World Wide Web

Problems with Podcasts

Podcasts are the new buzz thing in the WWW. While RSS provides a mechanism to subscribe to textual feeds, Podcasts help in subscribing to audio/video content. So, instead of those small orange bars, you will now see colorful iTunes images or Odeo images.

However there is an inherent problem with podcasts. They are not searchable. A typical podcast, for example, Slashdot Review contains many different news items. In this example, Slashdot review contains all the important stories published in Slashdot in that day.

In RSS, suppose I am not interested in reading a particular news item, I can just skip and read the next one. But in Podcasts, since all the news items are aggregated together into a single audio feed, we are not able to skip certain items.

However considering the fact that Podcasts are still in their infancy, we can expect a solution soon.

One such solution is to extend the RSS type to include 'skip points' in the audio file. By 'skip point' I mean a description of which news item starts at what offset. The Podcast descriptor would contain not just the location of the file, but also the contents of the audio file. This would also require a special podcast player, which is able to read and understand the podcast descriptor. Of course, this needs to be standardized so that podcasts from all providers adhere to a single standard. Another advantage of this is that the descriptors could be searched in a standard way and podcast directories are able to show news items and the exact location of those news items in podcast files.

However one problem with this technique is that, it is not easy to make listeners listen to advertisements. It would be easy to skip advertisements if the listener is not interested in it. A second problem is that the accuracy of the podcast descriptor is in the hands of the provider.

Any other solution?