Open formats: how to make enhanced podcasts without Apple

The short answer: you can't. Actually, you can't even listen/view an enhanced podcast without iTunes or an iPod.*

What do I mean by an enhanced podcast? Check out such podcasts as the CBC Radio 3 show, Podguides.net, or the fabulous Montreal-based Vu d'ici for some examples of integrating music, time markers, pictures, descriptions, and even web links. Apple enables this with its crazy ChapterTool, but your best source of information on creating enhanced podcasts is the Voxmedia Wiki Podcast Chapter Tool page.

So...what's the big deal? Well, we need an alternate, open format, and we need alternate players. Microsoft is, in all likelihood, going to come up with something based around RSS and Simple List Extensions. Hmmm...wait...except for the part where all the data is actually bundled inside the audio file format itself. So, some sort of Windows Media strangeness? Or follow Apple's lead and use the MPEG-4 packaging format. Will this be open enough? Somehow, I suspect not.

Maybe Yahoo will come to the rescue; Bryan Rieger points to a brand new initiative called XIPF, or eXtensible Interactive Packaging Format. Actually, following that train of thought, XSPF, the XML Shareable Playlist Format might be trivial to use directly as the basis for an enhanced podcast standard, since it supports images, links, etc. already. Imagine every Webjay playlist as an enhanced podcast.

Now all we need is one or more players for this new format. Do I hear a resounding "yes!" from the direction of Songbird or perhaps VLC?

Somewhat related aside: Colin and I have been musing over what an online enhanced podcast maker would look like, and whether or not Odeo or AudioBlog might be adding this sooner rather than later.

* not quite true, since there is a very interesting podcast-to-J2ME application to called Javacast that will let you use this on a variety of mobile phones.