Understanding podcasts

If pop culture is anything to go by, 2015 is the year of the future. It's also the year of the present. And I'd like to kick the year off by learning about something from the past: Podcasting.

Podcasting is a foreign term to a lot of people, but the medium has certainly seen a resurgence in mainstream media in recent months. As a result, many are unsure about whether podcasts are something they would be interested in or not. When I first heard of podcasts ten years ago, I didn’t fully understand what they were. When I was asked to help put together sound effects and mixed in content for a podcast, I thought it was a one-off, one-time thing. In reality, though, podcasts are much more interesting.

In computer terms, podcasts are surprisingly old. The term itself emerged in 2004, referring to a music or talk program made available digitally. Most podcasts are episodic, with new episodes being released on a regular basis. Typically, podcasts are in audio format but instead of listening to shows live like you would on the radio, you would download or stream episodes to your device.

Since Apple added podcast support to iTunes in 2005 shows have become convenient to download and listen to. You also can find numerous podcast apps for your tablet or smartphone to listen to podcasts. With the ease of current technology, it’s no wonder that there are now likely as many Americans listening to podcasts as there are Twitter users in America.

If you’ve never heard of podcasts before, or if you’ve never listened to one, you may think that podcasts are for geeks. But in fact, there are podcasts for any and every topic. And you don’t have to be a nerd to listen to them. For instance, my mother-in-law just recently started listening to podcasts on her iPhone. She found some travel related podcasts, a food podcast, and audio podcasts for her favorite magazines.

Working with software, certain podcasts that I listen to, such as Developing Perspective, help give me new ideas about technology and development that I may not have thought about before. Having these insights helps give me new ways of approaching what I do.

When I’m not listening to technical podcasts, I have several more entertaining ones that I’ll turn on. For instance, as a fan of Star Trek, I’ve come to enjoy Random Trek, a podcast where the host and his guest discuss random episodes of Star Trek. I also have a few episodes of Writing Excuses that I have enjoyed.

Because of the wide variety of available podcasts, there’s no doubt that you could find one that interests you. And, unlike a radio show that you may miss and never catch again, podcasts live online. Even if a podcast you’re interested in no longer produces new episodes, you can still catch the show from the very beginning. So whether it’s a podcast about travel, food, tech, comedy, or anything else, you can find something to fit your tastes. You can even listen to drama in podcast form, with the likes of Serial proving to be uber-popular.

So, where do you start? First, identify how you will listen. If from your computer, iTunes is the easiest way to get started. If you’re using a mobile device, you can find numerous podcast apps on both the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store.

No matter which app you end up using, most typically have a directory that you can search through. Start by searching for a particular topic. You can then look at the shows covering those topics and see the various episodes they’ve released. You typically will have the option to either download a single episode of a podcast or to subscribe to all new episodes. Whatever you choose, podcasts are free to download, free to subscribe to, and free to listen to.

At the very least, check some podcasts out. If there is even one podcast that you are interested in, it may introduce you to a new, informative, and entertaining medium to enjoy.