The new form of internet subscription audio called podcasting has become wildly popular. Not only because it offers such a wide area of free entertainment, but also because it's so easy to become a podcaster. Producing a podcast can be as easy as recording with the internal microphone on your computer into the free Audacity sound editing program. (Check out "What Is Podcasting" for a step-by-step guide to getting started.)
But once the MP3 of your podcast is created, where do you put it? Podcast MP3 files are significantly larger than HTML files or JPEG images. On average, a podcast MP3 is ten to 20 megabytes, sometimes going to 40 megabytes or more. That's not only a problem for file storage on the server; it also becomes a bandwidth issue as more listeners subscribe to the podcast.
This article offers several solutions to the hosting problem. These ideas are pulled from the pages of my new book, Podcasting Hacks, on bookshelves now.
With the advent of podcasting, a new breed of ISP was born: the dedicated podcast hosting service. Traditional ISPs provide a set amount of disk space and a bandwidth limit. The new podcasting hosting services offer different service and pricing models that work better for podcasters.
Liberated Syndication is a popular podcast-hosting service that hosts a number of highly regarded podcasts. One in particular is James Palonco's excellent Fake Science podcast, which combines music reviews, music industry news, and fascinating interviews with influential people (like me). ;-)
There are several different Liberated Syndication hosting plans that range from $5 to $30 per month. Each level has an associated amount of megabytes per month. At the $5 level you get 100 megabytes, which, if each of your podcasts is 10 megabytes, allows for 10 podcasts a month. Not too shabby, if you are just starting out. Bandwidth is unlimited, so you will never pay overage charges.
As with other podcast hosting services, it's more than just disk space you are buying. Liberated Syndication also provides a complete blogging/podcasting package, where you can upload your podcasts, write an associated blog entry, and have the RSS 2.0 feed created for you automatically.
This RSS 2.0 feed is critical, because that's what is required for listeners to subscribe to your service. And it's your entry ticket into the Apple iTunes podcast list, which will make your podcast available to millions of iTunes users worldwide.
Another long-term player in podcast hosting services is AudioBlog. In fact, they have been around since before podcasting was, well, named podcasting. For a fixed fee of $49.97 per year, you get unlimited podcast uploads. Each of these podcasts is limited to 60 minutes, but that's not much of a limitation. There is a bandwidth limit of five gigabytes per month, with a $1 overage charge for each additional gigabyte.
As with Liberated Syndication, the AudioBlog service provides an easy interface to add blog entries, podcasts, and now, videocasts as well. To make it even easier, they have an integrated blog recorder that allows you to create podcasts very quickly through your browser. They also have a nifty Flash MP3 player that is attached to each podcast on your blog page, so that people can just start playing your podcast without going through a download.
Odeo is a kind of mystery service. You can't sign up for it today, but you can ask for an early-access account to try the service out. The service, once you have an account, has easy blogging and podcasting interfaces as the other services do. There is also a handy downloader application that your listeners can use to automatically download your podcast. But in general, I would recommend pointing your listeners towards iTunes, since it's very easy to use and opens up the whole world of podcasting to them.
OurMedia is a podcasting service that works in conjunction with the Internet Archive. OurMedia has one particularly appealing feature: it's free. You start by creating an account on the service, which automatically creates a home page and a blog. Podcasts can be attached to the blog using a simple file-upload mechanism. And listeners can subscribe to the blog using an automatically generated RSS 2.0 feed.
The only drawback is that the podcast must be licensed under the Creative Commons. Creative Commons is not a particularly daunting license. Use of the audio can be restricted from commercial use, or restricted from further modification. But in general, it's best just to let people do what they will with your content, unless it's particularly important for them not to repurpose it. (Check out "An Interview with Ourmedia.org's J.D. Lasica.")
All of the solutions so far are fine if you have no existing blog to attach the audio to. But what happens when you already have a blog? One option is to use the disk space on the ISP account where the blog's hosted. But there are a few other, less expensive options.
