Fire up iTunes, DTV or FireAnt and subscribe to your vodcast via reference to your XML file
Figure 1. A simple vodcast
Lights, Camera, Compression!
Once you have created a video, open it in QuickTime Pro and go to File > Export and select a video
format compatible with iTunes and other players, such as mp4. Optimize the export by clicking on the Options
button in the export window and tweaking the compression parameters in the MP4 Export Setting dialog (Figure
2). Feel free to experiment with the various settings or just go with the defaults. With playback support from
alternative players like FireAnt, you can syndicate flash content like http://happytreefriends.atomfilms.com/index.html
to great effect. However, if you want to retain iTunes 5.01 compatibility, you need to stick with either mov,
or better still, mp4-based content. Depending on several factors (e.g. cpu speed, video format, data rate,
image size, et alia) the export may take a few minutes or quite a bit longer.
Figure 2. Sample settings for
video compression using QuickTime 7 Pro with H.264
For this example, we will test the feed using your local web server. Therefore, you need to place the video
and XML files into your Sites subfolder and enable Personal Web Sharing in the Sharing preferences pane
Figure 3. Turn on Personal Web
Sharing to host your feed on your local machine
Feed your Videos
For the sake of simplicity, we will stick with Apple's podcasting specification, which works fine with
virtually all-available playback solutions. Although tools exist for creating vodcast feeds, I find it easier
to just edit the file directly in a text editor (e.g. TextEdit or vi). Listing 1 and 2 provide you with a
template upon which you may base your own vodcast XML file. Notice that the vodcast.xml file may be
conceptually broken down into two main sections, the first of which is populated with metadata that is
consistent across vodcast episodes. In other words, this initial section remains the same for each instance of
your vodcast, since, in principle, vodcasts refer to several media files. The second part of the file is
specific to each edition of your vodcast as represented by a media enclosure. Therefore, the data used for
Listing 2 will change for each added video enclosure you integrate within your feed.
In a perusal of the sample file, you will see that the tags are filled in with descriptive placeholder
metadata that serves as an example of what each tag is meant to communicate. For a detailed discussion of tag
definitions, please refer to http://phobos.apple.com/static/iTunesRSS.html. It is
especially important to avoid illegal characters within your tags (e.g. &, >, <, ', ", (c), and (TM)) as they will
render an otherwise well-structured feed unusable.
Listing 1: vodcast.xml (Section 1)
<?XML version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<rss XMLns:itunes="http://www.itunes.com/DTDs/Podcast-1.0.dtd" version="2.0">
<description>Put any description about the Vodcast channel you desire here
<itunes:subtitle>Put any subtitle about the Vodcast channel you desire here
<itunes:summary>Put any summary about the Vodcast channel you desire here
<copyright>(c) 2005 your name</copyright>
Listing 2: vodcast.xml (Section 2)
<title>MY FIRST MOVIE</title>
<description>Put any description about this first movie here
<itunes:subtitle> Put any subtitle about this first movie here
<itunes:summary> Put any summary about this first movie here
<enclosure url="http://www.yoursitename.com/moviename.mp4" length="1024"
<pubDate>Sun, 24 July 2005 10:00:00 GMT</pubDate>
<itunes:keywords>keyword1, keyword2, keyword3</itunes:keywords>
Putting it all together
Once you have populated your XML file and enclosed a link to your video file, we can begin testing your
vodcast. The main thing to remember is that your feed is represented by the XML file you created for your
vodcast. Therefore, whether you are using iTunes, FireAnt, or another syndicated video player, all you need do
is insert the URL pointing to your vodcast.xml file, which, if you are using the supplied template and
Personal Web Sharing, should be http://127.0.0.1/~YourUserName/vodcast.xml. Using iTunes, you may test your
vodcast by going to Advanced > Subscribe to Podcast and then entering your feed URL in the resulting dialogue
box (Figure 4). The subscription process is almost identical for DTV and FireAnt, both of which have an Add
Channel button allowing you to enter your feed URL.
Figure 4. Subscribing to a locally
hosted test vodcast in iTunes
DTV and FireAnt: Cures for the iTunes Vodcast Blues
Currently, iTunes (version 5.01) represents a poor viewing and browsing experience for the wealth of video
feeds available. The ITMS also falls short with a fair, yet poorly organized sampling of syndicated video
content, which one can only get to through extensive searching. What is more, iTunes version 5.01 plays
vodcast content, by default, in the miniscule "album art" pane located in the lower left corner of the iTunes
interface (Figure 5).
