As I described in another article, podcasts are media files that automatically get delivered to your computer so that you can listen to or watch them at your convenience. In this article I go into much more detail about how you can subscribe to these podcasts and have them delivered automatically.
What It Means to Subscribe To A Podcast
Podcasts are almost always free, but we use the word subscribe when we talk about signing up to get a podcast. I think that most people think of having to pay for a magazine when they hear the word subscribe, but that is the common term used, so that is what we will use here. I think that people get the idea that they have to have some special account to get podcasts, but anyone with a computer that has access to the Internet can download and enjoy podcasts.
Subscribing to a podcast simply means that you are are telling special software that you want it to go out and grab the new episodes of all the podcasts you are subscribed to. This special software is called a podcatcher. To really understand how subscribing works it helps to remember that you are telling your software that you want to get the show. You are not telling the podcast website that you want the program. This is important for two reasons. First, by subscribing in software that you control, you don't have to worry about giving your information to the podcast. You can subscribe and un-subscribe any time you want. The second thing to remember is that the subscription resides on the computer you subscribed with. It is not like many web based services we have today that allows us to access all of our information from any computer. You will have to use the computer that you subscribed from to consume the podcasts, or transfer the shows to some other device or computer. But your subscription does not exist in the cloud, it exists in your podcatching software.
The most popular podcatching software is iTunes, but there are many others. If you don't have any podcatching software, iTunes is free and easy to get for both Windows and Macs. Some other popular podcatching software that is also free includes Miro, Zune, Winamp and Amarok. Miro is available for Windows, Mac and Linux. The Zune software is currently only available for Windows, but there seems to be plans to make it available on the Mac platform. Winamp is Windows only. Amarok is a Linux program that can work on Windows and Mac, though they are still in testing before releasing the programs to the general public.
Ways To Subscribe To A Podcast
There are a couple of different ways to subscribe to a podcast. You can use the website of the podcast to get the subscription information, or you can look through a podcast directory and subscribe from there. You can certainly do both and there are times when one method is more appropriate than the other.
Via the Podcast Website
Subscribing to a podcast using the website of the program is easy if you already know about the program. You may be at the website of the podcast because of a web search or because of intentionally going there. Once you are there, often subscribing is simply a matter of clicking on a subscription button. For example if you are using iTunes as your podcatching software the website may have a button that says "Subscribe in iTunes." Click that button and iTunes will take care of the rest of the subscription process. iTunes will open and the current episode will automatically download.
If you are not using iTunes, or there is not a button that says that clicking it will create the subscription in your software of choice, you can still subscribe to the show. Look for any subscription button or any RSS feed link and right click on it. Depending on your browser, you are looking for a choice in the context menu that pops up and says something similar to "copy link location." This will grab the RSS feed address and place it in your clipboard. Then open your podcatching software (iTunes, Zune, Miro, etc.) and find in the menu system something to the effect of "Subscribe to Podcast." Paste the link that you got from the website into the subscription field of the software and your program should take care of it from there.
Via a Podcast Directory
If you don't know the web address of the podcast you want to subscribe to, or you are simply wanting to browse a listing of various podcasts to find something interesting, then you want to use a podcast directory to subscribe. Just like the most popular podcatching software is iTunes, it is also the most popular podcast directory. By going to the iTunes store within iTunes, you are able to browse or search through the podcast directory. Once you find a show, you can subscribe to it right inside the software with a single click. If you are using other software like the Miro and Zune software, you will find a podcast directory in them that works the same way.
You can use an online podcast directory like SpokenWord.org, PodcastPickle.com or PodcastDirectory.com. There are many, many others. Find the podcast you are interested in from one of these directories and you can subscribe to the show just like you would from the podcast website itself.
This should get you started in enjoying podcasts. Remember that you don't need an iPod, or any portable player to listen to podcasts. You can watch podcasts right on your computer. Also, many new phones have the ability to subscribe to and consume podcasts from within the phone. Blackberry recently rolled out this feature allowing the user the ability to discover and subscribe to shows without even needing a computer.
Any topic you might be interested in, there is probably a podcast or two dedicated to it. Take some time to dig through some podcast directories to find shows that you can enjoy. Remember that you don't need to have any special equipment to download podcasts. If you are able to connect to the Internet and read this article, you have everything you need to enjoy podcasts.