I’ve been wanting to explain to my non-geeky friends how to subscribe to my podcast (Neurotic Tornado), but I realize that I first need to explain some podcast-related concepts. So I thought it might help to create a quick, half-baked introduction to podcasts and podcast apps. (That way, when they don’t listen to my podcast, it is specifically because they don’t like me and not because they don’t understand podcasts…)
And for those who prefer to read some text instead of watch a video:
What’s a podcast?
First off, a podcast is composed of a bunch of media files (and related information) that are published online using a standardized format, similar to a blog feed. Most podcasts are registered with iTunes, which is one way you can search for and discover new podcasts. Podcasts can be audio or video. Most podcasts are free, but some require a subscription fee.
You’re probably thinking: So what? What’s so cool about more crap on the internet?
Well, it gets more interesting when podcast apps come into play.
What’s a podcast app?
A podcast app (also known as a podcatcher, podcast client, podcast player) is an application (on a computer or another device) that lets you subscribe to and listen to podcasts. Once you subscribe to a podcast, your podcast app can automatically download (or stream) the new episode when it is published. This way, it feels more like a magazine subscription, where the magazine is delivered to your house, rather than you having to go to the store every day to check if the new issue is out. This is particularly useful when it comes to mobile devices, where – without much fiddling – you can launch your podcast app on the way to work and listen to an episode of your favorite podcast during your commute. Some sample features of a decent app:
- easy to search for new podcasts by name or content or publisher
- automatically downloads new episodes of podcasts that you subscribe to
- one button method to go backward or forward 30 seconds while listening
- automatically continues playing an episode exactly where you last left off
Give me, give me, give me!
So hopefully you now want to try using a podcast app. What are your options? Well, I admit I’m mostly familiar with iPhone podcast listening…
- iPhone & iPad: For one, Apple has a decent app called Podcasts, which is free. I use one called Overcast, which is free for most features, and requires a subscription for all the features. Another cool one is called Pocket Casts, which does a great job for $4. Downcast ($3) is also a solid iOS app with some advanced features.
- Mac OS: Downcast has a version ($10) for the Mac. iTunes works fine as a free podcast app.
- Windows: iTunes is a free option on Windows. Another free app that looks quite interesting is HermesPod. There are also many other options listed on Wikipedia. Please send me feedback if you have a favorite Windows app and I’ll add it to the list.
- Android: I’m particularly out of my element here. But I hear Pocket Casts is really good ($4). There are many other options, as listed on Wikipedia. Please send me feedback if you have a favorite Android app and I’ll add it to the list.
- Others: Check out Wikipedia’s list of podcatchers for more podcast apps of all flavors.
Now what, smartypants?
Well now it’s time to start subscribing to podcasts. You can browse around for podcasts using your podcast app; you can get some editorial guidance from iTunes; you can search for a show by name directly from within your podcast app; or you can just ask around for advice….
- Try some of the classic public radio shows like This American Life or RadioLab.
- Gimlet Media has a few great shows (Start Up, Reply All).
- Marc Maron does great interviews with comedians and writers and musicians on the WTF podcast.
- People on the geekier side will enjoy the podcasts offered by podcast networks such as relay.fm or 5by5.
- Literary Disco is a fabulous podcast where three smart (and fUnNy!) writers talk about literature and… lots of other things.
- Cautiously try Neurotic Tornado if you want to hear me talk about married life, relationships, emotional issues, creativity, writing, or whatever is worrying me that day.
Each podcast app is a little different in how you subscribe to and listen to podcasts, but hopefully the app gives you enough guidance for you to discover and enjoy some fabulous content.