Wednesday, December 31, 2008

So you want to be a podcaster?

One of the questions that inevitably comes out of Web 2.0 workshops is how can I produce my own podcasts?

I have to admit my initial response is a rather skeptical, REALLY?

Why am I so skeptical? Let's look at what a podcast really is. Let's look at the definition from Wikipedia:

"A podcast is a series of audio or video digital-media files which is distributed over the Internet by syndicated download, through Web feeds, to portable media players and personal computers. Though the same content may also be made available by direct download or streaming, a podcast is distinguished from other digital-media formats by its ability to be syndicated, subscribed to, and downloaded automatically when new content is added. Like the term broadcast, podcast can refer either to the series of content itself or to the method by which it is syndicated; the latter is also called podcasting. The host or author of a podcast is often called a podcaster.

"The term is a portmanteau of the words "iPod" and "broadcast", the Apple iPod being the brand of portable media player for which the first podcasting scripts were developed (see history of podcasting). Such scripts allow podcasts to be automatically transferred from a personal computer to a mobile device after they are downloaded. As more devices other than iPods became able to synchronize with podcast feeds, the term was redefined by some parties as a backronym for "Personal On Demand broadCASTING"."

Okay, so when I hear a librarian say s/he wants to do a podcast, I interpret it to mean that s/he wants to offer an on-going audio/video program for syndication over the internet. Frequently, that's not what s/he means at all, instead s/he is using podcast to cover any audio or video program. Perhaps s/he just wants to take a video of the end of summer reading. If that's what you mean, there will be another blog post just for you. And the good news is that producing an occasional audio/video program is SO much easier than producing a podcast.

I think the first task of anyone starting a new project is to see what others are doing so you can get a good idea of what works and what doesn't. So, if you haven't done so already, by all means download iTunes, Juice, Ziepod or one of the numerous other podcast aggregators out there. Then subscribe to some library-related podcasts. Unfortunately, many seem to have been brief experiments and are no longer being updated. The only current ones in my iTunes library are podcasts of author/speaker events at some of the larger public libraries: Seattle, Philadelphia, Los Angeles. But do look around and see what you find. I also recommend an archived presentation from the SirsiDynix Institute: A Beginner's Guide to Podcasting: Part 2 - A Creator's Guide. It's over 2 years old already but provides a good overview.

So what do you need to be a podcaster?

1) Passion. This can be a lot of work and thus tough to maintain over the long run. So pick a topic area you really feel passionate about. This advice comes from some of the big name podcasters who've been doing it for years.

2) Set some reasonable timetables and goals. IMO, a real podcast should have new programs at least once a month. You want to reward your subscribers with a regular product. So, let's say you decide to create a podcast highlighting your library's programs for the upcoming month. That means next month's program needs to be available for download by the end of the current month. In the meantime, you need to decide how long the finished product will be - say 1/2 hour; who you'll need to interview - story time readers - what are their themes, potential books?; other children's/teens'/adult program leaders. Next come up with some scripts so you'll know what to ask them. The key is to keep it brief but to come up with something interesting and compelling to bring people into the library for the programs you're promoting. Set aside some time for editing. Chances are not all the interview content will be what you want so you'll want to cut extra, off topic stuff and perhaps hems and haws, coughs, sneezes, dog barking and other extraneous noises. Then you add information about the program to your feed and upload it to your server.

3) Equipment

There are some hardware/software needs.

