Editor’s Note: This post was reprinted by permission of VisionAware.org.
You’ve heard the term before, "podcast," but do you know what it means? Of course… a little pod being cast about, right? Well, almost! What is a Podcast? A podcast is usually some type of an audio presentation that is distributed or broadcast on the Internet. Strictly speaking, it is a serial audio presentation that you subscribe to with a podcatcher. Audio presentations are made up of digital files that are sent over the Internet. Once a podcast is subscribed to using the podcatcher (a software application or app), new audio presentations are then delivered automatically after publication whenever the podcatcher is connected to the Internet.
You might think of podcasts as radio programming on-demand. Podcasts may provide news, entertainment, newspaper reading services, training presentations, lectures, and so much more! Often, the settings on the podcatcher software will allow users to download the audio program file at the time of publication automatically, or at the time a user wishes to listen to it. Often the podcasts may be streamed, meaning that the file is played over the Internet, as opposed to being first downloaded to the podcatcher, and then played later. You might think of this as an Internet Radio.
Downloading audio files from the Internet is nothing new, and certainly predates the term podcast. In 2001, Apple released the first iPods, which were small digital audio players on which users could download audio files from their computer to take with them on the go. The convenience and portability of the Apple iPod fueled the creation and broadcasting of serial audio productions that could be downloaded and played on the iPod. By 2005 or so, these digital presentations were being called podcasts.
Podcasts and the digital audio files, from which they are created, are dramatically changing the way information is delivered. For example, if you missed your favorite NPR radio broadcast, the Ted Radio Hour, for example, you can download the episode’s archived file, as a podcast, or subscribe to the show’s podcast feed. The feed is just the website address used by a podcatcher or Web browser to find the latest digital audio files as they are broadcast. So, in this example, the link used to subscribe is "feed://www.npr.org/rss/podcast.php?id=510298." This link is meaningless to us, but a Web browser or podcatcher will recognize this as a RSS feed (Real Simple Syndication). This is just the protocol used to make the automatic distribution of a podcast happen.
The technology behind podcasts is very flexible so it may prove a powerful tool for both computer users, and technophobes alike! For example, podcasts may be downloaded to the National Library Service (NLS) digital cartridge and played on a Talking Book player. These are free, easy –to-use players distributed at no cost by the NLS.
Blank cartridges are available from a number of sources, including Perkins Solutions (be sure to order the USB cable at the same time, because this is not a standard USB cable). A family member or other person more comfortable with computers can easily download these podcasts and make them available to someone less comfortable with computers, or the process of downloading files. The NLS Talking Book player is just one example. The same could also be done with other accessible players, such as the Victor Reader Stream, the iPod Touch, or even a PenFriend in MP3 Mode!
If you are already a computer user or own a smart phone or tablet, here are some useful software podcatchers:
For the PC
Webbie is a suite of applications that is completely accessible and simple to use. It includes an accessible podcather in the suite. If you are new to podcasts or screen readers this is a good place to start, and it’s free.
Juice was considered the standard for accessible podcatchers for many years, and it too is a free download. If you look at the Juice website, all references to downloads and support refer to older versions of the Windows and Mac operating systems. There are many references reporting that it continues to work well with newer versions of Windows, and this writer installed the software on Windows 7 with no difficulty.
For iOS (iPod, iPad, or iPhone)
Downcast is available as an app for both the Apple iOS devices and the Mac. It is $2.99 and $7.99 respectively and completely accessible with the voiceover screen reader.
Overcast has recently changed from a pay model to free, is simple to use and accessible using voiceover.
DoggCatcher is $2.99 and accessible with TalkBack screen reader.
Podkicker is free and accessible. It is easy to use and has a powerful search function for finding podcasts.
Keep in mind, if you are an Internet user, you can always use a Web browser like Safari or Internet Explorer to go to the website of the podcast you are interested in, and either download the file, or listen to it streaming live. For example, one of my favorite weekly podcasts, Accessible World Tek Talk is in Podkicker on my Android phone and updates automatically with each new episode.
Alternatively, if I’m on my desktop computer, the Tek Talk Archives webpage has a list of all the podcasts to date as MP3 audio files. Clicking on one of the archived files opens it and begins playing it. Very simple!
To get started, here are several podcasts related to accessible technology and vision loss.
The wide variety and popularity of podcasts has certainly exploded since the term was first coined following the introduction of Apple’s iPod 15 years ago! Once you start exploring some of the rich diversity of podcasts available, most often at no cost, you will realize that podcasts really are seed pods of entertainment, educational lectures, training, and so much more, cast onto the Internet for your enjoyment and edification!
Have you tapped into podcasting? If so, which podcast do you enjoy the most? Share your experience with the world of podcasting in the comment section below.