Enhanced Podcasts and RSS

Published on July 20, 2005

Phil Torrone has written a fantastic article on creating iTunes-ready enhanced podcasts, covering everything from recording the audio to adding images and URLs using Apple’s ChapterTool utility.

While I’m on the subject of iTunes and podcasts, I’d like to share my two cents on the whole RSS extension debate. For those who haven’t been following this story, iTunes 4.9 introduced some new tags to the RSS format. Contained within these tags are various podcast related elements such as show duration, description, summary, explicit flag, and others. While I’m far from an RSS expert, I think it’s the right move for Apple and for the community. Some have complained about the added tags, saying that some are redundant or that they don’t follow standards, but the idea is to create a separate chunk of information in the feed which applies only to iTunes (or other “podcatching” utilities, should they choose to). It should be noted that all of the iTunes related tags start with “itunes:”, for easier identification. These tags are there for the sole purpose of enhancing the user experience, and do not exist in the RSS standard. While Apple could have asked the RSS community to consider these additions, that could have taken eons and most certainly delayed the release of the iTunes update. The choice was clear: create a block of tags specific to iTunes, and leave it at that. And despite Apple effectively taking over the podcast arena and “forcing” these changes upon people, having support in one of their flagship programs is the absolute best way to get listeners’ attention. Swift and widespread consumer adoption of a new medium isn’t force; It’s technology done right, folks.

Standards arguments aside, there are still some undeniable bugs in iTunes 4.9. Mark Pilgrim points out that iTunes does not support, among other things, ETags, Last-Modified, gzip or zlib compression. These bandwidth-saving features are extremely common among websites, and their absence from the iTunes update is obviously an oversight on the part of the engineers at Apple. Podcasting is still quite new, and I’m sure bugs will be ironed out. John Gruber has a thorough (as always) article on the update, and I highly recommend reading it.

That said, I love the user experience Apple provides for podcasts. Other services exist, like Odeo and PodcastAlley, but I can’t be convinced to use them regularly because I enjoy the simplicity of keeping the entire process (from searching to subscription) contained within iTunes. This is part of the reason that the iTunes Music Store is so popular, and it’s one that Apple has touted since the release — you don’t have to keep jumping between programs to get your content.