It's important to understand that the MP3 files for a podcast do not need to be located on the same server as the blog that references them. Each blog entry in the RSS 2.0 feed contains both the text of the blog and the link to the URL of the MP3 file. That link can be to anywhere on any server, which opens up a lot of possibilities.
The first is to use the Internet Archive to host the MP3 audio files. This is the equivalent of using the OurMedia service, but just not using their blogging and RSS 2.0 services. To use the Internet Archive, go to the site and set up an account. Then upload the MP3 file, and a URL will be generated that should be attached to the blog entry as the location of the audio. As with OurMedia, the content must be licensed under the Creative Commons to be stored on the Internet Archive.
Another option is to use the file space that comes with a service like .Mac. These file-storage services are essentially internet disks where files can be stored and referenced by URL. A number of popular podcasts use .Mac to host their MP3 files. If you already have an existing .Mac account, then this is an easy option for storing your podcasts. I contacted Apple about the bandwidth policy of .Mac and the response I got back was that bandwidth issues were evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and that there are no stated limits or policies.
If you already have an ISP and you have enough disk space and bandwidth, you can use it to host your blog and podcast. It's important to make sure that you have enough disk space to handle the load. Check with your ISP to see how much you have, and what the policy is if you run over. If you have had the account for a while, you should also check to see if new accounts have more disk space. If so, request that you get as much disk space as a new account. You might find that, for being a good customer, they give you a gig or two extra.
The second issue with your ISP is the bandwidth policy. Doing some simple math, you can run into bandwidth limitations pretty quickly. Assuming ten megabyte podcasts at ten a month, that's 100 megs a month. Figuring ten listeners, that's a gigabyte a month. Figuring 100 a month, that's ten gigabytes. This is why knowing your ISP's bandwidth policy is important. Will they cut you off if you exceed the limit? Will they charge you extra? If so, how much? Is it unlimited? Do they even monitor it?
My advice is to get your ISP on the phone, or register a support request. Let them know that you intend to podcast and give them some estimates of how big the files will be and how many people you expect to tune in. If you end up going over your limit and getting a big bill, it will be handy to have a paper trail or a relationship that you can use to settle the bill without breaking the bank.
If your intention is not to podcast all that often, then this is probably the best way to go. If your podcast takes off and disk space or bandwidth becomes a problem, you can try some of these other options.
If you have an ISP but do not currently have a blog, then there are several blogging packages that make it easy to both blog and podcast. WordPress is a PHP-based blogging package that, in its latest release, supports podcasting natively. Movable Type is a very popular blogging package written in Perl. The "enclosure" extension to RSS 2.0 that is required to make podcasting work is not integrated into the default RSS templates, but there is a simple plugin that adds support for effortless podcasting. Drupal is another PHP blogging application that natively supports podcasting after you set it up by enabling the aggregator and upload modules, and enabling syndication.
If you already have a Blogger or Radio Userland blog, then you can use Feedburner to create RSS 2.0 feeds for your podcast. Feedburner is a free service that will convert the RSS files from your Blogger or Radio Userland blogs into RSS 2.0 feeds that have the proper enclosure tags that support podcasting. Feedburner also tracks access to the RSS 2.0 feed to give you an idea for how many people are downloading your podcast.
You will need to host the MP3 files somewhere. For that you can use the Internet Archive, .Mac, or an ISP account. Radio Userland does allow for a very small amount of disk space to upload very small podcasts.
Whatever route you choose for your podcast, I have one small piece of practical advice for you: always put a link to the podcast in the blog entry itself. This allows people to listen to your podcast from their browser or RSS reader. If the only option that potential listeners have is to subscribe to your podcast in order to listen, to you then you won't find many takers. Subscribing implies a commitment that most people won't give you until they get at least a sample or two of what your show has to offer.
It's no surprise that a bunch of companies and services have popped up to support podcasting. With these services, in particular OurMedia, podcasting is both easy and cheap. Free, even. Pick a topic, download Audacity, and become the radio personality you have always dreamed of being. Believe me, you will have a lot of fun. Especially if you bring along a co-host to make hosting the show even easier.
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