Random Thoughts

Tech, words and musings from an Englishman in Seattle

Google TechTalks On Your AppleTV

So, you've got your AppleTV setup and are jonsing for some content. You've added a bunch of mildly interesting video podcasts, but are looking for some more long form content?

Well, a podcast is just an rss feed with enclosures, yes?

And Google Video supports RSS feeds, yes?

And in iTunes you can add any arbitrary RSS feed!

Tie these facts together and you can tailor your own feed of interesting videos! As an example, lets try generating a feed of all Google TechTalks.

  • Go to the advanced search page on Google Video
  • The author for all Google TechTalks is “Google engEDU”, so enter user:“Google engEDU” in the “with all of the words” text box.
  • In the sort results by dropdown, select “date”.
  • In the results per page dropdown, select “100”.
  • Now select “Google Search” and get the results.

Cool, now we have a page of results, and the URL is something like http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=user%3A%22Google+engEDU%22&so=1&num=100.

Add &output=rss to the end, and you'll get a URL for the RSS feed. Copy that and head over to iTunes.

In iTunes, select “Advanced” and “Subscribe to podcast…”, enter the URL of the RSS feed in the box and voila! You've subscribed to a feed of Google TechTalk videos. Anytime a new one is published, you'll get the new one too as the search is live!

For added coolness, if you've got an AppleTV and it's syncing your podcasts, all these videos are also available in your living room…

Right now I'm sat on the couch watching last week's TechTalk by Merlin Mann of 43 Folders, talking about Inbox Zero

Live Streaming In Second Life

This afternoon I was mucking around in Second Life when a very interesting thing happened.

I had just bought some land in the “podcasting neighbourhood” - near someone quite well known who has a castle, and was checking out (in a nice way) my new neighbours.

Anyhow, I stumbled upon bluggcast who owns a nice piece of waterfront next to the Curry Castle and we started chatting.

It turns out that the music I was hearing was his live shoutcast stream which he was feeding from a laptop in his hotel room in Boston.

While he was chatting to me.

It was fun to hear him give a shout out to me over his live stream.

I tell ya, visceral experiences of all types are melding…

Tags: .

A British Podcast Surfeit

I have a smart play list setup that dumps podcasts into a big bucket that I listen too whilst driving. The order is purely based on download date.

Today for some reason, a bunch of podcasts from or including members of BritCaster were queued up one after the other.

First up was Paul Nichols, aka Podcast Paul, with an episode that included a chat with Alex Bellinger of SmallBizPod.

Next was Paul again with JukePodJury. Joining Paul for the show was Rowley from DarkCompass.

This is a great podcast. Based on the old Juke Box Jury format, Paul and Rowley proffered some great music. I have to confess that I quite regularly fast-forward through music when listening to podcasts as I'm listening for the talk, not music. But each track in this show was top notch!

After that came an episode of one of my all time favourite shows. The Podcast Network's “G'Day World”. Cameron Reilly is a master conversationalist and manages to attract some incredible guests.

Anyhow, I had no idea who would be on the show, when I hear Neil Dixon (esteemed creator of BritCaster) and once again, Alex Bellinger being introduced! In this show we hear them talk about their new company, Audacious Communications and discuss their podcast predictions for 2006.

Sometimes you just get lucky!

January Seattle Podcasters Meetup

Last night I attended the January Seattle Podcasters Meetup, hosted by Travis Petershagen.

A fine night, which included a live podcast, was had by all.

The highlight for me was Chris Pirillo's talk/ramble/rant/stand-up comic routine. Man, can that guy talk.

Chris Pirillo

He was also quite amusing - I think there's a need for a geeky standup comic! Another sideline for the Lockergnome empire.

My photos from the night are up as a set on Flickr. Apologies for the quality - I'm still experimenting with low-light conditions…

Finding time to podcast

I've had a bunch of email comments from listeners saying in effect “get off your arse and produce another podcast!”

Hehe. I like my listeners.

Honestly though, I've had the show planned out since Wednesday, the music selected and it all setup in Cubase. The trick is finding the time when the house is quiet. That normally happens either in the evening after 9pm or nap time during the middle of the day, but this week events have conspired (Xbox 360, Thanksgiving, tiredness, Julian not wanting to sleep, etc…) to keep me away from the microphone.

