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January 15, 2008



We produced our first podcast in 2006. There was an opportunity to develop a podcast featuring a message from Mrs. Laura Bush, First Lady of the United States on HIV testing. Podcasts were growing in popularity and we wanted to support the First Lady's HIV testing initiative while also learning about this exciting new media tool.

We've learned a lot since that first podcast. Today, AIDS.gov produces a monthly podcast series profiling Federal officials and the HIV/AIDS programs they direct. These podcasts have increased traffic to AIDS.gov by 23% and continue to draw repeat visitors. Because of our podcasts, many visitors to AIDS.gov ask us basic questions about podcasting. To respond to these inquiries, we talked to Bill Schmalfeldt, a former podcast producer at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Erik Ireland, producer of one of the country's most listened-to HIV/AIDS podcast series Exit Disclaimer.

Our colleagues were eager to help us answer questions about podcasting because they have seen podcasts improve the distribution of health information that is clear and to the point. They emphasized that to use podcasts effectively in the fight against HIV/AIDS, your colleagues and clients must become comfortable with podcast terminology and technology.

While many people may have heard the term, "podcast" (it was Oxford Dictionary's 2005 Word of the Year Exit Disclaimer), some are still unclear about what they are and how to listen to them. According to Erik, we must recognize that "one of the biggest barriers to people listening or producing podcasts is their lack of knowledge about what they are and how they work."

So what is a podcast?
In non-technical terms, Bill describes podcasts as being similar to "radio shows" that can reach a wider audience using the Internet. Erik likes to think of podcasts as "short cab-rides" with an HIV/AIDS expert. He says, "we keep our episodes focused and brief; six or seven minutes every other week. This makes it easy for our listeners to stay up-to-date on HIV/AIDS issues without a big time commitment."

Technically, a podcast is an audio or video file that you can play on your computer or a variety of portable media devices (like an iPod, Zune, and certain cell phones). What makes podcasts different from other audio or video files is that they are usually short, almost always free, and you can subscribe to receive new podcasts automatically via your computer or other media device.

If you want to listen to a podcast you can download the podcast directly or use subscription software (some popular ones are iTunes Exit Disclaimer and Juice Exit Disclaimer) - and then transfer or sync the file to your portable media device. There are important things to know about subscribing and we will cover them in our next post.

Should you podcast?
As with most new media tools, the best way to learn is by doing. We started by listening to Federal health-related podcasts like AHRQ's Healthcare 411, HHS HealthBeat, CDC's podcast series, and NIH Research Radio. We also learned a great deal from non-governmental HIV/AIDS podcasts including This Month in HIV Exit Disclaimer, Podcast Health Exit Disclaimer, and even some non-health related ones like Grammar Girl Exit Disclaimer. Listening to these different podcasts not only familiarized us with the technology, but inspired us to start our own podcast series.

As we mentioned above, there are different podcast formats, from simple audio files to videos. For some, video is helpful in presenting complex information. The Common Craft Show Exit Disclaimer "In Plain English" is a good example. For others, like Erik, audio or enhanced podcasts Exit Disclaimer such as this "1 Minute Screencast" Exit Disclaimer (basically an audio file with some links and graphics) do the trick by "taking specialized information that most people don't know, and making it clear and more accessible." The possibilities are endless--it's a matter of matching the tools and format to your audience and resources.

As was our experience, Bill and Erik noted that podcasting has expanded their organizations' ability to reach their target audiences with critical information. "The best thing about podcasts," commented Erik, "is they're not complicated and not expensive." You can buy an inexpensive audio recorder and then edit the audio files using free software." (Popular ones for audio are Garageband Exit Disclaimer for Mac and Audacity Exit Disclaimer for Windows, Mac and Linux. Video editors include iMovie Exit Disclaimer for Mac and Movie Maker 2 Exit Disclaimer for Windows.)

Together with our colleagues, we encourage you to consider whether podcasting can help your program. There are many resources on the Web to get you started. Here are some we have used at AIDS.gov:

Please share your thoughts with us about using podcasts in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Stay tuned for next week's discussion of RSS feeds!


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Thanks to the latest post, I've added AIDS.gov to my RSS subscriptions and am more than ever motivated to start using RSS as a useful tool.

I am so excited to see the government taking a more proactive role in utilizing web 2.o technologies to "get the word out" and create awareness. Social media will allow people to spread the message faster. Much more effective than traditional television and radio ad campaigns.

I especially appreciate the web videos and the distribution on YouTube.


Chris Turnquist

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