Q: I keep hearing about podcasting. What is it?

Podcasting is a method of publishing audio online that can send files automatically to users' computers.

To listen to a re-run of your favourite radio show online, for example, you could 'listen live' while the show streams down your internet connection. But you have to stay online and you have to listen to it there and then. Alternatively, you might have the option to download an audio file, but the next time the show is on you will have to return to the site to download another file.

Podcasting automates the download process by using an RSS feed, so once you have subscribed to a podcast feed, new files will automatically be sent to your computer. You can then listen to the shows when and where you want, on your MP3 player or on your PC.

Q: What a peculiar word! Where does that come from?

It's formed of 'pod', as in iPod, and 'casting' as in broadcasting. The Guardian claims to have first coined the term.

Q: Where did it come from?

America, where people like to talk. Bloggers found that it is much quicker to get more words out there by speaking rather than typing.

Q: Who is doing it?

Bloggers of course, and independent sites like Wikinews.

In the traditional media, radio broadcasters are making a natural transition to the format. There are issues with music rights, so you will often find that radio podcasts cut out the music and just feature the talking parts - like the Radio 1 Chris Moyles podcast or the Virgin Radio breakfast show.

The Telegraph claimed to be the first UK national newspaper to offer a daily news podcast of its news content, starting with columns read out by its journalists. The paper later appointed ex-BBC broadcast journalist Guy Ruddle as its podcast editor to up its game.

The Guardian took a different tack and tried a series of podcasts with Ricky Gervais. That turned out to be quite canny - the podcast recently entered the Guinness Book of Records as the most downloaded podcast ever.

Sites are also using podcasts to supplement their core coverage - providing audio from conferences and news events. Guy Ruddle recently explained how audio was able to add an emotional impact to a story in a way that is not possible in text.

Q: Is it just a passing fad?

Podcasting was voted 2005 word of the year by the New Oxford American Dictionary, but 'bubble' went in a lot earlier - as the New Scientist's online manager John MacFarlane said recently.

Beyond the hype, it is here to stay. It is just an audio tool, but a very powerful, immediate and useful tool for certain types of content. It will just take a while for news sites to work out how to use it best.

Q: Where can I find podcasts to subscribe to?

First you will need an RSS reader that can handle podcasts - often called podcatchers. (I know, but hang in there...)

See our three-minute guide to RSS for the basics. Most recent readers can also manage audio and video feeds, so check the details when you set yours up. There is a good list of podcatchers at Wikipedia.

Podcast directories list a huge range of podcasts covering everything you could imagine. Start with ipodder.org, podcast.net or use the podcast directory now built into iTunes.

And no, journalism.co.uk isn't publishing any podcasts yet. But none of us have very nice voices [speak for yourself - Ed.]. Perhaps we should bring Ruth Kelly on board...

Q: So how can I do my own podcast?

See How to: Become a podcaster...

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