(mini)Guide to the media revolution

Two weeks ago, Apple launched a version of iTunes that supports podcasting. If you are currently mystified by this phrase, fear not, as today I shall attempt to reveal all. Or at least a little more.

Broadly, in my view ‘Media’ (see also ‘meeja’) can be divided into print, audio and video, with each of these having traditional versions and online or digital counterparts. For example, newspapers and magazines have well established presences online, and many radio stations have a website where their shows can be ‘streamed’ or downloaded. The new component that the internet has added is that it is a publishing and distribution medium with a very low barrier to entry. So if you have something to say, you don’t have to pay to print pamphlets, or get yourself a radio show or make a TV programme. Instead, you can write a blog (like this one), create a podcast or make a vlog.

As you have probably worked out, a blog is usually an online diary written by anyone from politicians to twentysomething londoners to ex-star trek actors. They can also be contributed to by a group to act more like a news feed (see slashdot and boingboing, for example).

To manage the huge number of blogs out there and the need to check them regularly for updates, RSS readers (or aggregators) were created. These pieces of software allow you to subscribe to a series of different blogs that generate RSS feeds (usually indicated by a little orange XML box, just to confuse things further). Both Safari (Apple’s browser) and Firefox have support for RSS as part of the browser.

Blog are to newspapers as podcasts are to radio. To create one, you record a show (which can be done on any computer with a microphone) and generate an MP3 file. This is attached to an RSS file and uploaded to a web server. Software such as iPodder or iTunes can then detect when a new file is available and download it automatically if you are subscribed to that podcast.

There are an enormous number of podcasts out there for a phenomenon that has been going for only 18 months or so, and of all standards. One of the pioneers of the format was american Adam Curry, a former MTV VJ who now produces a podcast called the Daily Source Code from his house in Guildford. The BBC are great at adopting new phenomena as they come along and have been making selected radio programs available for download for some time. They are now a part of Apple’s podcasting directory, so that you can automatically receive the 8.10 interview from the Today programme, for example.

The latest addition to this crop of new formats is the vlog, which Wired has a good set of articles on at the moment. This format is in it’s early days and lacks a majority single format and a popular way of making it portable.

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