Tech Tips: Content on Demand—Podcasts and RSS

Doug Hayman, DO-IT staff

Two modes of using the Internet that have gained in popularity of late are RSS (Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary) and Podcasting. Each of these technologies allows a user to subscribe to content on the web and have it delivered to their home computer to access later at a convenient time. This type of application is called "content on demand."


The use of the word "subscription" may confuse new users into thinking that they have to pay for the content. These feeds are free.

The software you use to subscribe to a particular RSS feed queries the remote site and acquires new content. Most of the newest web browsers, such as Firefox 2.0, Internet Explorer 7, and Safari on Apple's OS X machines, are capable of acquiring RSS feed content. An orange square logo with two concentric white arches is used in icons to represent an RSS feed. While using a supported browser you can add RSS-available content to your list of subscriber feeds.

Let's say you regularly read the "Listening Post" column on the website and would like to have it readily available when you use your Firefox web browser. Within Firefox, surf to that website and then navigate to the column. Once on that page, look for the orange XML icon in the left side of the page. When you select that link, a pop-up window will allow you to add a "Live Bookmark." Once subscribed, you will have a new link available in Firefox's bookmarks toolbar (you may need to go into the View menu and select the Bookmarks toolbar to make this option visible). Selecting this bookmark toolbar link will bring up a drop-down menu of all the RSS feeds you have downloaded so far, with one drop-down list per RSS subscription. When you pick one from the list, you will be directed to that web page.


While RSS feeds give you immediate access to newly written content, podcasts give you access to newly created audio and video content on demand. This could be a professor's lecture, or someone's review of the latest compact discs out this month that contained clips of songs and the host's comments about them.

To acquire new content, download the podcast to your computer from a remote host and either listen to it on your machine, portable mp3 player, or media-capable cell phone at your preferred time. Some computer media player applications allow you to subscribe to a podcast and look for new podcasts by the same source on the interval that you select for acquiring new content.

There are stand-alone programs—called aggregators—that will seek new content and download it to your preferred audio application. Applications like Apple's iTunes can acquire new podcast content when it becomes available, play it back on a computer, or allow that content to be transferred to an iPod. Other applications are capable of the same podcast subscription automation for later listening.

If you create your own podcast, make sure you have permission to replay copyrighted material—in other words, use "podsafe content." For more on podcasting visit the following website: