When Podcasting first burst on the scene last year, it was one of those moments when I had to balance two important mandates, as a columnist and as a contributing member of Society as a whole.

No, “Podcasting”. Really? I’m surprised you haven’t heard of it. OK, well, the idea of Podcasting is to save an audio file in a directory on a public server, along with an XML file that describes what’s in there, all organized with titles, descriptions, dates and times.

That should be amusing enough for the fellow who’s posting the files. Who among us hasn’t engaged in such a hot, animalistic night of editing Extended Markup Language files and uploading stuff to an FTP server that the landlady came pounding at the door? But Podcasting also has an attraction for actual users, too: with podcasting software, you can “subscribe” to feeds that other people have created. Head on over to www.iPodder.org to download iPodder, the first such app, and the best of the free. It works just like a newsfeed reader: at regular intervals, your podcast client races out into the Internet (heedless of oncoming traffic), and downloads any podcast files that haven’t been downloaded into your iTunes library yet.

The upshot is that iTunes receives a constant supply of recordings as though you’ve earned the attention of a legion of benevolent elves. If you’ve an iPod, you can be sure that at no moment during your hour-long morning commute will you be at a loss for for free and freshly-updated news and entertainment, or pay full attention to the road.

It’s just such a terrific idea and such a natural extension of that meaty basic concept of the Web that in time, Podcasting is sure to become a familiar part of the landscape. The only limit is in finding good podcasts. The problem with podcasts is that anyone can create them. Even just out of spite. We might rail against the bureaucracy of commercial radio and its refusal to put anything on the air that hasn’t been thoroughly focus-grouped, market-tested, business-planned, and received a favorable report from that monkey that they’ve trained to throw darts, but give ’em credit: they never tried to fill 30 minutes of airtime with a field report of how an average person’s breakfast is going, spoonful-by-spoonful.

But when I realized that I’d soon be giving a series of talks at a conference at a university, I saw my opportunity. Here I’d be creating a half hour of new audio content every day! It was a golden opportunity to fulfill my mandate as a columnist (gather first-hand experience in creating a podcast) and as a human (while not tricking people into listening to me talk about how I managed to clean flan out of a pair of trousers).

Podcasting is a snap for listeners. Download iPodder, plug in a few URLs (iPodder.org maintains a list of great ones) and you’re home and dry. But at this particular stage in human development, Society has failed to smile upon the humble podcaster. Information on podcasts is scarce. Or rather, it’s out there to be Googled for but much like the magic books that Harry Houdini published – which purportedly explained all of his secrets but whose real purpose was to teach his competitors how to do things completely wrong – as you read them you get the sense that somewhere out there, someone’s having a damned good laugh at your expense.

Podcasting goes like this. Step One: record some audio. Fair enough. My PowerBook has a built-in mic, but it won’t give you decent audio for podcasting purposes. Instead, buy a cheap mic that clips to your shirt and then plug it into a good pre-amp, like Griffin Technology’s similarly-cheap iMic (www.griffintechnology.com). Then it’s on to choosing an app that records audio. Another win: there’s a free app on Griffin’s site called “Final Vinyl” that handily out-performed both of its competitors. GarageBand tended to stop in the middle of long recordings as my PowerBook ran out of system resources, and while I really like Felt Tip’s SoundStudio (www.felttip.com), Final Vinyl offered a better one-click solution to the simplistic goal of recording voice in high fidelity.

Alas, Final Vinyl works only with Griffin audio products, but you already bought the iMic, didn’t you? Record your audio as an AIFF file, open it in iTunes, convert it to a nice, compact MP3, toss it somewhere in the Sites folder of your .Mac iDisk, and you’re done!

...Except for that pesky XML file. Ah. Well, surely there’s some sort of automated software to manage a podcast? Nnnnnnope. All right, I’ll build the file myself.

Podcasting is such a wildfire-like phenomenon that a simple Google search will leave me with helpful information up to my earpits, yes?

Not as such. There are plenty of how-to pages out there, but their step-by-step explanation of building a podcast XML file consists solely and entirely of confirming that (a) is is indeed an XML file, and (b) it couldn’t be simpler, really.

I felt somewhat under-served.
Ultimately, I relied on that wonderful mechanism of all Internet progress: thievery. I opened the XML file of an existing podcast and messed with it until it worked for my needs. Go ahead, steal from mine: http://homepage.mac.com/andyi/cwop/cwop.xml. Everything above describes your overall podcast. The name, the author, a related link to your site. Everything between tags represents a different audio file. Change the content to the URL of the file, change the “size” to the size of the file in bytes.

Later, I learned about Feeder, Reinvented Software’s
(www.reinventedsoftware.com) slick GUI-fied app for creating and updating XML files. However you create it, save your XML file to a public directory on your iDisk (like your Sites folder), give people the URL to the file, and you’re Podcasting.

I’ve just given you all the information and advice that took me a week to work out on my own. After a quick and completely successful test of the podcast, I strode into that university lecture hall with a tremendous sense of pride and accomplishment. I clipped on my microphone, plugged in my iMic, clicked the “Record” button in Final Vinyl...

And then my PowerBook went dead. The power plug in the lectern was faulty and fried my power adaptor.

I bet you thought that this was going to be a column that would teach you about Podcasting through a Mac. No, I wanted to teach you two far more valuable lessons: (1) God exists; and (2) He does not hold us in high esteem.

I patiently closed my PowerBook and before continuing with my address, I broke Commandments 1 through 3, and resolved to get on with Number 4 upon the very next Sabbath day. MW