Tonight though, it will happen. I will make it happen.

Honest guv'nor…

Meeting Ewan Spence

I don't know how I spaced on mentioning this, but I met up with fellow Brit Ewan Spence on Saturday night (though he'd rather be termed Scottish, thank you very much…)

Ewan was recently nominated for a BAFTA for his Edinburgh Fringe Festival Podcasts and also runs the very successful TPN Rock podcast.

He's out here for the Portable Media Expo amongst other things. He dropped me a line as he was in Seattle for the weekend, so we met up for a beer.

Interestingly, he managed to snap a not too unflattering photograph of me.

A few podcast recommendations

It seems that I've been a bit light on the posting front this week. I guess that's normal - I never had the “I must post at least twice a day” urge that leads to the low signal to noise blogs out there.

A few items of note. I've been listening to a bunch of new podcasts recently, so here's a few goodies.

In Venture Voice, Greg Gallant talks to a bunch of interesting, some times early stage, start-ups. The series on VideoEgg's preparations for demo were great, and the show on TerraCycle is not to be missed.

I haven't been listening to music based podcasts very much as I prefer talk when I'm in the car, which is where I do most of my podcast listening. However when I'm at work, I've moved away from listening to standard music (i.e. CD's I've ripped) and now have a playlist setup with a bunch of music podcasts. Of note is The Tartan Podcast. It is just superb. Don't let the moniker “Independent Scottish Music” put you off - this is not bagpipes and men in kilts! Highly recommended.

While I'm at it, a large portion of the podcasts that I listen to are British in origin. If you want to find more, head on over to Britcaster. On the site you'll find a list of them all, and a highly active forum.

Also, congratulations to Simon Toon from the Slam Idol podcast for scoring an interview with Stephen Fry. Nice one Simon!

How I put a podcast together

After reading a few posts about various people's podcasting setups, I thought it was time to write a decent description of my podcasting setup and approach to producing a podcast from an audio standpoint.

Now, my setup is probably way more than most people need, but I'm a bit of an audio geek, and I write and record music with my setup also. Having said that, the components that I use to actually podcast are fairly cheap and can be acquired very easily.

My setup

You need a computer

First and foremost, you're going to need a computer. Mine is a homebuilt 3.4 GHZ Pentium 4 with 1 GB of RAM running Windows XP. The only special part of this machine as far as audio goes is the sound card. It's an E-MU 1820. This card allows low latency recording (via ASIO) and has built in dsp effects as well as a built in virtual mixer allowing you to route audio all over the place in many configurations. Back to that part in a while.

To actually record and mix, I use Steinberg's wonderful Cubase SX 3.0. This is a full recording solution that provides all the features you could possibly want, including great effect plugins, audio sample editing, looping, midi, etc... But for the purpose of producing a podcast it's there to record the audio, process it, and mix it with other content such as intro and outro music, promos, music played during the podcast and Skype calls.

Getting the audio into Cubase

E-MU 1820

I use a Rode NT1-A condenser microphone plugged into the front to the E-EMU 1820's breakout box (note that the 1820 is connected to it's PCI card in the PC via a single ethernet style cable - everything is digital between the PC and the breakout box). The 1820 provides phantom power to the microphone and has a great sounding pre-amp.

Rode NT1-A

Now, lets look at the 1820's virtual mixer:

Mike A Send

If you look at the first channel in the strip, you'll see that it represents the input for the microphone and that it has two "inserts". These inserts could be effects or special "sends" that create an audio channel back to the PC.

The first send injects the audio for the microphone to "Wave L/R - Host". This means that when using normal Windows applications that want to see a normal microphone input, they get the audio from my microphone. I use this to send audio to Skype.

The next insert is the key one for recording.

Mike A Direct Monitoring

It creates an ASIO audio channel, sending the audio to ASIO channels 1/2 (i.e. left and right) in the PC and returns the audio back to the 1820 from the PC. What this means is that Cubase can pick up the microphone's audio and by activating "Direct Monitoring", the 1820 allows me to listen to my voice in my headphones as I record it with zero latency. This is important as I hate it when the sound of my voice in my ears is lagging behind speech.

