technology tip of the month Pointer and Clicker Article

 

Volume 8 Issue 3 - The Making of a Podcast (Part 2)
By: Virgil E. Varvel Jr.
Keywords: Podcast, Audio Recording, Syndication, RSS, mp3

In part 1, we made an MP3 file and uploaded it onto a Web server. Those were all pretty easy steps, and it continues as we head to step 5. This step can be easy, but it can also require programming, depending on how you want to handle it.

Step 5: Creating Your Feed

In order for others to subscribe to your podcast, you need to have an RSS feed that provides information about your podcast. This RSS feed is an XML (Extensible Markup Language) file that is updated with each additional podcast episode. The feed is a text file that provides specific information about the audio file that is used by various programs such as iTunes to describe and subscribe to the feed. Each time a new audio file is added, the RSS feed is updated with information about the new file so that subscribers can automatically download the new episode. But you have to first create this XML file somewhere, somehow, and then have a method for updating this XML file everytime that you add a new audio file or episode to your podcast. There are at least three ways that you can accomplish this task.

1. The easy and completely out of your hands method.

The easiest way to handle your pod cast is to pay for a service where you can serve your files and run your xml feed. You basically upload your files to their server and run a program to create and maintain your podcast. The directions for using the tool will be different depending on the site, but the process is usually intuitive and simple.

With a podcasting service, there are many issues involved. Many of the issues outlined below will affect how much you pay for your hosting:

  • Check copyright issues, such as whether they claim any ownership rights to what you publish on their site.
  • What are the bandwidth limitations? If you have large files and expect a lot of visitors, you will need a large bandwidth allowance. More bandwidth = more cost.
  • What are the storage limitations? Depending on the length of your podcast, the quality of your files, and how often you post a new file, you can use up a lot of space quickly. More storage = more cost.
  • How easy to use is their rss feed creation tool, if they have one?

Not all inclusive list of sample postcast hosting solutions:

2. The easy but you have to have a Web server method.

This method entails nothing new over the method above, except that rather than serving your audio off of someone else's server, you serve it off of your own. This can help resolve many ownership and copyright issues, and may be cheaper depending on the amount of bandwidth you will be needing.

3. The hard but completely under your control method.

There are two hard ways to do everything yourself. The really hard way is to create your own database for storing your podcast information and other pages that enter information into the database or display the information in an rss feed.

a. For this method, you start with a Web server where you can store your audio files.
b. You then need your own database server in order to automate your rss feed creation. You can use MySQL for a free solution if you know PHP.
c. Next, you create a Web page using SQL and ASP or some other language in order to update your rss feed. This page includes an entry form where you enter the required information for your podcast. The information is then input into a table in your database.
d. Another .asp page can then be created that pulls information out of the database and formats it for an rss feed. This page becomes your podcast.

If the text above makes absoluted no sense to you, then it is probably not the method that you should choose, but I'll try to help explain it a bit more. An RSS/XML feed for a Podcast is just a formatted Web page where certain 'tags' are used to tell users certain things about the files linked by the feed. For a podcast, there are very specific tags that you use as outlined below.

First, the page begins and ends with <rss> and </rss> in order to tell a browser what type of page it is. You may also need additional tags to tell the browser about the type of xml code being used. Here is a sample.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="ISO-8859-1"?>
<?xml-stylesheet title="XSL_formatting" type="text/xsl" href="/rss/rss.xsl"?>
<rss version="2.0"
xmlns:dc="http://purl.org/dc/elements/1.1/"
xmlns:sy="http://purl.org/rss/1.0/modules/syndication/"
xmlns:admin="http://webns.net/mvcb/"
xmlns:rdf="http://www.w3.org/1999/02/22-rdf-syntax-ns#"
xmlns:content="http://purl.org/rss/1.0/modules/content/"
xmlns:itunes="http://www.itunes.com/dtds/podcast-1.0.dtd">

You then need code to connect to the database where your feed data is stored. This code is usually one line and will vary depending on the database and connection type used.

