You used to have to be technically savvy, but not anymore," says Jack Wenzel, talking about the new technology of podcasting. The good thing about podcasting, says Wenzel, president of the Princeton Macintosh Users Group, is that you don’t have to be a professional to do it.

Podcasting is the latest trend for creating and sending audio files over the Internet. It has become an easy and inexpensive way for businesses and professionals to develop seminars or send advertising messages. Once downloaded to an iPod or MP3 player, the files can easily be listened to at any time, or in any place.

Podcasting is the subject of the next meeting of the Princeton Macintosh User’s Group on Tuesday, August 14, at 7:30 p.m. at Jadwin Hall, Room A10, 86 Washington Road. For more information visit pmug-nj.org. Presenting at the August meeting will be Michael Blank and Lila Symons.

Michael Blank is a website designer and produces PMUG’s own two podcasts. Lila Symons is a graphic designer for Martha Stewart Living Omnipedia.

Wenzel, who has been a PMUG member since 1987, grew up in Princeton. He received a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Stanford University, then worked around the world for several years in the fiber optics engineering field. He is currently a professor of materials engineering at Rutgers University.

Podcasting is a way of transmitting videos and audio clips of any length over the Internet to computers and MP3 players, including Apple’s wildly popular iPod and its Windows-based competitors, including Microsoft’s Zune. Anyone can tape record a brief rant or a lengthy lecture and put it on the web for anyone to download and listen to at will, says Wenzel.

Still in its infancy, podcasting has been embraced by churches, politicians, individuals with a cause, major broadcasting companies like PBS, and universities, including Princeton, which is a leader in turning lectures into podcasts.

Wenzel points out that not all Internet-based audio is a podcast, and that people tend to get confused. There is a lot of similar technology, he says. Internet radio, music sharing, and audio blogging have all been available for years.

Podcasting is no great leap of technology, but what sets it apart from the others is that people can take an MP3 player, set it to automatically download a radio show they want to listen to daily, a lecture by a teacher or professional, or a seminar held at an out-of-state conference, and then listen to it whenever and wherever they want.

By contrast, both audio blogging and Internet radio chain users to their computer while they listen, and music downloading requires the user to search for and download files individually. With podcasting, listeners are no longer limited to music, and more importantly, they are no longer tied to a bulky computer. They can listen while commuting, jogging, or sitting on the beach.

A critic might call this laziness, but Generation Y calls it convenience, and major companies are following the demand, with Apple, the leader in organizing podcasts in an easily searchable way, adding downloadable podcast directories to iTunes 4.9.

There are several benefits to podcasting for companies, schools, non-profits of all kinds, and anyone with a message to get across or a story to tell:

Low cost. The low cost of creating a podcast – along with a lack of regulation – creates tremendous variation in both content and quality. The good news is that most podcasts are free, and listening to junk programs doesn’t waste anyone’s money. This lowers the barriers to checking out any podcast that sounds interesting or valuable. If it turns out to be boring, nothing other than a few seconds has been lost.

Because they cost little or nothing to make, small businesses can easily use them as a marketing tool. There is no need to worry about the podcasts themselves turning a profit.

A podcast used to deliver tips on anything from lawn care to pet training to getting into an Ivy League college can make a business owner an expert in his field, or can create a dedicated following of people who regularly download and listen to the advice. These people may well become customers.

Easy access. Who listens to podcasts? You don’t need an iPod or MP3 player to listen to a podcast. Anyone with Internet access can download files from the internet and listen to them on a PC. On a PC it is also easy to watch video podcasts – sometimes called vodcasts. Newer iPods and Windows MP3 players can also play video content.

Easy to create. Creating a podcast requires a computer, a microphone, and an Internet connection. Even a moderately computer-savvy person can put one together and upload it. But for excellent sound quality, and for video podcasts, a polished look, there is help available from a growing number of professional podcast production companies. Some of these companies offer their services free of charge or at a low cost in exchange for allowing advertising to be placed within the podcast.

Podcasts took off exponentially in the fall of 2004. One technology website recorded 24 hits on Google for the word "podcast," on September 28, 2004. Four days later, there were 2,750 hits. This number continued to double every couple of days and after three weeks there were over 100,000 hits. A year later, on September 28, 2005, Google had 100,000,000 hits for the word "podcast."

The rapid expansion of podcasting has led to a new lexicon and trademark names, from "poditorial" to "podmercial." The terms aren’t fads. By 2006 they had been included in the Oxford Dictionary. The term also has its own icon. The symbol for a podcast download is a bright orange square with broadcast waves.

Podcast networks have begun to develop online, including the "Godcast Network." The first podcast network, it features Christian content. It was followed by "Podcast Network," and "TechPodcasts Network." There are also podcast networking communities, similar to the social networking site MySpace.com.

Podcasts are often more than just a single recorded program; many are much more advanced, and include everything an audience can expect from a radio station, including guest appearances, music, and even "podmercials."

"Companies are doing podcasts in a lot of areas," says Wenzel. Established radio and television networks are also placing their broadcasts onto podcasts. Radio shows from Rush Limbaugh to NPR’s Car Talk are now available by podcast. Even the president’s weekly radio address is available in a podcast at www.whitehouse.gov/news/radio/.

A lot of people still haven’t heard of podcasting, but soon they will. The fastest and easiest way to get started is to go to Apple’s iTunes store, and click on the podcast section to the left of the home page. But anyone interested in something specific, perhaps a recent conference at Princeton University, can go to the university’s website and check to see if the conference was recorded as a podcast. If so, it can be downloaded right at that website.

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