So basically, I have dry, effectless audio heading into the PC and the 1820 routes a copy of it to it's outputs so I can listen to it with no latency. The last bit is that I like a bit of vocal juice on the headphones, even though it's not being recorded - it just "sounds better" than dry audio in your ears when recording.

So, if you look at the microphone's channel strip again, you'll see that the "aux 1" knob is turned up a bit. This means that it's sending a copy of the audio at a low level to the aux 1 bus.

Aux1 bus

Now, over on the right side of the virtual mixer in the "mastering section", you'll see a stereo reverb setup on the aux 1 bus. This reverb effect runs on the 1820, and so has no performance impact on the host PC.

So now I've got my dry audio from the microphone channel mixed with a little reverb, and it sounds good in my ears.

The rest of the 1820's I/O

Channel strip 2 is basically the same as channel 1, for a second microphone when I have a local guest on the show. The audio is sent to ASIO 3/4 so I can record it and treat it separately from my microphone.

Channel strip 3 is not really used for podcasting. One of the output busses from my physical mixer is connected to an input on the back of the 1820. This audio is send to another ASIO channel to be recorded in Cubase. I mainly use it record outboard equipment such as synthesizers.

Channel strip 4 is the output from Cubase. The main Cubase output is sent to ASIO channel 31/32 which the 1820 captures. It is sent to one of the outputs at the back of the 1820 and then fed into the physical mixer.

Channel strip 5 is the main Windows audio output. I.e. all normal windows audio such has beeps, alerts, Skype, iTunes, etc... The clever thing I do here is to route a copy of that audio back to the PC via an ASIO channel so that I can record it. This way I can record the Skype calls and have my voice and the other party's voice on separate tracks in Cubase. Note that there's a second send on that channel that routes the audio to a physical output on the back of the 1820 and from there into the physical mixer.

That's it really. You don't really need a physical mixer as the 1820 has a headphone output and a main mix output, so you can use headphones and connect up your normal speakers to it.

Mackie 1402-VLZ Pro

Now, on my physical mixer, the output from Cubase (via the 1820) appears on strip 11/12 and the main PC output appears on 13/14. The total mix from the 1820 appears on the tape input. This means that I can monitor mixes of all of these via physical sliders and send them to different physical audio outputs (i.e. headphones and speakers). I won't go into all this - it's a normal mixer, but the interesting thing I do is to send the control room output from the mixer to the headphone distribution amplifier in the rack.

Behringer Powerplay Pro Headphone Distribution Amp in rack

This has four headphone outputs. I use one for my normal headphones when recording and mixing, the iPod earbuds plugged into it for a sanity check after mixing and there are spare outputs for when I have a local guest on the show.

The "Main Mix" output from the mixer is sent via the BBE Sonic Maximizer (just for when I listen to CDs, it is bypassed when doing production) to the Alesis Power Amplifier and finally to my main monitors - a pair of highly regarded, out of production Yamaha NS-10M Studio near field monitors.

Note that this is all overkill.

Back to actually recording

Cubase SX 3.0

On track two you'll see my vocals, which I'll just duplicate and change the input to Mike B if I have a local guest. Track one contains the intro and outro music - you can also see some volume automation going on. This raises and lowers the volume of the intro/outro while I'm speaking and performs the fade in and fade out at the end of them.

Track three is where I place all other elements such as music, promos, etc...

If I'm doing a Skype call, or import some other element that requires some processing, I'll just create another track for it.

Processing

Now that I've got all the elements together, chopped them up and put them in the right place, it's time for some processing on the vocals.

Track two settings

Basically I have four "inserts" running on my vocals. Inserts are serial in nature - the audio is run through the first one, the output of which is run through the second one, etc...

First up is a gate.

UAD Gate/Comp

This effectively stops audio from passing through if the volume level is too low (I have it set to -40 dB) and is great for removing background ambient noise during the silent bits when your microphone is very sensitive (e.g. a condenser microphone). Be wary though of using a gate when the level of ambient noise is quite high relative to your speaking voice. In this scenario, the gate will cut out the ambient noise during silent bits, but you'll still hear it when you're speaking. This can sound very odd, especially when the gate is cutting in during a bit of silence.

