Podcasts without iTunes

By Graham K. Rogers

I recently had a look at the way we use the iTunes shop and iTunes to subscribe to podcasts. Although podcasts had existed for a while before they were available at the iTunes shop, I think that their inclusion was a catalyst.

Before that, podcasts were fringe communication. Those in the know would track them down and download the necessary software so that they could be transferred to MP3 players. Sometimes they would be included as part of a link on a website visited. As with many such evolutions in technology, a killer appplication arrives, or the userbase reaches a critical mass: sometimes at the same time.

I think the name "podcasting" is a misnomer: it is not necessary to have an iPod (as smooth as they do operate with iTunes integration): any MP3 player will work. If you do not have an MP3 player, the music or the video will run just as well on your computer.

Juice logo A podcatcher is the software for downloading such a file. One of the earliest I used was a cross-platform application, then called ipodder, but now renamed Juice. It is for OS X, Windows and Linux. Yamipod is also multi-platform. A search on VersionTracker produces several more for Windows and Macs. Like RSS technology, on which podcasting depends, this is not Mac-only technology.

If we want to listen to a podcast regularly we need to subscribe. The location of the site has to be entered into the software we select. As I use iTunes, OS X and an iPod, this is simple when the podcasts are listed in iTunes. Not everyone has an iPod or uses iTunes. Fortunately, there are several other sites where podcasts are listed, both old and new.

Juice panel

Podcast Pickle claims to be the first podcast and videocast (they use the word, vidcast) community; and I think that this word is relevant to the growth of this method of disseminating information in its many forms. The cooperation and friendliness that exists can be common online. The site, with something over 10,000 podcasts listed, looks a bit disorganised. Trying to sign up so that the podcast was included was not easy. It did not like my alphanumeric characters, so after a couple of attempts, I gave up.

Podcast Pickle web page

PodNova tracks some 74,000 podcasts but was a little slow from this neck of the woods. I had entered details of the podcast early morning while trying things out. When I registered in the afternoon, the eXtensions podcast was already "scheduled for spidering." This site is somewhat different in that membership is required and podcasts are recieved via client software available for multiple platforms.

Podcast Alley is used particularly by music-related podcasts and has just over 26,000 listed. It is a fairly tidy, business-like site with several useful links. Adding the podcast was straightforward, but like other sites, the podcasts do not apppear instantly: checks (rightly) are made.

PodcastAlley panel

Like other sites, a search may be made for a podcast. I like the way basic details appeared which were expanded quickly using scripting. This site also has its own podcast player so that, if we find a podcast that might be interesting, we can sample it there and then. Podcast Alley also has a number of other onsite features, including a software section and a Wikipedia-linked explanation of what a podcast is.

Although these sites have a good range of podcasts from which to choose and the ability to submit podcasts for inclusion, perhaps the largest non-iTunes site, and also one of the newer ones, is the facility provided by Yahoo! at podcasts.yahoo.com/ (there is no www in there).

Yahoo podcasts

As well as a high number of podcasts, the site is well organised and it is easy to find much of the information quickly. Several features make this site useful, particularly for those trying podcasts for the first time. Other facilities here include a clear series of pages that explain what a podcast is and how to make your own, right down to a sample RSS page: the file required for the feed technology to operate.

Yahoo! also provides a (Windows-only) music engine which might help those with the older browsers that have failed to keep up with advances in web technology. Submitting a podcast takes a few days after the requisite online form is completed.

With a proper browser, a podcast page (series) in Yahoo! is shown with the current podcasts (episodes) available. In the information section we can either listen or subscribe. In the episodes sections there are buttons to allow listening or downloading of the selected podcasts.

Online subscription to regularly transmitted sound or video files, that can be used on a computer or MP3 player, are in reach of anyone: listen or produce your own.

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