Friday, July 14, 2006

How to setup a Podcast in less than two hours.

What is Podcasting? In a nutshell Podcasting is a form of Syndication where a publisher records content into Multimedia files and makes it available to the world for listening or viewing. A Podcast is published with an RSS feed containing Podcast specific tags to describe the type and location of the multimedia files, the title, the genre, copyright and license information etc...

A listener or viewer subscribes to Podcasts with software such as iTunes. Once subscribed, the software downloads the multimedia content into a PC or device able to play it. Often the content is in the form of MP3 files for audio Podcasts and the device is an MP3 player such as iPOD. For a video Podcast the content is most often published in the form of MP4 files and the device is an MP4 player such as a Video iPod.

If you use iTunes, you may want to check out iTunes Essential tips for podcast lovers. It will give you all the information you need to understand podcasting the iTunes way.

While the concept of Podcasting has been around as early as 2000, it was only around the end of 2004 that it took off and thousands of Podcasts started to circulate.
For more general information on Podcasting take a look at Wikipedia under Podcasting.

In this article I’d like to describe how you can create an Audio Podcast in less than two hours mostly using free tools. This article describes one way of doing it, but there are many other ways. Let’s get started...

First of all, you need audio or video files with content you want to publish! Assuming you want to publish Audio files and that the content of the Podcast is a speaker talking about something, there are two main ways to generate this content.

The first one is to record the audio with a microphone and a recording device that allows you to generate good quality sound files.

The second option is to type the text with a computer and have a Text To Speech software read it and generate the audio file for you. As a Text To Speech engine I recommend "TextAloud", by NextUp. It costs only a $30 and if you purchase some of the advanced natural voices (another $35) the quality is decently good. You may disagree, so you should evaluate the product and find out if you like it. At the end of this article you’ll find the link to an MP3 with the content of this post read by TextAloud using one of the AT&T natural voices. Check it out!

Once you have the audio files you need to host them somewhere. These files can get very big so you need a reliable service that is not going to charge a ton of money for bandwidth in case your PodCast gets very popular. I suggest FREE. You don’t get cheaper than that! Such service exists if you plan on releasing your content with a Creative Common license. Check out www.archive.org which provides hosting for multimedia files for free, and no limits in bandwidth. The setup on www.archive.org is a little strange; for this reason I’ll give you some details to make it easier.

First of all you need to create an account. Go to www.archive.org home page and click on Upload your own recordings in the Audio section. It will ask you if you want to login or join. Since I assume you have no account yet, you must go to "Join" (it’s free, so don’t worry about getting your credit card ready). All you need is an email address, a password and a screen name. Once you are done and your account is created, go back on the main page of archive.org and click again on the "Upload your own recordings". At this point you should already be logged in (if you are not, do so).

The upload page will ask you an identifier for your item. It is basically asking a name for the collection of files you are going to upload. Let’s assume that you want call your collection "mypodcast" (original, huh?). Simply type that into the input box on the upload page and press "Create Item". At this point the collection with that name gets created. After creation the collection is in "check-out" mode; that means you can upload files into it (with FTP or a browser) and describe them. Follow the instructions, describe your files and pick a license type...

When you are done uploading you’ll need to check-in the files in order to make them available to the public. Follow the instructions to do so.
An undocumented (or poorly documented) trick I found. You can always checkout a previously checked-in collection with the following web API:

http://www.archive.org/checkout/mypodcast

You can check-in the collection with:

http://www.archive.org/checkin/mypodcast

You can check the details of a collection with:

http://www.archive.org/details/mypodcast

You can download the files that you uploaded using:

http://www.archive.org/download/mypodcast/filename.mp3

Simple, isn’t it?

If everything went well, you should see your files when you browse your collection’s detail page. These are the URLs that you can use to publish your Podcast.
The hardest part is done! Now you need to create an RSS feed with your Podcast information and the links to the audio files in it. How to do so?

I suggest that you use a combination of Blogger and FeedBurner; Blogger is good to create and manage the Atom feed and FeedBurner to create the RSS feed from the atom feed. Complicated? Not really! It’s actually very simple once you get going and understand the concepts.

First go to blogger.com, create an account if you don’t have one and create a new blog. The instructions are clear and the process easy. Once you have a blog, simply create a post containing, anywhere in the text, a link to any of your audio files hosted on www.archive.org.

Now, go to FeedBurner.com, create an account if you don’t have one and create a feed from the blogger’s blog. FeedBurner has a good Quick Start guide that will guide you in the various steps. You really need to understand what you are doing anyway, so a little bit of reading and trying will only be good.

The important part at this point is that you setup and activate the SmartCast section of the FeedBurner feed settings. That will instruct FeedBurner to add all the Podcast information necessary for iTunes to work with your feed.

Well, you are done! You can just run iTunes and subscribe to your feed! To do so go to the "Advanced" menu and select Subscribe to Feed option. Put in the URL of the FeedBurner RSS feed. That’s going to look something like http://feeds.feedburner.com/mypodcast.

