Open Source Software and Podcasting: the Rice and Sriracha of Media
A brief introduction into the world of podcasting.
(Note: This is the un-edited first-draft version of the article I wrote for Opensource.com; the published version is heavily edited and “succinct”.)
When approached by a friend of mine to submit an application for FOSSCON 2017’s CFP, I thought to myself “Surely; and while I’m at it, I no longer value my sanity so why not present a workshop as well?” This was not, of course, my first talk (or proposed talk) at a conference (nor at a FOSSCON specifically; I’m well-tied to many of the organizing staff, volunteers, and so forth). Indeed, I also helped with an Installfest by cooking together a lovely little PXE server, a full local mirror of several of the more popular GNU/Linux distributions, and an iPXE image for computers that didn’t have built-in support for PXE. This article, however, is not about that. This article is about podcasting. Presumably the only thing that gives me authority on this is that I have been running my own podcast for almost three years now. I should take the time now to mention we have quite a bit of not-safe-for-work language. It has the air of something akin to raucous and uncouth men in their mid-life crises sitting around a dimly lit poker table smoking cigars and playing Texas Hold’Em. We don’t play cards, though. We talk about systems administration.
I was then, after submitting my CFP to FOSSCON (which I guarantee was much less verbose than this article), approached by Rikki Endsley asking if I would like to contribute an article about my (now accepted) talk for FOSSCON 2017 to Opensource.com, I thought “Surely; I don’t value my-” …well, you get the general direction this is headed.
What is Podcasting?
Podcasting is a field that has seen plenty of leaps and bounds in the industry. “Which industry?”, I hear you, my Schrödinger’s Reader, asking. The short answer is “every” (or “all”, depending). It’s become such a wildly popular media form that you can now find people publishing podcasts of their Dungeons & Dragons sessions. The idea is this: you record audio (or, in more recent formats as client hardware and software has evolved, video) of a thing, and then announce the publication of this thing using a standardized data format. People who want to listen to (or see) this thing, and know when a new episode of this thing is released, can be alerted within moments of its publication. This is made possible by RSS (the announcing component) and a certain XML specification (the “standardized data format”).
What do I need to start?
A computer is very helpful in this endeavor; you won’t get very far without it. The operating system doesn’t matter so much (though I do, of course, recommend one such as GNU/Linux or one of the *BSDs), as you can find software to record your audio that’s multiplatform (such as Audacity or, if you prefer a little more power, Ardour).
You will also need webhosting for the sound files themselves, the XML file that announces new episodes, and a website (optional, but highly recommended). Note that you can simply upload the audio/video to a service such as YouTube or Soundcloud and rely on their subscription services to announce for you, but these are not actually podcasts in the strict form of the word as there’s no RSS nor XML involved in a client’s interaction (and require your audience to register on those platforms as well). Actual podcasting should be able to work entirely anonymously from the audience’s end.
Here’s where an important point should get mentioned and often gets missed – podcasts, of sorts, are not Libre due to their use of the MPEG-1/2 Audio Layer III format. You may recognize the format by its more common term, MP3. This is a patented file format, and as such does not follow more strict open source guidelines. You do have an alternative, albeit one that limits your syndication options, called oggcasting. If you want to be an exceptionally accommodating person, you can offer both a podcast and an oggcast broadcasting format. Formatting the XML files themselves are pretty similar and while actual specifications exist (usually syndication-specific), they are usually easily learned by example. I maintain separate “feeds” (XML files) for iTunes syndication, Google Play syndication, a general podcast, and an oggcast. (To view the actual XML, either use curl or wget for those URLs or use your browser’s “View Source” method.) Doing this lets me use certain syndication-specific/broadcast-specific tags in the XML. If you’re looking for exact technical specifics, I wrote a post about it (again, a warning: there’s some not-safe-for-work language in the post).
As far as a website goes, I use Textpattern (with the modifications mentioned above), but many (most) podcasts use Wordpress with the PowerPress plugin.
What should I do to get a wider audience?
You have a lot of options to grow your audience. The easiest way is to syndicate your podcast. (If you have an oggcast, Distrowatch offers syndication of several oggcast productions.) The most popular syndication is through iTunes (more information can be found here). It’s also recommended that you add your podcast to Google Play (more information here). There are a lot of smaller syndication sites out there too, but I’d consider the above two essential as that’s going to be the easiest ways for your iOS and Android users, respectively, to find your publication.
Direct engagement is also essential, namely through social media. If you don’t have a Twitter account, you should really consider getting one – at the very least for your podcast – because you can set it up as an extra channel that automatically announces new releases. It also lets you directly engage with your audience.
Selling branded merchandise (which Sysadministrivia is still working on), having guests on your podcast, doing charity events, and publicity stunts all help as well but they certainly aren’t necessary, and tend to work better after your broadcast already has a decently-sized regular audience.
Can I use podcasting to make a substantial profit?
Podcasting is something that comes from your desire to produce the content and get it out there to people interested in your topic.
So in short, “No”; “Maybe,” if you’re lucky, but it’s definitely a labour of love for sharing with others (like open source software).
Hope to see you broadcasting!