Next we have the DeEsser.

Cubase DeEsser

This reduces the sibilants in your speech - microphones pick these up really well and you'll want to drop them a bit.

Third is the compressor.

UAD 1176LE

This levels out the overall volume level of your speech and depending on the compressor will inject some wonderful warmth into the audio. The aim here is to get a nice comfortable signal, with a consistent volume level as close to 0db as possible without clipping. You don't want to compress it "flat" either. This is a "feel" thing.

There are many types of compressor, but they basically do the same thing. I use the software version of the classic 1176 compressor. For more information about compression than I can ever give you here, check out the articles at Tweakheadz and Sound On Sound for great introductions to the subject.

Finally, we have EQ.

UAD EX-1 Equalizer/Compressor

I don't like to EQ very much, but generally add a little bit of "air" around 14 KHz. I might carve the audio off with a soft high-pass at around 60 Hz depending on what my voice sounds like on the day. Remember to EQ after compression. You don't want to boost some frequencies only to have the compressor smack'em back down again. Please note that the compressor section of this plugin is bypassed.

So that's the dry audio processed. To juice it up a bit, I have a send running to an aux bus with a little subtle reverb. I really don't like hearing non-reverbed speech, so I add just a touch of reverb which is hardly noticeable and it really warms up the sound so that it feels like I'm in a real place - not a cardboard box.

UAD RealVerb-Pro

Just don't go overboard and try to make me think you're podcasting from a Cathedral...

Mastering

On the output bus of Cubase I add in a mastering effect. This effect (really a combination of effects - EQ, compression, maximizing, spatializing, etc...) applies to the whole mix.

Cubase Output Bus

I use Izotope's fine Ozone mastering plugin for this.

Izotope Ozone

Here I mainly add a little spatialization, and maximizing. The Maximizer aims to raise the volume level to a target, typically just short of 0 dB. I use -0.2 dB. The rest of the effects just add a little audio secret source.

Occasionally I'll compress the main mix too. But usually only if I have a guest on the show which will affect the overall level of the audio. When mixing real music, I will definitely apply some compression to the whole mix.

Just for grins, here are a set of audio files that take us through the differences when adding the effects:

This Cubase configuration is saved as a template and used as the basis for every show. I'll still tweak the effects every time, as my voice changes every day depending on how I've been abusing my throat, lungs and vocal chords.

Anyhow, it's fun to tweak stuff. For me, the recording and tweaking is half the fun of putting together a podcast.

A word about plugins

Cubase as standard comes with a fine selection of software plugins - EQs, compressors, reverbs, etc... There are also many companies that sell other plugins, and up until very recently the only third party plugin I used was Izotope's Ozone.

Plugins are a balancing act though, as they take away precious CPU resources. If you add too many on too many tracks, the audio clicks, pops, slows down and generally becomes unusable.

There are many ways of getting around this such as freezing tracks that you're not editing "right now", on just switching some of them off for a bit. And that is exactly what I've been doing up until very recently. This has mainly been a problem when working on a real music project with many tracks (and running things like Reason in the background) and has rarely been a problem with podcasting.

My solution was to purchase a UAD-1 from Universal Audio. This is a PCI card that hosts the processing of plugins. The only part that lives on the host CPU is the UI. This works great for me and as reduced the plugin overhead to almost zero. The UAD-1 comes with a bunch of really good software versions of classic audio hardware such as the 1176 compressor. Highly recommended, but not really needed for your regular podcasting setup.

In conclusion

My setup is way overboard.

A cut down version of my setup with just Cubase, the E-MU 1820 and the Rode NT-1A microphone would work perfectly and give you great results. The rest of my gear (i.e. the mixer, headphone amp, power amp monitors, etc...) are really for convenience and because I'm an audio gear head.

Just remember to listen - both to your own podcast and other spoken word audio that you admire and then perfect your own sound.

Oh, and have fun!

bitjobs for the masses

Please have a listen to "bitjobs for the masses", a great music podcast out of the UK. Of course the most recent show is an exceptional treat as it starts out with Ferryman...