Then, to put in the podcast, you start with the channel tag and all of the subtags that describe the content. Below is an example from ION Frontiers. More in iTunes specific tags can be found on the iTunes Website.

<channel>

<title>ION Frontiers</title>
<link>http://www.ion.uillinois.edu/resources/Frontiers/index.asp</link>
<language>en-us</language>
<copyright>&#x2117; &amp; &#xA9; 2007 Virgil Varvel</copyright>
<itunes:subtitle>Frontiers, the online and distance education podcast</itunes:subtitle>
<itunes:author>Vvarvel@uillinois.edu</itunes:author>
<itunes:summary>Frontiers is a show about the past, present, and future of online and distance education. The formats of the shows will vary to include interviews, commentary, current news, and other information in brief.</itunes:summary>
<description>News, reviews, and commentary on the past, present, and future of distance education, Frontiers is a periodic podcast from ION and Virgil Varvel.</description>
<itunes:owner>
<itunes:name>Virgil Varvel</itunes:name>
<itunes:email>Vvarvel@uillinois.edu</itunes:email>
</itunes:owner>
<itunes:explicit>No</itunes:explicit>
<itunes:image href="http://www.ion.uillinois.edu/resources/Frontiers/Images/LogoGraphic.jpg" />
<itunes:category text="Education">
<itunes:category text="Educational Technology" />
<itunes:category text="Higher Education" />
</itunes:category>
<itunes:category text="Technology">
</itunes:category>

Next, you code each individual mp3 file by pulling it's information from the database.

<%
strSQL = "SELECT * FROM Podcast ORDER BY PubDate DESC"
Set objRec = CreateObject("ADODB.Recordset")
objRec.Open strSQL, MM_connMVCRv5_STRING
while not objRec.eof
%>
<item>
<title><%=objRec("title")%></title>
<description><%=objRec("itunesSummary")%></description>
<itunes:Author><%=objRec("itunesAuthor")%></itunes:Author>
<itunes:Subtitle><%=objRec("itunesSubtitle")%></itunes:Subtitle>
<itunes:Summary><%=objRec("itunesSummary")%></itunes:Summary>
<enclosure url="<%=objRec("URL")%>" length="<%=objRec("length")%>" type="audio/mpeg" />
<guid><%=objRec("URL")%></guid>
<pubDate><%=fncFmtDate(objRec("pubDate"), "%a, %d %b %Y %H:%N:%N CST")%></pubDate>
<itunes:duration><%=objRec("itunesDuration")%></itunes:duration>
<itunes:keywords><%=objRec("itunesKeywords")%></itunes:keywords>
</item>
<%
objRec.MoveNext
wend
objRec.close
%>

If you do not have a database, or the programming skills necessary to create the pages for entry of information into the database, you can also simply update the xml page manually each time you add a file. In other words, you keep the same tags in the text above, but anywhere you see <%...%>, you simply hand enter the information. Here are some keys to entering the information

  • The most important line is the <enclosure> information.
  • The URL can be anywhere
  • The length is in bytes. You can find this information by looking at the info field of the file. On a PC, right click on the file and select properties to see the length in bytes.
  • The type depends on the file being links. For mp3, it is audio/mpeg
  • Duration is in minutes and seconds, such a 5:30

You then end the page with ending tags.

</channel>
</rss>

You can see this feed at http://www.ion.uillinois.edu/resources/Frontiers/index.asp

Step 6: Advertising Your Podcast

How can you let everyone know about your podcast? There are several ways.

  • One way is simply to use one of the services listed above. When you put a podcast on their site, several of the services will post the podcast to various indexes.
  • For sites like iTunes, you need to actively tell them about your podcast.
  • You can also advertise your site on various podcast aggregators such as Yahoo Podcasts, Bloglines, PodNova, Google, and Newsgator.
  • And you can simply give people the URL to your RSS feed.

Conclusion

If you stay to the basics, you can have a podcast up and running in very little time. Just be sure to make a plan and try to follow it.

 

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