Jack D. Herrington
pages 428
publisher O'Reilly Media Inc.
rating 8
reviewer John Suda
ISBN 0-596-10066-3
summary Good primer on Podcasting


The power of XML is yet to be fully recognized, but its expression in podcasting has far-reaching effects and consequences all by itself. Way beyond extending audio distribution over the Internet and providing relatively easy access for creative types to a global distribution channel, podcasting may alter and extend the distribution of content in ways never experienced before, having repercussions for political communication, social expression, and democracy itself.

Podcasting can be considered, in general, a melding of several elements: digital audio, weblogs, radio, Tivo-like recording/playing devices, and RSS (Really Simple Syndication). RSS is the protocol extending XML allowing creators to publish content to audiences who can easily subscribe and partake remotely in both space and time. It is much more than merely an alternative to conventional radio.

Given all of this asserted importance, the new book, Podcasting Hacks: Tips & Tools for Blogging Out Loud is perfectly timed to provide guidance on how to find, listen to, and subscribe to podcasts as well as how to create, publish, and market audio and video content. This is a comprehensive introduction to nearly all aspects of podcasting. It covers not only the technological elements but the content and creative elements as well. Much of the later material draws on analog sources like radio and television broadcasting. Many of the content elements are shared across the technology distinctions. Good interviewing techniques and content stylings, for example, are the same regardless of how produced and distributed. The major theme here is how to produce quality audio which can attract audiences via digital distribution over the now ubiquitous Internet.

The book has 11 chapters covering how to find podcasts, starting out in listening and creating podcasts, producing quality sound, using formats, interviewing, blogging, publicity, basic editing, advanced audio, mobility, and video blogging.

The main author is Jack D. Herrington, a software engineer and developer and technology writer and reviewer. There are 20 other contributors to the book, including journalists, multimedia consultants, radio and video producers, web editors, and podcasters themselves, particularly several who have popularized the medium.

The book has two main focuses - how to find and listen to podcasts and how to produce your own. The later focus consumes most of the book and deals with producing the best sound (with the lowest noise), producing interesting content, marketing, getting involved in the community, and even how to get your audio masterpieces into syndication.

Although this book is part of the venerable O'Reilly series of Hacks, the 75 "hacks" contained here work more like captions for various sub topics under the podcasting rubric. The book is less a collection of individually-packaged solutions to discrete problems or issues, but a primer on the whole of podcasting.

The first two chapters provide a list of the best and most popular podcasts, and directions on how to search directories of podcasts on the web. Apple's iTunes software broadly popularized podcasting only a short while ago by including a built-in directory of podcasts in version 4.9 of iTunes. How to get and use the right podcaster for your interests is explained, as well as some recommendations of specific applications - iPodder gets good reviews. Hack #2 offers a perl script which allows one to aggregate and rebroadcast feeds from other sources. Hacks 3 & 4 also describe perl scripts to build your own podcasts and to import podcasts into iTunes, (both PC and Mac versions.)

Using perl scripts is not for everyone, but the content of this book is fairly broad, having interest and value for a wide range of technological types, from higher level geeks to the person who is only casually interested in this new technology and content. Throughout, when discussing common software applications, the authors pointedly cover each of the main platforms - Windows, Mac OSX, and Linux and both technical production and content. Hack 10, for instance. is a technological hack; it relates how to create your first podcast using the freeware, Audacity. Hack 11 is a content-related hack instructing how to produce the content of a podcast and how to understand the respective roles of producer, writer, engineer, host, editor, and performer.

Surprisingly, one can get started producing podcasts relatively easily using a very modest amount of hardware and a little software, including mostly freeware or modestly-priced applications. The authors go out of their way in many of the hacks to point out how to select and acquire production materials at low cost. They often recommend specific products and services making it as easy as possible for readers to believe they can actively participate in podcasting with relatively modest efforts and budget.

The segments on formats describes what a format is in terms of duration, structure, content, and production elements. Some of the many types of formats are itemized and described - news, story show, personal show, political, mystery science theater, music, sports, technology, and news. The segments for each of these contains information on important sources for content, examples of use, and tips for producing content. Each type has its own strengths, limitations, and pitfalls. An overly enthusiastic personal show, for example, can get you fired from your job if your boss accesses and hears something he/she doesn't like. (It has happened more than once, according to news resources).

There is an enormous amount of material presented in this book with excellent attention to details. The audio theater type of format, for example, includes an itemization of the structure of a typical show - the story, script, studio setup, performances (with directorial prompts), mixing and encoding audio, and even how to make your own sound effects. Hack 33 describes techniques professionals use in producing interviews - types of interviews, location considerations, preparing guests, interviewing techniques, using environment sound ambience, and even microphone techniques. A large handful of the contributors make reference to how to use microphones properly emphasizing the need to control wind, voice pops, environmental noises and the like. There is even guidance on training one's voice for audio (Hack #19).

