Power of the Net: Podcasts

If you've been following my blog for the past month or two, you can see that I've stretched the limits of my coding capabilities (actually, I have none) and managed to put together a few podcasts and have them broadcast via Apple iTunes, as well as post them to my blog.

What exactly is a podcast? Not being a tech person, I'm not sure if there's an official definition. But the way I look at it, podcasts are a way for anyone with access to the net to broadcast words, images, voice, video and any combination thereof to the rest of the world.

Where you needed a radio station, TV network, newspaper or other form of traditional media to have a voice before, the internet has opened up all sorts of opportunities for people to make themselves heard. Podcasts are a great example of this.

In addition to sharing my own experiences with other people around the world, I'm able to keep tabs on all sorts of stuff that I would otherwise need to invest much more time and effort in, in order to get only a fraction of the information I do now. In other words, podcasts (like the rest of the internet) can be a great way to educate yourself on just about anything you want to know.

I download podcasts to my video iPod, and when I'm stuck in a bus, train, taxi, airplane, airport, hotel, boat...with nothing else I can productively do, I listen to and/ or watch podcasts. It's a great way to transform down time into productive learning experiences.

If you haven't caught on to podcasts, you should...especially if you're an information junkie like me. The easiest way to start wading into the world of podcasts is to download Apple iTunes (works on Mac and PCs) and take a look at the podcast section. Did I mention that all the podcasts are free?

There are podcasts covering just about every topic, so you'll probably be able to find something that interests you. The list is growing every day, so it's worth checking back for more. All you have to do is "subscribe" to podcasts that interest you and watch or listen to them on your computer. They update automatically each time you open iTunes, and you can always unsubscribe if you end up not liking a particular podcast.

Fair warning: there's no traditional editor or network censor per se for podcasts, so the quality of different podcasts varies widely. And unlike traditional media, there doesn't need to be a fixed publishing schedule or format, so some podcasts are published several times a week, and others only as-and-when they're available.

A few examples of podcasts I subscribe to:

Tech Stuff: GeekBrief.TV, TWIT (This Week in Tech), MacWorld Podcast
Science and Nature: 60-Second Science, Science Magazine Podcast, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Wild Chronicles, Science Talk: Podcast of Scientific American, Nature Podcast, National Geographic News, DiveFilm
Humour: Ask a Ninja, Diggnation, The Onion News Network, Tiki Bar TV
Other Stuff: The Economist, NAPP TV, many more

Needless to say, I don't get to watch or listen to all of these, but you'd be surprised how much I learn from these podcasts and the others I subscribe to. It's like having a room full of experts at my personal disposal. And whenever there's something particularly interesting, I can jot down a quick note, and Google it next time I'm online to look for more references and background information.

I think back to the long and tedious hours I spent researching when I was back in school...days, weeks in libraries, followed by waiting for answers to snail-mail letters, followed by telephone calls and site visits...my research today takes a fraction of the time, and I can keep all my notes (text, images, hyperlinks, reference papers, etc.) in electronic form, which means I can access the information whenever I need.

Anyway, the point is that podcasts are a great reference tool if you make use of them (just like the rest of the net!).

If you put my name into the iTunes podcast search engine, my personal podcast will pop up too. I have nowhere near the wherewithal or resources of many of the most well-produced podcasts, but I'm having fun! Example: A Very Hungry Frogfish.

I've got slideshows fairly well mastered. Still have to work on learning video editing software to do more video. I've recently acquired a better microphone too, so hopefully voice tracks will sound better from now on (I just used a cheap headseat before). And I've started podcasting PDFs of some of my published articles. So if you subscribe to my podcast, you'll get a combination of video, audio and written podcasts. This would have been nearly impossible a few years ago.

I love this new tech stuff, and though my own understanding of the relevant coding and software packages is limited, I'm continually pushing everyone I know to get up to speed, though the resistance from most people I know is incredibly high and totally infuriating...about as productive as trying to herd cats in most cases.

One final thought related to this topic...if you or someone you know still stubbornly cling to the notion that the internet is unimportant, a fad, or otherwise useless, chew on this: A few weeks ago, a popular tech site released what later proved to be an untrue story about Apple (essentially stating that the iPhone and next generation Apple OS would be significantly delayed).

Within minutes, more than US$4 billion of Apple's market capitalisation evaporated. Still think the net doesn't have influence? Let's see a newspaper article annihilate US$4 billion in a matter of minutes.

Without getting into a protracted exposition about the pros and cons of new media, there's no denying that electronic media is important, influential, growing and here to stay.

Next time I feel like rambling, maybe I'll try to express my feelings about RSS...