Chapter 2:  Anatomy of a Podcast

Slap yourself again if you’re considering skipping this section.  You need to understand HOW all this stuff works, not just WHAT TO DO to make it work.  If you don’t understand how it all works, you’re going to have a lot more trouble figuring out why something is not working if you later have problems.  So bear with me, and we’ll get to the fun stuff in a jiffy.  Plus, in a few paragraphs I make a horrendous extended analogy that you won’t want to miss.

A working podcast consists of three main parts:  audio episodes (sermon MP3’s), an XML podcast file, and an RSS aggregator.  It works like this.  You, as the webmaster (or webninja, if you prefer) upload sermon MP3’s to your website.  They live on a web hosting server somewhere.  Most likely, you provide direct download links to these files somewhere on your site, so that if some web-neanderthal hasn’t figured out how to use your shiny new podcast yet, they can still download the files manually.  

You, as the webmaster, also update your podcast XML file everytime you add a new sermon to the website.  This is a little file that contains information about and directions to all the sermon MP3 files that live on your website. It also lives on your web hosting server, so it’s on the internet as well, just like the MP3 files that it points to.  Humans are not intended to see or read this file (although you, as the webninja look at it and update it) so you also provide a subscription link to this XML file.  This link allows people from your church (or people from other states and continents who really like your sermons) to subscribe to your podcast. 

Subscribing to your podcast is essentially telling an RSS aggregator (like iTunes) where on the internet your XML file lives.  Once the RSS aggregator knows where the XML file is, it checks up on this file every so often.  Whenever there is a new sermon on your website, the XML file informs the RSS aggregator and tells it how to download it. 

Don’t worry, we’ll make this totally automatic and dummy-proof for your church members.  It will be as easy as clicking on a link and automatically subscribing. 

By way of explanation, permit me to make an extended analogy.  Imagine that your name is Betty.  (If your name really is Betty, slap yourself, because that is creepy.)  You like imported cheese from the tiny, island nation of Tuvali.  Every once in a while, your local grocery store gets some new piece of cheese from Tuvali.  So, you’ve gotten in the habit of going there every day to check for new cheese.  Most of the time, there is nothing new,  so this is a waste of time.  But, every couple of days you check a few aisles and find a new piece of imported cheese to buy. 

Now imagine if the grocery store started posting a flyer on the door that listed new pieces of imported cheese from Tuvali, as well as directions to exactly where to find them in the store.  Every time a new piece of cheese came in, they added a line to the flyer describing the new piece of cheese and it’s location.  This would sure save Betty time, right?  Now you could just walk by the store and glance at the flyer instead of hunting around for new cheese.

But it gets better.  Imagine a friendly neighbor kid offered to walk by the store every day and check the flyer.  Whenever he saw that a new piece of cheese from Tuvali came in, he checked the directions, went inside and found the cheese, bought it and brought it right to your doorstep.  What a great system for you, eh?

This, my friends is the beauty of podcasts.  You, Betty, are the congregation member.  The pieces of cheese are new sermons and messages that become available from time to time on your website.  The flyer on the store door is the podcast XML file.  And the friendly neighbor boy is the RSS Aggregator. 

That’s how a podcast works.  In the chapters to come, I’ll show you how to use totally free software to edit your sermons and create great MP3 files out of them—files that sound near-CD quality but are still small in size and download fast.  That’s your cheese.  I’ll also show you how to create the XML file that you update to point to all your sermons.  In fact, I’ve included the same XML file I use to help you get started.  You won’t have to learn code, just swap out a few pieces of information for each new message.  This is the flyer on the store door.  Finally, I’ll show you how to make it super easy for your church members to subscribe to your new podcast—this is the friendly neighbor kid who checks the flyer for cheese every day.


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