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Podcasting Comes of Age

We evaluate three popular podcasting readers By Frank Moldstad

Podcasting has arrived. My local NPR station, Santa Monica-based KCRW, recently began touting its podcast availabililty. And it's not alone. Other high profile media outlets have discovered podcasting, such as New York's WNYC radio and KOMO in Seattle. And the Heineken Beer company is using a podcast to distribute an interview with DJ Daniele Davoli as part of its Thirst DJ competition.

But podcasting's increasing visibility raises a lot of questions among mainstream media listeners, such as ... what is podcasting? And how do you access it? Podcasting has only been around since August 2004, when former MTV VJ Adam Curry launched the first episode of "The Daily Source Code." Curry and  David Winer, who wrote one of the key  specifications for RSS 2.0 (Really Simple Syndication), have been dubbed "the Podfathers." But even though it's been growing quickly, podcasting's  listener base has been relatively small. Now, for better or worse, that's changing quickly.

Podcasting is essentially a way of automatically delivering online audio content to a subscriber, usually for transfer to an Apple iPod or other portable player. This content is often in the form of a hosted show, with topics such as music, travel or gardening. Once you've subscribed to a program (usually for free), you don't have to check back repeatedly for updates, or spend time downloading files.

One of the key podcasting tools is a program called a reader (aka an aggregator), a sort of intermediary that tracks subscriptions for updates and downloads them to a computer. The updates are automatically loaded into the portable music player every time the player is connected and synced. This is made possible with RSS streams (Really Simple Syndication) that include descriptions of web content and links to the full version. RSS checks for new files and downloads them for listening at the user's convenience.



Recently I evaluated three popular podcast readers: iPodderX (Mac OSX), IPodder (cross-platform) and Pod2Go (OSX). All three of them worked well, with varying degrees of simplicity. In the process, I discovered half a dozen podcasts I thought were worth subscribing to. This presents a problem, because there aren't enough hours in the day to keep up with all that listening!

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iPodderX (www.ipodderx.com) is available for a free 30-day trial, after which it can be purchased for $19.95. It is the best-looking of the three programs I tried, with a sleek OS X-style interface that feels right at home with iTunes. Three buttons at the top left cover the most important functions: Add, Directory and Files. A Check Now button at the bottom right downloads updates of a selected podcast subscription.

iPodderX comes with an extensive directory of podcasts (click image for larger view)
iPodderX comes with a huge collection of links to podcast feeds in dozens of genres, which is very handy. Or you can manually enter the URL for any podcast. To subscribe to one, you drag the link into the left directory menu, or click the Add button at the top left Then you just sync your iPod and the content is moved over.

For basic podcast listening, thats about all you have to know, really. But iPodderX has a number of other capabilities, such as integration with iPhoto that automatically moves any images into their own iPhoto folder. A built-in media viewer lets you watch movies and listen to audio right in iPodderX. iPodderX will handle any RSS feed -- audio, movies, images, documents -- storing files stored in user-specified folders.

There is also a freeware version called iPodderX Lite with more limited features, which I did not try.

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Related Keywords:podcasting, iPod, aggregator, reader, iPodderX, IPodder, Pod2Go

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