Figure 5. Default iTunes vodcast
To Apple's credit, you can click on the movie in the newly renamed song-artwork-video viewer to open a
separate and resizable window (Figure 6). This solution is less than ideal inasmuch as the floating video
playback window obscures the iTunes interface and is easily lost in the background. As you can imagine, this
can be annoying and is entirely unnecessary as the music video playback model, seen in Figure 7, demonstrates
that Apple has already developed a better playback solution. iTunes also has the option for full-screen
playback, but this is not too well suited for shorter videos that tend to be highly compressed.
Figure 6. The iTunes disembodied
Figure 7. The way vodcast
playback should be--Default ITMS music video playback.
Both DTV (http://participatoryculture.org/download.php) and
FireAnt (http://getfireant.com/) present better alternatives for those
wishing to get the full experience of vodcasting with accompanying directory and community resources. Both
support a wider range of media formats relative to iTunes and also come with a nice selection of content or
"Channels" to get you started.
FireAnt grew out of the video blogging community at Yahoo Groups (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/videoblogging/) and was
developed in tandem with the nascent community of video bloggers. Furthermore, their solution was in the works
before podcasting was adopted by iTunes. It is therefore not surprising that FireAnt has several unique
community oriented features such as Comment and Mail Post URL to a Friend. Support for tag-based searching of
directory content from Yahoo, FireAnt, Del.icio.us, and MeFeedia directories represents another unique feature
of this application. FireAnt even offers the option of syncing your vodcasts with iTunes. Under the hood,
FireAnt boasts a plug-in engine, allowing various additional media formats like Flash to be used as vodcast
enclosures. The only drawback to FireAnt is that, unlike iTunes and DTV, you have only three sizing options
(small, large and maximum) for playback and switching between them restarts the video being played. Otherwise,
FireAnt offers a rich viewing and browsing platform for vodcast media and is a must have for anyone serious
Figure 8. Nancy Sinatra does
FireAnt with tag-based searching!
DTV is another excellent vodcast platform for the Mac and offers a more pared down, but very functional set
of features relative to FireAnt. First off, tag-based searching and community-oriented functionality are not
available as of this writing. Nonetheless, DTV has a simple and intuitive interface that allows for real-time
video resizing. As an open source project, DTV benefits from the rapid and robust development cycle associated
with this development paradigm. Further, Participatory Culture Foundation, the organization behind DTV, offers
a server-based Broadcast Machine (http://participatoryculture.org/bm/)-a scalable solution for
both individuals and larger workgroups looking to automate or otherwise streamline their vodcast production.
Future versions of DTV will be based on VLC, a great open source video player that comes with all the codecs
needed to view the wide range of vodcast content.
Content is King
Many of today's popular content producers like Steve Garfield, of http://stevegarfield.blogs.com/, were pioneering Internet-based
video media as early as 1997! Steve's Vlog Soup is highly recommended as an introduction to the community of
video bloggers. Using a format similar to Comedy Central's Talk Soup, Vlog Soup offers hilarious excerpts of
various extant video blogs with equally humorous commentary by Steve. Another star of the indie vodcast scene
is RocketBoom (http://www.rocketboom.com/vlog/), a daily news
program with correspondents all over the globe, which features classic comedic performances by host Amanda
Congdon. XOLO TV (http://www.xolo.tv/) is another news-style vodcast, with
particularly compelling interviews done by Gabe, the host of the 'cast. Mac-Heads (myself included!) will
enjoy the MacTV vodcast (http://live.watchmactv.com/) with content
ranging from OS X software tutorials to techno-lusty advertisements of Apple products.
Figure 9. Previewing RocketBoom
episodes in DTV
Vodcasting and associated syndicated video technologies are nothing, in and of themselves, if people don't
use them. There is a wide range of video content available and just wadding through it can be quite a job in
itself. Not to worry, though, since both DTV, FireAnt and to a lesser extent the ITMS, offer an aggregation of
content to get you started. However, to really get a sense of what is out there, you will want to explore the
wide variety of directory services and community oriented forums.