Virtually every possible element of podcasting is noted in this book. Some other topics include: how to record telephone interviews, including Skype conversations (#34); how to podcast using blogs (with examples of HTML and XML coding); how to manage bandwidth (#39); how to use ID3 tags for your audio to facilitate searches (#40); how to market, connect with the community, and even how to make money while podcasting (#48-49).

More advanced topics are handled later in the book. Learn basic editing using the right audio tools in Hacks#50-58. Hack 61 details how to set up a home studio. A very interesting section tells how to be mobile while podcasting including making a small recording rig for travel as well as podcasting directly from your car while driving. (Sounds unsafe to me and illegal in some states, as noted by the authors). Other sections take up, directly and at length, the legalities of podcasting covering copyrights, libel, licensing, and more. An interesting explanation of Creative Commons licensing is contained in #67 - 68. To cap it all off, there is a useful glossary of digital and analog audio terminology and an index.

As you might expect, given the presence of 21 contributors, not all hacks are as good as some, and there is considerable repetition of some elements, like microphone handling, production concepts, and others. However, these are small quibbles for such an information- packed volume of modest cost."


You can purchase Podcasting Hacks from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.
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Podcasting Hacks

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  • CSVs baby! (Score:3, Funny)

    by intmainvoid ( 109559 ) on Friday November 25, 2005 @01:32PM (#14114064)
    The power of XML is yet to be fully recognized

    Bah! Everybody knows real men use csv files...

  • Thank you. (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    For not writing it "eXtensible Markup Language". That's so annoying.
    • I agree with you

      "Xtreme Markup Language" is so much cooler.
    • For not writing it "eXtensible Markup Language". That's so annoying.
      What's wrong with talking about eXtensible Markup Language as "eXtensible Markup Language?" Got something against eXtensible Markup Language? What has eXtensible Markup Language ever done to you?
  • by Gryle ( 933382 ) on Friday November 25, 2005 @01:34PM (#14114074)
    First there were blogs which allowed to people to become amateur journalists and columnists. Now we have podcasting which allows people to become amatuer radio hosts and broadcasters. Probably the best evidence yet for the "Internet is the modern printing press" arguments.
  • Uses XML (Score:4, Funny)

    by Nom du Keyboard ( 633989 ) on Friday November 25, 2005 @01:38PM (#14114088)
    So it uses XML. Does this mean if I give Microsoft a whole lot of money for their latest Office product that I can PodCast Word documents now?
  • by dorkygeek ( 898295 ) on Friday November 25, 2005 @01:39PM (#14114097) Journal
    Podcasting appears to be one of the more interesting developments in current culture and technology. It is one of the earliest nonbusiness representations of the value and power of XML (Extensible Markup Language).
    One of the earliest?? Sorry, but what is this guy smoking??? There were a lot nonbusiness uses of XML long before Podcasts.

  • Pet peeve (Score:5, Insightful)

    by plover ( 150551 ) * on Friday November 25, 2005 @01:41PM (#14114103) Homepage Journal
    Why the hell do they call them pod"casts"? There is no "casting" involved -- it's a pull model, and always has been.
    • by TEMM ( 731243 ) on Friday November 25, 2005 @01:44PM (#14114123)
      Just to piss you off...
    • by garcia ( 6573 )
      Why the hell do they call them pod"casts"? There is no "casting" involved -- it's a pull model, and always has been.

      Because podpulls sounds too much like pudpulls! Who would want to listen to a bunch of guys sitting around pulling their puds? ;)
    • Re:Pet peeve (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      And what's with the "pod"? There's no iPod involved either.
    • Re:Pet peeve (Score:1, Interesting)

      by randm.ca ( 901207 )
      Also, where did the "pod" come from? Is it just because it makes "podcast" nicely rhyme with "broadcast". Why not "zodcast" in that case. Or is it just because the iPod is popular so they wanted to get a piece of that hot pod action?
      • Re:Pet peeve (Score:3, Insightful)

        by plover ( 150551 ) *
        That part I don't really have a problem with. "iPod(TM)" has become a generic term for virtually any portable digital music player (excepting discmans and the like.) iPods are now the kleenex of the player world. At least it's a "correct" usage: you can download and play a podcast on an iPod.

        But no matter how hard you try, you can't "broadcast" to an iPod. You can only put the media out there and hope your audience comes and gets it.