On the show, Phil voices something that I've heard a few times: that people find it weird hearing me sing, play in a band, or write music. Because to them I'm Steve the podcaster, software developer, blogger. Steve the rock musician seems weird.

Hehe.

Invalid RSS for the Gillmor Gang

Dave Winer points out something that has been bugging me for a while. The Gillmor Gang Podcast's RSS feed has an empty title element. This element is required by the spec, and it's absence is causing Katana, my aggregator, to fail to add the show to WMP or iTunes as it uses the title as the playlist.

I've complained to them to no avail before, but hopefully it'll get fixed now that Dave has pointed it out.

PodcastCon UK

It looks like the very first PodcastCon UK went off without a hitch yesterday in London. My congratulations to Paul, Neil and Adrian for putting it together, and all the other people that helped out.

There's a bunch of write ups coming out now (Technorati , Google blog search), but the Britcaster forums are a great starting point. Photos are up on Flickr.

It's really cool to see a conference like this come together. It was put together by a bunch of people from the Britcaster site. No company running the show - just enthusiasts. Dare I say it, it sounds like the conference was the Gnomedex of Podcasting.

I really wish I could have made it.

Podcasting with Neil Dixon

This afternoon, Neil Dixon and I spent an hour on Skype and co-hosted a new podcast. I think Neil is calling it the Britcaster Podcast, but we'll have to wait and see to find out. Keep an eye on Britcaster, and of course, I'll post a link when it appears - hopefully before the end of the week. The show is aimed at podcasters directly, and this one has a really interesting subject...

This was definitely a fun experience - one I'd definitely like to repeat, but I think Neil is having multiple people co-host the upcoming shows, so I'm not sure if I'll get to do it again.

I really like the joint show thing. This will be the forth joint show I've done. The other ones, with CJ, Nabila and one with Ian and Phil from the UK (also via Skype) were a blast - it is much more fun being able to bounce the conversation around...

BritPack number 4 is alive!

The latest edition of the BritPack is now live! I'm number two in this line up - the theme of which is "10 years ago and 10 years ahead".

In my segment I wax a bit philosophical due to the recent birth of my daughter - my appologies...

Direct link.

Britcaster entry.

Digital Flotsam

I don't know why I've never mentioned this before, but if you haven't listened to P.W. Fenton's Digital Flotsam yet, you're missing out on a real treat.

When I first listened to the podcast, the structure felt a bit strange, but I soon got used to it and really enjoy it. Listening to Digital Flotsam feels like sipping hot chocolate by the fire.

In case you can't tell, I really enjoy this podcast. The latest one, "The Brain Dead Edition", is a real treat. Any show that starts out with the following has got to be worth listening to.

This episode has to do with a universal truth. One of those things that can be stated with utter confidence. Because while it can't be sufficiently proven, you can search the world, visit every country, examine every culture, and you will not find a single person willing to refute it.

What is this simple universal and irrefutable truth?

All adolescent boys, anywhere on earth, will at some point demonstrate that they are brain dead.

PW's shows are personal recollections of life. Told in a witty, compassionate and completely engaging manner and weaved together with wonderful music and audio montages.

Highly recommended.

Radio Free Radio's Digital Flotsam.

Podcast Idents

Sean Alexander brings up a good point that has been nagging me for a while - the lack of idents at the beginning of podcasts. And by begininning I mean the very beginning. Before any intro music.

I listen to a lot of podcasts in the car and I have no visual clue as to what is playing. If you don't ident your show at the very beginning, then after 10 seconds I've skipped your show because I have no idea what it is and I've got plenty more shows to fill the short time I have to listen to them.

On another note, Adam Curry used to ident the Daily Source Code with a date and then changed to identifying it purely with a show number. I have no idea why. There is no way I can remember the number of the last show I listened to, but I might be able to remember the date.

So, please ident, and please include the date.

Thank you.

Britpack Podcast Number 3 Now Live!

The third edition of the collective podcast that is the Britpack is now available, and is quite excellent. Well of course it is. I'm in it.

Download it now over here on britcaster.com.

The britpack as themed podcast is comprised of four minute segments by podcasters hailing from the UK. Today's theme is "My personal heroes and zeros".

