Apple Takes up Podcasting

Well, this should be interesting: Apple has taken up podcasting.

Translation: There are scads of websites out there that produce audio files (mp3s and the like) in the same manner that we bloggers produce text entries. You can either visit their sites periodically and download the files manually to listen to them, or you can use a client program to download the files automatically. Even transfer them to your portable mp3 player. It’s very cool. And this phenomenon is called “podcasting”.

There are a couple of problems with podcasting. The main one is that the languages of the Internet aren’t designed to convey much information about types of content; this means that there isn’t a built-in way for podcasters to let the rest of the world know they exist. You can’t just press a button on your web browser and say, “go find every podcast in the world that I would be interested in.” Well, not yet, anyway. I’m sure Google’s working on it.

So people have to use podcast directories, like podcast.net or ipodder.org. Usually you use these services in conjunction with a podcasting client so that you can view a catalog of podcasts, see a text description of each one, and download samples so you know if you want to subscribe or not.

That’s what Apple has done with their newest version of iTunes. They built themselves a podcast directory which integrates into the iTunes music store as another genre. It in turn has its own sub-genres like politics, music, business, education, etc. It’s a decent interface.

Decent, but it’s got some problems with both the interface and the content.

For example, let’s say I want to subscribe to five particular music podcasts. Okay, I go to the iTunes Music Store, select the Podcast genre, select the Music sub-genre, and I get a list of all the Music podcasts. Great. Now I find the Lacivious Biddies podcast, which was top on my list, and click “subscribe”. BAM. I am taken to a windows that shows my local podcasts, the ones I’ve already subscribed to. There’s no back button to get to the screen I was just at. To subscribe to another Music podcast, I have to go back through the whole navigation scheme from the start.

No thank you.

Then there’s the content problems. See, podcasting is completely unregulated, just like blogging. I mean, even on a knitting blog you might find something horribly inappropriate.

Heh, heh, heh. Don’t worry, I’ll be good.

The big problem here isn’t vulgarity, it’s the onerous copyright laws that the US has (and which it’s trying to export to the rest of the planet). Some of my favorite podcasts are frankly illegal. Radio Clash comes to mind. It specializes in mashups, which are very involved remixes of other artists’ work.

I note that Radio Clash is not to be found in the iTunes podcast directory. I happen to already know about it, so I was able to find the correct URL for the podcast feed and subscribe to it manually through iTunes, but the point is that iTunes’ directory is necessarily limited. A Google solution is sounding better and better to me.

If you’re a fan of listening to stuff, I highly recommend downloading iTunes if you don’t already have it and browsing the podcasts. Or use iPodderX. Or whatever. You don’t need to have an iPod to listen to them, or even a portable mp3 player. At the minimum you need a computer with a speaker, that’s it.

Update
Another problem: the iTunes aggregator doesn’t have an Atom parser.
Translation: up above when I said that the languages of Internet don’t know much about content, I was oversimplifying. There are several layers of language involved in the WWW. The lowest-level ones are designed to be capable of very simple conversations, mostly consisting of who is talking to whom and moving arbitrary data between them. In order to implement stuff like web browsers, you need to create a higher-level language which can have more sophisticated conversations. The higher-level languages translate the conversations they’re having into the lower-level languages, and you and I, the users, remain blissfully unconcerned with how everything works.

But only the most low-level languages are really standardized. (And even those are subject to debate.) The higher-level languages have been created by pockets of devlopers all working on different problems. At the moment, there are two big languages that are used for podcasting in general and syndication in particular: RSS and Atom.

Looks like iTunes only knows how to handle RSS. Darn.

Update II
As Spider notes in the comments, the browsing issue I was having was mostly due to my misunderstanding the interface.
If you do a search, subscribe to a podcast, and then click on the iTunes Music Store, you’re taken back to the search page you just left.
What I was doing was clicking on the “Podcast Directory” link at the bottom of the subscribed podcasts window. Thanks, Spider.

One Response to “Apple Takes up Podcasting”

  1. Spider Says:

    For example, let’s say I want to subscribe to five particular music podcasts. Okay, I go to the iTunes Music Store, select the Podcast genre, select the Music sub-genre, and I get a list of all the Music podcasts. Great. Now I find the Lacivious Biddies podcast, which was top on my list, and click “subscribe”. BAM. I am taken to a windows that shows my local podcasts, the ones I’ve already subscribed to. There’s no back button to get to the screen I was just at. To subscribe to another Music podcast, I have to go back through the whole navigation scheme from the start.

    No thank you.

    Um, when I was using iTunes just as you describe above, I didn’t have this problem. After I clicked to subscribe to a podcast, it took me to my podcasts and downloaded. Upon completion, I clicked the “music store” button again, and was taken RIGHT BACK to my search. No problem!