        • I'd have to disagree with that I'm afraid. I've had several people ask me what the difference is between and iPod and an mp3 player. Maybe it's just the people I know but they seem to see adverts for mp3 players and adverts for iPods and see them as completely seperate entities.
        • It's a tissue vs. Kleenex, Zerox vs. photo copy ... (the list goes on) debate on house hold words, they catch on and take a long time to go away.
    • Re:Pet peeve (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Monkelectric ( 546685 ) <slashdot@NoSPAM.monkelectric.com> on Friday November 25, 2005 @02:14PM (#14114265)
      Can I bitch to? Im sick of XML worship. XML is a useful container that holds information, and saves people from having to write a parser themselves. It's not some panacea, and its not some thing that enables all of these technologies.

      Nobody worships other data formats.

      • Can I bitch to? Im sick of XML worship.

        I agree. I've come to realize that XML causes more problems than it solves. Everytime I see XML with element I cringe.

        XML makes it easy to define languages, and so every idiot goes ahead and defines one...

      • by plover ( 150551 ) * on Friday November 25, 2005 @02:23PM (#14114307) Homepage Journal
        Please, feel free to loathe XML. Can you imagine the design sessions for it?

        Boss: "OK, everyone, listen up. Memory sales are dead flat. We've got to figure out a way to really push the envelope and get people to buy more of our RAM chips. Come up with ideas, folks!"

        Johnson: "What if we had everyone transmit data in a bloated format, and spin it so people think it's doing something magical?"

        Adams: "Nobody would buy that. They're just computers, they can deal with any formats we can think up, they just have to have a program that parses them."

        Johnson: "But we can tell people that 'other' computers can read this. Most people are used to applications that don't communicate, so they'll see this as their savior!"

        Smith: "Never work. Bandwidth isn't there."

        Johnson: "That's the beauty of this scheme! We'll have them put their data in this giant format, and then run even bigger programs to compress it before transmission and another to decompress it!!"

        Boss: "Brilliant! Bonuses all around!!"

        • Most people are used to applications that don't communicate, so they'll see this as their savior!"

          Now youre getting it.

          Of course XML isnt a magical potion. It does however, allow those applications that people arent used to communicating together, to communicate. And yes, it uses compression that takes up memory. You obviously have some problem with that philosophy. After all, who needs more than 640K of RAM anyway?

          Face it, one day you will not have a Hard Disk drive whirring around in your cute littl

          • Of course XML isnt a magical potion. It does however, allow those applications that people arent used to communicating together, to communicate. And yes, it uses compression that takes up memory. You obviously have some problem with that philosophy. After all, who needs more than 640K of RAM anyway?

            No, XML can't do anything by itself. It doesn't allow apps to communicate any more or less than any other communications standard. You're still bound to schemas just as tightly as an ancient app was bound to

            • Im not rah-rah-ing XML. Far from it. I am rah-rah-ing the fact that technology keeps driving forward at a rate similar to a bulldozer. While not always lightning fast, its effects are easily noticed over time.

              Its not the fault of XML that your boss is a tightwad, and uninformed. Its not the fault of XML that you are using outdated equipment. Its sounds more like you dont have any authority to say what does or does not happen. Its like m e walking down a city street and being forced to give money to the bum

              • It's not a case of "boss tightwad" or being "uninformed", it's a case of maximizing investment. We have a schedule to replace machines, and we need them to have a ten-year lifespan, regardless of what cool technology comes out. This upcoming replacement cycle will cost well over a hundred million dollars. We are a gigantic for-profit corporation, we make money and lots of it, but we can't afford to buy new gear just because Microsoft came out with .NET or because XML hit the scene.

                Like anyone else, we

      • Oh, I hear ya!

        XML is, how can I put this? "Cute."

        That's it, "cute": it's a nice way of describing structured data that a human can easily understand. As for portability, well, yeah, but it stands to reason that a "source code" representation of data and structure would be portable, so that isn't any great brilliance. It isn't like we didn't have machine-agnostic structured interchange formats already: witness XDR: my littne endian machine clients have been talking to big-endian machine servers for years

    • Yes! These so-called "analogies" frighten and confuse me. All words should be restricted to their narrow, original, literal meanings. I demand we return to speaking Proto-Indo-European [wikipedia.org] so that we can be sure all these hideous neologisms are banished forever.
    • In the sense of BROADCASTING, numnuts!
      • Were you unable to read the post to which you replied? Do you not understand what a broadcast is?

        Here, I'll paste you the top few definitions from google: [google.com]

        # A signal transmitted to all user terminals in a service area, or the process.
        keskus.hut.fi/opetus/s38118/s98/htyo/54/abbrev.sht ml

        # Transmission to a number of receiving locations simultaneously.
        www.isg-telecom.com/telco_glossary.htm

        # Transferring learning content to many learners simultaneously, as in a satellite broadcast or an IP multicas

  • The problem with podcasting is music licensing: if you put music on a recording and distribute it, you're liable for ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC royalties. And this is reasonable. The composers wrote the songs, joined the association, and deserve to be paid for their work.