Del.icio.us bills itself as a social bookmarks manager and is one of the most popular directory services
for vodcasting content. It allows users to create a personal link collection and add metadata to characterize
their content. Also available are social features that enable you to browse the collections of other users and
otherwise share information. Further, their API (http://del.icio.us/doc/api) allows developers to better
integrate their content with del.icio.us specific tags as demonstrated in FireAnt (Figure 8).
With the claim of being the first video aggregator, Mefeedia certainly has lots to offer with a robust set
of social features, custom tags for content and instructional information. What is more, they even help you
host your vodcast, all for free. Like Del.icio.us, Mefeedia's tag-based searching is integrated into FireAnt
and is available to developers.
Figure 10. Surveying the damage of
hurricane Katrina as I browse popular vodcasts at Mefeedia.com
Yahoo has long played host to many in the vodcasting or video blogging community and, not surprisingly,
offers a capacious selection of content. Additionally, Yahoo offers a tagging system, which like the last two
directories detailed, is integrated with players like FireAnt. Perhaps more interesting, is the Yahoo Groups
community for video bloggers that will be detailed in the community links section to follow.
This directory offers a nice selection of vodcasts with some of the social elements that have become so
popular among video blog directory services.
One of the most active groups developing solutions for vodcasters, FireAnt also offers a tagging system and
directory service that has drag and drop subscribing functionality with their player.
Community, Hosting and Instructional Sites
This is one of the oldest and largest online communities of vodcasters on the Net and is definitely worth a
look. FireAnt, as well as, many of today's top bloggers got their start here.
Not unlike some of the directory services covered, blip.tv allows for sharing and viewing of vodcasts,
along with free hosting.
This site offers unique content such as a world map of video bloggers, in addition to instructional
articles, support, and an array of useful community links. If you need a hosting solution, look elsewhere as
this site does not offer any such services. However, the site does supply useful information gleaned from the
major video blogging communities and is therefore worth a look.
Ourmedia is a great site for obtaining all types of content, including vodcasts, and represents another
hosting solution for sharing your videos and other media. Further, links to tutorials and support are also
available. Ourmedia is a great overall solution for users wishing to explore, create and publish multi-media
content and share it with a growing community of users.
A wonderful and fun resource, freevlog.org represents the heart and soul of the vodcasting community with
its rich array of instructional material and links to free hosting space to boot. If you plan on doing any
vodcasting, I highly encourage you to visit this site as it really does a wonderful job in guiding you through
the whole process, from content creation to hosting.
Figure 11. Freevlog will help you
to become a vodcast kung-fu master!
Say you want a Revolution...
Whether you call it vodcasting or video blogging, there are certainly no signs of this new medium and
paradigm for media syndication ebbing anytime soon--quite to the contrary. Expect iTunes to further integrate
vodcasts into their feature set and provide additional categories in the ITMS, so as to offer better browsing
and differentiation of vodcast content from audio podcasts. Given the fact that Apple has recently updated
their iPod patent filing to add coverage of a video player, it is likely that, in the secrecy characteristic
of the new Apple, Jobs and company are working on a video iPod and an accompanying content aggregation and
distribution scheme, possibly with larger and more traditional broadcast companies.
Either way, it is certain that vodcasting will increasingly blur the lines between TV and Internet-based
media. With a trend toward more niche content, we may indeed see a phenomenon akin to the explosion of print
news outlets in the 1900s (between 1910-1914 the number of U.S. periodicals peaked with 2,600 dailies and
14,000 weeklies!), but with a 21st Century twist. Unlike traditional broadcast media, vodcasters tend to
aggregate themselves into a community and use the medium not only for production of mainstream content, but
also for interaction with friends and family. This type of personalized approach is refreshing and a boon in
an age of globalization with little social and inter-group contact. With the barrier to entry quickly
receding, alternative syndicated media technologies, like vodcasts, will be well poised to compete with
"mainstream" media as an interactive populist force that may well overtake or force a major paradigm shift
among the old guard of today's media conglomerates. With little differentiation among the major content
providers, the chorus of fresh new voices among the independent vodcasting set is sounding sweeter by the
Emmanuel Stein has been an avid Mac user since 1984 and has honed his cross-platform skills while
working at France Telecom, Time Magazine and Reed-Elsevier. He has recently started his own Mac-centric
consulting company, MacVerse, which offers implementation, system administration and development services
geared towards the enterprise market. As a diehard GNU/Linux geek, he enjoys hacking open source software and
experimenting with new open source projects on OS X. You may reach him at