The next step is to make sure people know that your Podcast exists. To do so the best way is to get listed on iTunes. Go to the music store, select Podcasts and look for the “Submit Podcast” link. Go from there… your traffic will explode.

If you want more information on the iTunes requirments for RSS feeds, check out Podcasting and iTunes: Technical specification.

Imagine the possibilities! Now you can have your private radio show with potentially thousends of listeners!! I whish I had this when I was a kid :)

Audio Podcast of this Post

Friday, July 7, 2006

Apple Video iPOD, the 10 minutes user experience.

I recently bought a 60 Gb Video iPOD.

First of all let me state that I believe the product is a piece of extremely high quality electronics and that Apple really got this one right: the device is slick, attractive, made of high quality materials and works really well. The display is amazing and the quality of the audio very good. The Volume is powerful and you don't have to worry about being in a loud place and try to listen to your music. You can crank it up and hear very well in most conditions...

...I could go in many details but you'll find much better product reviews elsewhere and I am not going to attempt writing one here. In this post I will concentrate only on my impressions of the user experience during the very first 10 minutes after you get home with your brand new iPOD still in the box and a wallet that feels $400 + TAX lighter...

Let’s get started. You already went to your favorite electronic store straight to the dedicated Apple section. You asked for Video iPOD... the teenager you asked to opens the glass cabinet that stores 3 or 4 iPODs and hands you the box thinking "you bastard! I want one of these for myself!". After checking out all the accessories (and perhaps picking up some) you went to pay for it, felt guilty for spending so much money on an luxury electronic toy, jumped in the car, ran home....

...you are finally sitting at your desk, turn on your computer and look at the brand new shiny box staring at you and begging to be opened. Here is what you are going to think:

The product comes in a very small and slick package. If you are like me the thought that you paid too much for such a small box will cross your mind. Don't worry, that thought won't last long.

The package contains the iPOD, CD with iTunes + iPOD drivers, a bag with various things including the earpieces and the USB connector and a very tiny manual. The manual may seem too small to be useful, but amazingly you don't need anything more than that. I didn't even look mine. iPOD is truly easy to use. Good job Apple!

The package is well done, however you need to be careful because the device itself is not secured in any way to it. When you open it up it will fall off the package on your table (or floor) if you don't keep the box horizontal. With the $400 still in your mind that won’t be a pleasant surprise. Apple should either secure it a bit better or change the design of the package to avoid the problem.

The parts with wires (USB and earpieces) are inside a sealed opaque white package. Such package can be hard to open. You would be tempted to open it with scissor with the risk of cutting the thin wires inside. A transparent bag, or a bag with an easy to open mechanism, would have been a better choice.

The ear piece foam covers are very thin and over packaged. To take them out the package you are supposed to rip the package along an especially made cut. If you do too quickly (still shacking for having dropped your iPOD on the floor) you would rip the ear piece too. You need to use you scissors or you need to be extremely careful. Apple should review the choice of packaging here. A small transparent plastic box that you can use to store these delicate parts would seem like a much higher quality choice.

Even if you succeed in taking the foam covers from the bag without destroying them you’ll eventually find that they are useless; too thin and flimsy. They come off the earpiece way too easily; they cover the “L” and “R” labels on the ear piece and they are just annoying.

I guess I have small ears because the ear pieces don't fit in mine; they fall right off. To solve the problem I had to buy a third party attachment (made by Griffin) that allows me to select a smaller dimension. I recommend such attachments if you have the same problem. Given that I'm the only person I know that seem to have this problem I believe that Apple has no reason to worry much about it.

The pouch that comes with your iPOD is cheap and doesn't have any pocket for the ear pieces. Not big deal but for the price they could have done a bit better.

In order to install iTunes you are asked to type-in the serial number of the iPOD. That 11 characters alphanumeric code is printed in the back of the iPOD and is WAY too small. I mean, tiny! If you have any eye sight problems you'd never be able to read it. You may need a magnifying glass, no kidding! I don't have any eye sight issues and I struggled. Apple, can you please print that darn code a little bit bigger? Please? It’s not going to cost much, I promise!

If you use Windows you need to reboot your machine after installing iTunes. Oh well. I am used to it… but still annoying. I bet this is Microsoft fault, and not really Apple.

iTunes really wants to get a credit card number from you, even if you just want to download something free from the music store! Why do they want to get that number from me? I don't like that at all. Apple, if you have free stuff and that’s all I care about, can you please not ask me my CC number? Thanks!

If you download something free Apple will send you an email that looks like the confirmation of an order with balance $0. I personally don’t like that. Every time I get such email in my inbox it makes me think somebody used my account to buy music in my name using my CC.

Overall the iPOD is an awesome device but still find that lack of attention to the details of the user experience in the first 10 minutes of the purchase is something that requires very little for Apple to fix and that could make an OK customer experience into an almost perfect customer experience.