Enjoy!

iTunes UI Issue

Caveat: This is a bit nit-picky, but important nonetheless.

I've had a few people ask me how to listen to my podcasts in iTunes - when subscribed, they get the latest one, but they can't see how to get any more.

Here's the problem: iTunes on Windows looks like a Mac application, and some of the standard Mac widgets aren't recognized by Windows users.

Once you've subscribed to a podcast, you can go to the podcasts section in iTunes and see the ones that you've subscribed to. The problem is that, for a Windows user, it's not obvious that you have to click the grey triangle to expand it, or that it's expandable at all.

Discoverability and following standard concepts for the platform are features of good UI design. Windows users are used to seeing the plus and minus symbols for expandable lists, not triangle thingies that have no obvious meaning.

Libsyn To The Rescue

In my continuing saga of bandwidth documentation, today I hit 50GB - that's over 4500 downloads. If this continues, I will be out of bandwidth by the middle of next week and will start to incur charges.

So I've moved all the podcasts over to libsyn.

You shouldn't notice anything though, as I just made a minor modification to the webserver configuration in order to redirect the requests for the podcasts over there. I've tested it with IE, Firefox, iTunes, Katana and iPodder and everything seems to be working fine. For me this means that I now have to check stats in two places...

If you notice any problems, please let me know.

iTunes Smart Playlists and Podcasts

This is a deal breaker for me. As far as I can tell, there is no way to reference podcasts downloaded using iTunes in smart playlists. Podcasts and any playlist functionality are completely separate.

This means that I can't listen to podcasts in the car.

The iPod interface for the BMW requires that you have playlists named "BMW1 xxx", "BMW2 xxx", etc... These then become CD 1, CD 2 for the purposes of accessing the playlists from the head unit in the car. As I can't get the podcasts into the playlists, I can't listen to them in the car.

The implementation of podcasting in iTunes really was not thought out well at all...

Ah well, never mind. I'm still using my own podcatching software, Katana, and that works just fine. As do all the other podcatchers.

But I can't believe Apple would miss supporting key functionality (playlists) with new functionality. This smacks of a rushed design.

Podcast Downloads Continue To Climb

Regarding my post about the massive spike in traffic to my website a couple of days ago, the numbers are going in an interesting direction. Yesterday I had 25GB of downloads. That equates to around 2000 podcast downloads. In one day. Wow.

If the traffic continues like this I'm going to hit my bandwidth limit for the month in 10 days...

It's been posited that the initial spike three days ago would die down after people installed iTunes 4.9 and subscribed, but I'm just seeing it increasing.

Not that I'm complaining of course, I love the attention...

Lucas - Nice One

It's rare that a blog with a technical bent makes me laugh, but you've got to check out Lucas Gonze's post on the current RSS spec "extension" issues.

Microsoft: the company actively sought Dave's blessing... [snip]

Yahoo!: the company did not actively seek Dave's blessing... [snip]

Apple: the company wiped its ass on a copy of the RSS 2.0 spec about ten minutes before announcing podcasting support in iTunes yesterday, in the process giving 'funkiness' a historic new meaning.

Yes, I'm selectively quoting, but it's the portion that made we laugh out loud. Go and read the full post.

Big Bandwidth Bills On The Way?

Up until today I've been averaging just over a gigabyte of traffic out of my website - most of it podcasts. So far today, I'm up over 11 GB! And I'm a rather minor podcaster. Who knows what sort of traffic the more well known podcasters are getting after the release today of podcasting support in iTunes.

June Traffic

Fly With Me

A pilot for a "major national carrier" is podcasting. He takes his portable recorder on flights with him and presents an absolutely fantastic behinds the scenes look at commercial flight.

Fly With Me: Hear from flight attendants and pilots as they tell what goes on behind the galley curtain (and behind the cockpit door).

Shownotes On The iPod

Now that's interesting. If you use iTunes to download podcasts, the contents of the description element end up on the iPod and can be viewed by clicking twice on the button in the center of the click wheel...

iPod-Shownotes

More On Shownotes

Thanks for everyone's feedback so far on this. You can read my original posts on the subject of shownotes here and here. I'd like to thank Hobson and Holtz for their comments from a user's perspective in their podcast "For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report". Interestingly, they also mention Britcaster, so I'm effectively in their show twice!

