Podcasting Church 101120

I’ve had an idea for a book in my head for a few years now. Since there is a challenge afoot, I started, November 2, 2010, to write that book. This blog will contain the very rough draft and I hope I’ll get a chunk of it out this month. No guarantee I’ll write everyday, but I hope this won’t be the last entry.

RSS, XML, and Feeds Oh My

The magic behind podcasts is the RSS feed. There seems to be some controversy behind what RSS stands for. It’s either Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Survey. Either way, RSS is simply a grocery list of what a website contains. When the RSS is updated, the content is updated. With it, you don’t have to go to site after site to check what has changed or has been updated. You can use a tool called an RSS reader to check daily. There are software and online services that make this easy. My week day ritual includes digesting the content of about 50 websites this way on Google Reader. New services that do similar things include Flipboard for iPad among others.

There are various types of RSS (and similar technologies) like, Atom. These are primarily used by the software and online readers to update content. When I discover a website I like, I look in the address bar of my browser. Often there’s a little feed icon that means the website has RSS that I can subscribe to. Podcast RSS is a special flavor. Specifically, it’s RSS 2.0 with enclosures. Original RSS was text only. This was fine for text only sites, but what about media? That’s where 2.0 took over.

So how do you create your feed? First, a brief history. Since RSS 2.0 with enclosures is a very specific type, in the beginning you couldn’t just use any RSS, it just wouldn’t work. RSS is coded using a programming language that’s similar to the html that creates your website called xml (or extensible markup language).

When I first started, there were software tools, but I didn’t have money for them. So I found some of my favorite podcasts and looked at their feeds. It wasn’t hard to see that there were individual entries and what each piece required. Here’s an example:

Title of Shows in this Feed

link to the show's url

Brief description of the show.

How was it created.

Where the RSS is located

en

Type of copyright license.

leo@leoville.com (Leo Laporte)

Fri, 19 Nov 2010 17:51:37 -0800

Fri, 19 Nov 2010 17:51:37 -0800

Category 1

Category 2

Category 3

720

Show album art URL

Show title

Link

144

144

Creator

Subtitle to show.

Brief summary of show.

keywords for itunes

clean

name of owner

owner's email

no

podcast episode title

media url

Description goes here.

author's name

Fri, 12 Nov 2010 17:22:00 -0800

category 1

category 2

category 3

comments

url

Author's name

Subtitle goes here.

Summary goes here.

Running time: 1:23:45

no

1:23:45

I gave you an example feed to show you how complex it is, but also how it’s fairly obvious what’s in it. This is how I started, but there are other options.

I mentioned earlier that there were programs that create feeds. The one I tried, but didn’t buy was “FeedforAll”since it cost around $40. It made things a lot quicker and easier, but I just didn’t have the money in my podcast budget. There were others so look around if you want to go that way.

At this point, I happened upon a solution that was simple for me once I’d configured it. It’s called “Dircaster”. You install in on your webserver. Once it’s there, any files you put into a specified directory will be added to a feed automatically. This is really simple, but has the downside of requiring a webserver and that you put all of your files in a single directory.

WordPress and other content management systems make this fairly simple. They automatically create a feed that’s updated with each post. Plug-ins (at least for WordPress) can add iTunes specific tags and prep your feed for submission.

I always added two more steps to my feed creation. The first was to run it through Feedburner–a service that allowed me to keep track of stats and do a couple of other useful things. Their basic headings are Analyze, Optimize, Publicize, Monetize, and Troubleshootize. Even after a good length of time between shows, I can see that I still have a fairly decent audience. I can tweak my rss so that it’s readable in a web browser and so that people can subscribe with email instead of one of the other ways and I can do it all with check-box simplicity.

Before Google bought Feedburner I worried that they might go out of business, so I didn’t submit my feedburner feed to iTunes. Instead, I submitted the original feed from my site to feedburner. The feed that I submitted to iTunes was a redirect from a url that I controlled. Let me spell it out more simply. iTunes sees http://trinitydigitalmedia.com/tnb.xml, but that redirects (using the .htaccess file on my server) to http://feeds.feedburner.com/TechNoBabel which is an optimized version of http://trinitydigitalmedia.com/tnb2.xml which is a redirect from the original feed. This means that at any time I can change it at any point and iTunes still sees http://trinitydigitalmedia.com/tnb.xml.

Submitting to iTunes

There are two pieces that every podcaster should know about iTunes. Even if you don’t use any of it’s other features, you should know how to submit to iTunes and how to get the url to advertise that fact on your website.

In order to submit to iTunes you need to have an iTunes account. It’s free, but they may require you to assign a credit card or PayPal account to the service should you want to buy something from them. Once you’ve done that, go to the iTunes store in iTunes and click on Podcasts.

In iTunes 10, there’s a list of links on the top right called “Podcast Quick Links”. One of those choices is “Submit a podcast”. Click on that and add your feed url. Follow the on-screen prompts and in a minute you’ll be done.

If you have a podcast that doesn’t have an iTunes link or you don’t want it to (because it’s for a small group of people like a team), don’t do this. Instead, go to Advanced>Subscribe to Podcast and put the feed there. It won’t be visible to others which you want if it’s either not yours or a private podcast.

Once the podcast has been posted to iTunes, you’ll want the link so that you can put it on your website, Facebook, Twitter, etc. To find this out, search for your podcast in the iTunes store. Click on the icon for your podcast like you’re going to subscribe to it. You should get a picture of your album art with a button underneath it that says “Subscribe to Podcast”. To the right of that is an arrow button. Click on that and you’ll see a drop down that has the “copy link” option. Once you click that, it will be ready to be pasted somewhere. Make a new text document and go to edit and paste. It should look something like: http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/technobabels-podcast/id76274055. You can shorten it with a url shortner like bit.ly, but that should do it.

Play

Paul Alan Clifford, M.Div.

Paul Alan Clifford, M.Div. has been a tech volunteer with Quest Community Church in Lexington, KY since 2000 and is the founder of TrinityDigitalMedia.com, llc. He became part of the technology in ministry team when his church’s attendance was around 200 in one Sunday service and has witnessed it’s growth to 5,200 average weekly attendance in one Saturday service, four Sunday services in one online and two physical campuses. He literally wrote the book on podcasting in churches, twitter in churches, & servant-hearted volunteering, as well as writing various articles for publications like “Church Production” and “Technologies for Worship” magazines.