The Basics of RSS and Podcasting – PHD-022

This week I had a lot of questions from new and prospective podcasters that show that, even though podcasting has been around a while (10 years), people seem to have trouble with how it works.

So I am going to explain it in very basic terms. This would be a good episode to pass on to people you know who ask you about how podcasting works, what it is, and how it DOESN’T work.

Ok, The first thing about podcasting you should understand is, that it is driven by the RSS feed. What is an RSS feed? RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. What that means is that it’s a file on the web (either static or dynamically generated) in XML format. It contains “posts” or “items” in reverse order newest first and oldest last. RSS is a standard where the content is not formatted in a particular way as how it’s displayed. It’s just the raw content (mostly text) and the receiving program (RSS Readers) format it for display on a screen. The raw RSS was never meant for humans to see. It’s meant for machines to see, interpret and display as they see fit.

For podcasting, Dave Winer (who invented RSS) added some magic to RSS to allow “enclosures” which can be any sort of file that once delivered to an RSS reader would download to the local users device (at that time computers only). This is what allows us to enclose our mp3 files in the RSS feed for delivery to our listeners. (works the same for video files)

So basicly how this works for Real people is like a Radio. Your RSS feed is the transmitter and the listener’s Podcatching software is the receiver. They “Tune” (subscribe) to your RSS feed just like you might tune your radio to 98.1 to listen to the Bob and Tom show on your local radio station. The difference is you can “Tune” your podcatcher to more than one station at a time and it “records” (downloads) the show for playback later kind of like a DVR would for a tv show, that can be played back at a later time.

The podcatching software all works a bit differently from one another, but uses the same basic method to get your podcast files to the listener. Some now allow streaming of your files so instead of downloading the whole file before you play it, it plays it on demand. Apps like Stitcher, Tunein and even Apple’s “Podcasting” IOS app can do this. (I prefer to download the files so I don't’ have to use up my data plan when I’m away from wifi on my phone)

The import part is to have your RSS feed formated correctly so that all these podcatching software apps can read it correctly.

In 2005, Apple added podcast support to iTunes and we have never been the same since! The only issue at that time was they added some iTunes specific tags that needed to be there for the podcast to look right in iTunes. If you use a plugin like Powerpress, and fill out all the settings, all those tags will be there in the correct place and your show will look right on those apps.

While we’re on the subject of iTunes, I want to re-iterate that you do not UPLOAD to iTunes. You do not have an iTunes feed. Just because the iTunes store doesn’t LIST your episode, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. People get so worried about what iTunes shows in their listings they don’t realize that the listing isn’t the important part. It’s the RSS feed. People who subscribe to your show in iTunes are subscribed DIRECTLY to your rss feed. The iTunes store (where your listing lives) doesn’t update in real-time. If I put out a podcast at 3pm on Friday afternoon, at 301pm it will be available to be downloaded via someone subscribed in iTunes. The listing might not update for 2 hours or 2 days.

Media Hosting / Web hosting

Your web page (if you are doing it the way I suggest) is where your RSS feed lives. The place where your media files (mp3’s) live can be anywhere that is accessible on the web. To be included on iTunes, there are some other requirements for the server, but if you use a good media host (such as that is all taken care of. In fact,