Also, on friday night at Gnomedex I had the opportunity to talk to Dave Winer about the subject. A very nice bloke, who gave me some good feedback and suggestions. I'm currently firmly convinced OPML is the way to go.

On the subject of addressing the issue of user needs and some example scenarios, I thought you might be interested in the following, excepted from a post I made to the ipodder-dev mailing list:

...I totally agree on the need for end user support - how many of us edit RSS by hand anymore - very few I suspect. Personally I rely on the MT-Enclosures plugin in MT to do it all for me. The same would need to happen for this idea, but it will require some time on the part of the podcaster.

I can envisage a number of app scenarios. From a web based helper app to purely provide a form fill in, through to a full podcaster application (e.g. CastBlaster, Odeo) that you would enter the metadata whilst reviewing the show before uploading. Personally, my workflow when producing my podcast has me listening back to the show before uploading for two purposes:

  1. To make sure I haven't messed up anywhere.
  2. To create the shownotes with timestamps.

The implementation of a small app to playback the podcast and provide the ability to enter metadata/annotations, and then squirt out the final file should be the first order of business during the investigation of this idea.

Gathering input from podcasters as to their workflow would be very useful.

I do my shownotes with timestamps and place them in my blog entry structured with ul.

As for end user scenarios, others here have posted some ideas, I'd like to brain dump a little:

  • The Rock'n'Roll geek show has album art that changes with every song and includes a link to each band.
  • Engadget has links to their articles about everything they talk about, plus pictures.
  • A show like Claybourne has act/chapter entries.
  • An Opera podcast might include the libretto, moving along with the show.
  • A foreign language podcast/vidblog might include subtitles.
  • Any vidblog might include subtitles for the hard of hearing.
  • A podcast of a conference includes the slides.
  • Someone listening to the podcast via a Media Center would have shownotes/images/links appear on the television.
  • On my pocketpc I press a button to mark an interesting point in the show - later on I can review these marks, visit links, read more info.
  • In my podcatcher client I can see the shows I haven't yet downloaded, view the shownotes in a treeview for the show and mark particular sections for download.

I'm sure there are many more.

Podcast Shownotes As OPML

Regarding my previous post Podcast Shownotes as RSS, Dave Winer responds: "That's cool, but I think OPML works a bit betta."

I do believe he has a point.

When I was first thinking about this, my mind was in the RSS space, but I had a niggling feeling OPML might be the better choice. Then, after Dave's post I realised that the reason to use OPML (other than there are editors about) is that it's hierarchical. Hierarchical shownotes would definitely be useful:

  • Introduction
  • Act One
    • Something happens...
    • Something else happens...

  • Act Two

Support for this would be very similar to my previous post. Using the namespace prefix sjl we just need to define one tag for the main feed that specifies the location of the opml file, and for the opml file itself we define several attributes for the outline type "shownotes". Does this need something like a namespace prefix? I need to ask Dave or some other OPML expert about how outline element types are made unique... It's handy that Gnomedex is coming up...

We then get:

[an item in podcast.xml]

<item>

<title>A Brit Abroad - June 14, 2005</title>

<description>

Normal shownotes go here...

</description>

<enclosure

url="http://www.steve-lacey.com/Some.mp3"

length="15094642"

type="audio/mpeg"/>

<sjl:shownotes>

http://www.steve-lacey.com/Notes/Some.opml

</sjl:shownotes>

</item>

[Notes/Some.opml]

<opml version="1.0"

xmlns:sjl="http://www.steve-lacey.com/sjl/">

<head>

<title>A Brit Abroad Shownotes</title>

</head>

<body>

<outline text="A Brit Abroad" type="shownote"

sjl:shownoteFor="http://www.steve-lacey.com/Some.mp3"

sjl:shownoteLink="http://www.steve-lacey.com/Item.html"

sjl:shownoteFeed="http://www.steve-lacey.com/Feed.xml">

<outline text="Name and date check."

type="shownote" sjl:begin="0" sjl:end="3"/>

<outline text="Intro music and sweeper."

type="shownote" sjl:begin="4" sjl:end="15"/>

<outline text="Act One" type="shownote">

<outline text="Something happens..."

type="shownote" sjl:begin="16" sjl:end="320"/>

<outline text="Something else happens..."

type="shownote" sjl:begin="321" sjl:end="462"/>

</outline>

</outline>

</body>

</opml>

I'm sure someone is going to scream, you can't extend OPML like that.

