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Introduction to the Wonderful World of Podcasts

I find it a bit ironic that as privy as I am to pop-culture and the latest trends, it was not until recently that I finally caved and decided to get myself a Facebook.  Call me old-fashioned, but I still prefer the face-to-face method of speaking to one another.  I know how crazy that may sound, but it really is not a convoluted as you may think.  We have become an introverted society, constantly avoiding interaction as we stare at our phones instead of becoming the extroverts we were meant to be, looking up towards progress and social interaction.

Regardless, I understand the convenience of it all so don’t write me off as some nut-job who simply wants to stand in the way of what many of you may refer to as social-media driven progress.  I understand the importance of convenience – trust me, I do!

With that said, I have also recently found myself drawn to the fascinating world of podcasts.  What exactly is a podcast, you ask?  Podcasts, defined as a type of digital media with an episodic series of files subscribed to and downloaded through web syndication, are a great way to consume information.

Like I said, I became fascinated with podcasts and sought to find out as much information as I could about them.  During my search, I stumbled across a wonderful article on how to find the very best podcasts, “How to Evaluate Podcasts: Tips for Finding the Best Podcasts.”

I knew I was headed in the right direction once I found out the author of this article was none other than Andrew Walsh, a college instructor and reference librarian  who happens to be the founder of Social Web Q and A and its parent entity SocialWebEnterprises.com

Walsh starts off my mentioning that since podcasts are most commonly listened to on portable media players, such as iPods or our Smart Phones, you can keep up with the news or learn a new subject during your daily commute or wherever else you happen to be. In order to get the newest files, you can either go out to the publisher’s website, or subscribe using a software program like iTunes so the episodes automatically come to your device.

What is even more interesting is that anyone can create a podcast, so there is a varied and exciting mix of different perspectives out there for your enjoyment.  However, doing a little podcast quality control will greatly improve your experience, and this article outlined some things that I believe you should look for when evaluating podcasts.

First, Walsh states that you should determine whether the podcast’s style is a good match for you.  I think that is pretty common sense seeing as we all have varying preferences.  Since a podcast is just a format for delivering content, there are a plethora of different styles, formats and lengths.  Some podcasts are well-structured and to the point, while others are more of an entertainment experience filled with colorful personalities and plenty of casual chatter.  There are even some that are produced by professional media organizations, where others are done by independent folks with an opinion to share.

Second, Walsh declares that you need to verify that the speakers are qualified to discuss the topic.  I could not agree with that statement more!  There are some many people out there today with access to the kind of technology that enables them to create podcast, and just because they have an opinion on something, does not necessarily make them qualified to talk about it.

Walsh continues by saying that when he is evaluating a new podcast, he does a little digging to find out more about the people who are giving the show.  He says that this is less crucial when you are listening to a podcast produced by a large media company such as the New York Times or Wall Street Journal, but in most other cases, you will want to research the speaker’s background and experience as well as possible incentives that might affect what they say.

Lastly, Walsh mentions that you should watch for excessive advertising.  Fortunately, the vast majority of podcasts are free to listen to, but many content providers include advertising in order to gain some revenue from their efforts.  This nonsense can include messages from corporate sponsors or even quick plugs for premium services offered by the podcast publisher.  One thing to keep in mind is the fact that the sponsored messages will usually be spoken by the same people who do the rest of the show.  If you are only half-listening and miss the sentence about an upcoming advertisement, you might mistakenly think that the host is simply talking about a product or service without any financial incentive. For many people, this is less likely to happen with text-based content online because we see so many ads every day that they become easy to spot.

After reading all of this information, I decided to try out the information I obtained and use to analyze a random podcast.  At the end of the article, Walsh gave a few links to the best podcasts of 2012.  I decided that I would try out a podcast on How Stuff Works Podcasts– a site with several interesting podcasts from the staff of HowStuffWorks.com, including Stuff to Blow Your Mind, TechStuff and Stuff You Missed in History Class.

Feeling that I wouldn’t mind having my mind blown, I went with that topic!

This particular series was indeed a part of a regular podcast series.  By what I could tell, it appeared that the hosts, Robert and Julie, came out with a new podcast every day or two.  I also noticed that there was a section for a transcript of the actual podcast.  Immediately, I realized that they had made their series “accessible!”

However, the podcast I chose to listen to was title, The Dexter of Parasites.  The premise of this episode dealt with the television character, Dexter, and how in the same way he preyed on other serial killers, parasitic organisms are targeted by parasites as well.  Needless to say, my mind was blown.

The podcast consisted of a lot of banter between the hosts, informational mostly, but also comical in a way that made it enjoyable.  After listening to it, I could see what attracted so many people to podcasts.  They are convenient, informative, and most of all, a great way to pass the time.

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