    Who has the infrastructure to account and pay for this sort of stuff? Professional broadcasters, mostly.

    This assumes the music was written by an association composer. Perhaps you have some unsigned band that has granted you permission to u

  • When I first heard about podcasting and podcasts, I really didn't have a clue what it meant. The name seems to make an inextricable link between the iPod and this content, which simply isn't the case. Admittedly the iPod is the leading portable mp3 players, and mp3 players are the major driver of this content.

    But still. My parents here about podcasts. It's a buzzword. They don't care. I tell them they can download a radio show and listen to it on the computer; their ears pick up. They hated streaming shows almost as much as I did, but when they found out you could slurp the whole show in one go and listen to it at your leisure, they were into the technology almost as fast as they got into Google Earth.

    Maybe it was the same with email way back when. I remember people asking me; "Email. What's that?". I had to explain to them that it stood for electronic mail and that you could send and recieve mail to and from other peoples "electronic postboxes". (No I'm not Korean). THEN they got it. Email was just a buzzword until then. But now the word email is ubiquitous, so perhaps the same will be true of podcasting.
    • Oh, geez, I hope it does not become ubiquitous. Podcasting? Come on, we can be more creative than that.
    • I tell them they can download a radio show and listen to it on the computer; their ears pick up.

      Try again: tell them that a computer program can download a radio show and all subsequent shows automatically on their behalf.

      The difference between a podcast and "a show you can download" is that podcasting means syndication.

      I don't care what we call podcasting, but calling it "a radio show you can download" seriously undervalues the magic of rss and feed aggregators.
  • Glad to see my own [soon to be patented] solution regarding podcasting of the latest rootkit updates isn't in the book.
  • by thzinc ( 679235 ) on Friday November 25, 2005 @02:35PM (#14114359) Homepage
    IMO, the best podcasting "hack" that I have found is using del.icio.us to find, create, and maintain simple podcasts. Just use the tag "system:filetype:mp3" to find only MP3s. (Hint, it also works for other filetypes.)

    All recent MP3s: http://del.icio.us/rss/tag/system:filetype:mp3 [del.icio.us]

    All popular MP3s: http://del.icio.us/rss/popular/system:filetype:mp3 [del.icio.us]

    An example of my own podcast: http://del.icio.us/rss/thzinc/voicemail+outgoing+s ystem:filetype:mp3 [del.icio.us]

    And an example of a video podcast ;) : http://del.icio.us/rss/thzinc/video+tv+pbs+system: filetype:mov [del.icio.us]

    Just something I've found useful.

    Daniel James
  • by ThomasMis ( 316423 ) on Friday November 25, 2005 @02:54PM (#14114457) Homepage
    What's still nice about podcasting, is that it's an audio/visual medium that doesn't have to dilute itself. Established media produces content aimed at the widest possible audience, and therefore ends up not being appealing to anyone at all. Whereas, I can create a podcast targeted toward the hardcore gamers, and it can find a loyal audience.

    Furthermore, by using RSS as the delivery platform, basement hacks like me can go up against established media. For example, my friends and I do a gaming podcast [dreamstation.cc] that is beating out established entities like PC Gamer magazine's podcast (based on subscriber numbers from yahoo and odeo).

    But numbers aside, it's fun. We don't make money off of it, nor do we think we ever will... but we do it for the love. How can established media beat people producing content out of love?!
  • Amazon (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Friday November 25, 2005 @03:18PM (#14114578) Journal
    I'm going to post the Amazon.com Link to Podcasting Hacks [amazon.com] just because the Barnes and Nobles link only has 1 (one) review.

    Its also interesting to compare/contrast the alternative books suggested by each site.
    Amazon:
    Podcasting: Do It Yourself Guide
    Podcast Solutions: The Complete Guide to Podcasting
    Secrets of Podcasting : Audio Blogging for the Masses
    Syndicating Web Sites with RSS Feeds For Dummies®
    Podcasting For Dummies®
    Barnes and Nobles:
    The Art of Intrusion: The Real Stories Behind the Exploits of Hackers, Intruders & Deceivers
      Exploiting Software: How to Break Code
      Hacking: The Art of Exploitation
      Wi-Foo
      Learning the Bash Shell
  • The power of XML is yet to be fully recognized

    Uh... okay. The power of wood has yet to be recognized! The power of stairs! The power of math! Oh my god! All of these inanimate things which are simple building blocks have all this POWER!! Oooauuugh....

    -b
  • Here's Your Sign (Score:1, Redundant)

    by Ranger ( 1783 )
    XML is subtly and quietly being used to link digital documents together, and more significantly, databases, much like the Internet itself linked individual computers into a global network.

    No shit. Did the submitter just discover XML?

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