So there we have it. I could go either way - RSS or OPML, but OPML does give you the potential for hierarchical shownotes. Thanks to Dave for the nudge.

Thoughts?

Update: Thinking about this some more, due to the hierarchical nature and the suggested structure above, a single OPML file could contain the shownotes for multiple podcasts. Going out on a limb here, the client could actually subscribe to the OPML file itself instead...

A Shownotes Alternative Suggested

Dossy suggests that my approach to shownotes as RSS is wrong. I have to respectfully disagree with his arguments.

He claims that my suggestion would require a change in the RSS specification. This is not true. My approach is an extension via the use of a namespace. This is a subtle distinction, but an important one.

Current podcatching clients will continue to work fine and new ones could be enhanced to look for the new element that describes the location of the shownotes rss file and then parse that.

Even further, Dossy initially says that his alternative requires no changes to the RSS spec, and then goes on to define a new semantic to be applied to urls in the enclosure element and suggests extensions to the enclosure element.

I'm glad someone is joining the conversation though...

Next up, I believe that Dave Winer may actually be right and suggest an alternative using OPML that may be the, ahem, winner.

Podcast Shownotes As RSS

I've been thinking about this off and on for a while, so I thought I'd put this idea out there to see if it gains any traction.

So a big problem with podcasts is that there's no standard way of doing shownotes, and no standard way for the client to tie together the shownotes and the audio. So here's an idea.

Similar to the contruct, each item in a podcast would contain a element (I'm using the sjl namespace just because I can…)

The RSS feed refered to by the shownotesRSS element would contain items that are the individual shownotes, each one containing a time index and other information such as a description and/or image. For example (extraneous stuff removed for readability):

[an item in podcast.xml]

<item>
  <title>A Brit Abroad - June 14, 2005</title>
  <description>
    Normal shownotes go here…
  </description>
  <enclosure 
    url="http://www.steve-lacey.com/Some.mp3"
    length="15094642"
    type="audio/mpeg"/>
  <b><sjl:shownotesRSS>
    http://www.steve-lacey.com/Notes/Some.rss
  </sjl:shownotesRSS></b>
</item>

[Notes/Some.rss]

<rss version="2.0">
  <channel>
    <title>A Brit Abroad June 14, 2005</title>
    <link>
        http://www.steve-lacey.com/Some.html
    </link>
    <b><sjl:shownotesFor>
      http://www.steve-lacey.com/Some.mp3
    </sjl:shownotesFor></b>
    <description>
      Talk and music from an ex-pat brit.
    </description>
    <item>
      <b><sjl:shownotesTime>0</sjl:shownotesTime></b>
      <description>Name and date check.</description>
      <image>
        <title>An image for this entry</title>
        <link>
          http://www.steve-lacey.com/someimage1.jpg
        </link>
      </image>
    </item>
    <item>
      <b><sjl:shownotesTime>4</sjl:shownotesTime></b>
      <description>Intro music and sweeper.</description>
      <image>
        <title>An image for this entry</title>
        <link>http://www.steve-lacey.com/someimage2.jpg</link>
      </image>
    </item>
    …etc…
  </channel>
</rss>

This method therefore needs only three new elements in a (new?) namespace:

  • shownotesRSS: points to the rss feed for the shownotes
  • shownotesFor: points to the media file that the containing rss feed provides the shownotes for. (link item points to the original blog entry).
  • shownotesTime: time index in seconds for this shownote item.

This gives podcatching clients the ability (if they do the playback) the show images, links, text and index into the media. WMP could also do this via some plugin.

Plus the two feeds are self-referential. I like it, so I think I'm going to try it out in Katana, my podcatcher testbed application.

Thoughts?

© 2001 to present, Steve Lacey.