The easiest way to take care of a lot of your equipment software needs for creating audio and video content is to get a Mac. They all come with built in web cams and microphones and with audio and video editing software. While the quality is not professional grade, it would suffice for most beginners. And the learning curve is not steep.
  • Microphones/speakers - many Windows laptops also come with built in microphones and speakers. But while the speakers on newer laptops are tolerable, I've never been able to get the built in microphones to work to my satisfaction. There are a number of reasonably priced headsets on the market which will take care of both headphones and microphones. MSL bought headsets from Plantronics. They work pretty well but you do get some popping noises when you speak. I was looking for a portable microphone/recording unit to use to record family oral histories. I recently bought a Zoom H2 from Amazon. It's small and very portable but the instruction manual is so daunting that I have yet to really try it out.
  • There's a lot of audio editing software out there. The most commonly recommended free option is Audacity. It's open source with all the positive and negative connotations therein. I've used it a couple of times with no significant loss of hair from pulling it out in frustration. But I can't say I feel like I know how to use it. And of course, there are a number of software products you can buy from fairly reasonable to very expensive. And, do keep in mind that audio editing and video editing in particular require a fast processor.
  • Feed creator software - you can create your own XML feeds but it's much easier to buy software to do it for you. That way you just fill in the blanks. I've never gone so far to create any podcasts myself so I haven't used any of the feed creators enough to recommend one. But some of those referred to the most are FeedForAll and JitBit.
  • Web space and bandwidth - this is potentially the most costly on-going expense. Audio and video files in particular are much larger than the average library web page. So they require more web space for storage. An NPR technology highlights program which runs 25 minutes is 11.5 MB. If you have 100 MB of web space available, you won't be able to keep more than 8 programs - not a big deal if this is a monthly event update but something to consider if you're recording local oral histories. And most service providers will charge you extra for what they consider excessive bandwidth usage. If your podcast has 10 subscribers who each download your program once a month, that's 115 MB of bandwidth used. You may need to buy additional space and bandwidth. So, you'll definitely want to ask questions of your service providers as to what's available and what are the costs. Also, when you're deciding whether or not to create podcasts, you may want to take into consideration the bandwidth available to your most likely subscribers. Even a relatively small program of 11.5 MB takes hours to download on a dial-up connection.
For video podcasts add:
  • a video camera
  • video editing software
  • a fairly new computer with fast processor
  • a web server with even more space and greater available bandwidth for downloads
You'll also need to make some decisions about video format. While audio podcasts generally use a standard .MP3 format, there are more choices available for video including high definintion. The potential expense for a video podcast is much higher than for audio. If you are contemplating creating video content, I suggest you look at some other alternatives, including YouTube. We can come back to video podcasts and talk about them in greater detail at some time in the future if there's an interest.

Two more points for consideration are copyright and privacy issues. One of the possible uses I've heard mentioned frequently for podcasts is recording story time. You can work out for yourselves whether or not you think it would have an appeal in an audio format but regardless of whether you use audio or video, keep in mind that most of your story time books are under copyright restrictions. Making the text available over the internet in an audio format and/or showing the illustrations in a video format would most certainly be viewed as copyright violations without the permission of the author/publisher. Regarding privacy, I'd be very cautious about including people, especially minors, in any internet video in particular without consent.

My final suggestion is to share the load. Put together a podcast team from among staff, board members, friends, etc. I think that will make it more likely that this will be an on-going library project than if one or a few overworked individuals try to add it to existing workloads. Small libraries may want to join together with others in their area/federation to create joint podcasts. You can share equipment, expenses and expertise.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Security Tip - F-Prot Antivirus

Hi. Long time no see. I just wanted to fill you in on a good product. F-prot Antivirus ( is a very good and simple antivirus product I have been using for a few months now. I used to use it back in the early-mid 90s (ancient computer history) and I have recently run across it again. I'm glad I did. It is $5 per PC per year. It that price, I am able to run antivirus on all my public stations now.

I get the corporate edition which provides 10 licenses for $50. There are two installation options. First, you can install a version that will check the Internet to upgrade signature files. Or you can install a version that will check a local shared drive for the signature file. There are a set of fairly easy instructions to setup the shared folder and keep it populated with the current signature file.

I installed the Internet checking version on a server, created a shared folder on that server, arranged for F-prot to put the signature file in that folder, and then all the other stations have the "LAN update" version on them and they check that shared folder to upgrade their signature file.

The reason you would want to do this is so that you don't have every station downloading from the F-prot Internet site when an upgraded signature file becomes available. You would just have one station downloading the file and then sharing it with all its associates on the LAN. This makes for a more efficient use of your WAN connection.

I hope you're all staying nice and warm these days. I'll be back in touch next year.