Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Podcasting And File Sharing: How The Web Is Transforming Itself - Part V

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Both podcasting and file-sharing services have become key significant driving forces in the overall new media scenario which is transforming the web.

Photo credit: Picpics

With the development and advance of recent technologies such as wikis, blogs, podcasting and file sharing this model is challenged and community-driven services are gaining influence rapidly. These new paradigms obliterate the clear distinction between information providers and consumers. The lines between producers and consumers are blurred even more by services such as Wikipedia, where every reader can become an author, instantly.

This paper presents an overview of a broad selection of current technologies and services: blogs, wikis including Wikipedia and Wikinews, social networks such as Friendster and Orkut as well as related social services like, file sharing tools such as Flickr, and podcasting. These services enable user participation on the Web and manage to recruit a large number of users as authors of new content.

In the first , second , third, and fourth part of this analysis we have given a general introduction to the new ways in which users can interact though the Web while providing an introduction to blogs, wikis, and their use.

In this fifth part we are now going to focus our attention on Podcasting and File Sharing.


Photo credit: Picpics

The expression podcasting is a combination of two terms: iPod, a popular MP3 player, and broadcasting.

The word appropriately describes the nature of podcasts. On the one hand, they offer audio content that can be listened to on-demand - like music on an MP3 player. On the other hand, it is a system that provides content resembling radio programmes.

Podcasting basically means blogging audio content, where the content producers post audio content regularly on a server in the MP3 audio format (just as users post short articles on blogs).

In a fashion similar to readers using RSS feeds to stay informed on the most recent articles on a blog, podcasting allows users to subscribe to various audio content producers.

Each podcast offers a list of audio clips that are available for download complemented with metadata such as a brief description of the actual content.

By subscribing to several podcasts, users are able to accumulate material from numerous sources. The content, however, is only retrieved on the users' request, hence podcasting can be seen as an "audio on-demand" service.

Topics covered by podcasts range from music and cultural programmes, mainstream entertainment, business, politics, science and technology, and travel to religious programmes. Podcasts are typically either person-centred or dedicated to specific topics.

"Personal" podcasts are usually produced and published by a single person and offer the person's views on a various subjects, present the person's favourite music, etc.

Podcasts geared to particular topics are often created by a small group of users and contain a selection of separate "stories". Examples are news programmes, regular discussions on political topics, or science-related shows such as the Nature podcast.

Use of Podcasts and Application Areas

Photo credit: Picpics

In September 2004, the concept of podcasting started to take off. The initial idea was to offer anyone on the Internet a platform for publishing their own radio show.

Soon a large number of amateur shows emerged, one of the favourite shows being "Daily Source Code" by Adam Curry, one of the earliest adopters of podcasting.

Although the target group were amateur users, and the largest proportion of podcasted content is still produced by amateurs, the technology was soon also employed by professional content providers.

Nowadays podcasting is, for instance, applied in education in order to enable distance learning or simply to provide the possibility of listening to a lecture again.

Even organisations such as Duke University or the Washington College of Law fully endorse podcasting technology. Both universities make a range of content, including lectures and discussions, freely available in podcast format.

Moreover, podcasts can also be offered as supplementary material to the proceedings at conferences. Two workshops of the IEEE Symposium on High Performance Interconnects, for example, can be downloaded freely as podcasts.

Similar Technologies

Photo credit: Andrzej Windak

The idea of publishing audio content using blogging technology can also be applied to other types of media such as photos or video content. With photocasting, for example, users can share and distribute their photos using an RSS feed.

This enables uses such as photos diaries or sharing entire photo albums with friends on the Internet. With the required functionality being included in popular applications such as Apple's iPhoto, photocasting can be expected to become a fashionable technology among users.

Videocasting, sometimes called vodcasting, applies the blogging concept to video content. Vodcasting is, in fact, an acronym, where "vod" stands for "video on demand".

With vodcasting, content producers can create video clips and inform users about new episodes using RSS feeds. Consumers subscribing to a vodcast have access to a list of video clips that can be played at the users' request.

Vodcasting can include both downloadable video files and content streamed from a streaming video server.

The technology receives attention from various business areas. Recently, German car manufacturer BMW, for example, made a videocast available for presenting new products and disseminating interviews.

File Sharing Tools

Photo credit: Sebastian Kaulitzki

For most readers, maybe, file-sharing has a negative connotation. It is often synonymous with downloading music and movies illegally from the Internet and with distributing pirated digital content.

Napster and Kazaa are popular examples of tools that let users share files (mostly illegally) over the Internet. However, lately also legal peer-to-peer file sharing networks have evolved. The BBC, for instance, has started a service, based on file-sharing technology, for the legal dissemination of TV shows.

Recently, a new type of file sharing has emerged. This class of systems are web-based, offer users a private space to store their documents and a public space for sharing files with other users, as well as helping them to organise their information.

The prime example of such an application is Flickr, a portal for managing and sharing photos. Flickr lets users store, organise, and share photos. Users can upload their photos to a server, add comments and leave notes inside pictures.

The key element in the system, however, are arbitrary tags attached to photos. These tags represent loose metadata and are utilised to describe the content of the photo. A photo depicting a tree can, for instance, have the tags "tree", "my holidays in Iceland", and "winter". When users search Flickr for "winter", the photo of the tree is part of the results. Users can also browse the photos in Flickr. For every photo displayed the tags defined by the author are shown. Instantly, users can have all images in the same "category" presented (i.e., pictures with the same tag).

Flickr is a self-organising community where the system does not tell users how to tag their photos or impose any structures on the organisation of content. This approach is in contrast to the conventional way of generating metadata.

In traditional "editor-based" systems, professionals assign metadata based on a well-defined taxonomy and a set of guidelines. In Flickr, however, the choice of tags is entirely up to the user. Although this concept lowers the barriers to entry and is a major incentive for people to store their content and metadata in the system, it raises the problem of ambiguity.

Since there are no formal taxonomies users can use ambiguous terms and synonyms when tagging photos. The tag "apple", for example, can stand for the fruit or the computer manufacturer. On the other hand, there are several synonyms for Apple computers including macintosh and mac.

As the examples illustrate, the free-form taxonomy can sometimes make it difficult to find the desired content. The content in Flickr is largely published under a Creative Commons license. With this type of license content is freely available while protecting the owners' copyrights. Therefore Flickr is an increasingly attractive resource for web designers, publishers, etc.

End of Part V of 7

Read Part I: Blogs, Wikis, Podcasting, Social Networks And File Sharing: How The Web Is Transforming Itself

Read Part II: Introduction To Blogs - How The Web Is Transforming Itself

Read Part III: Introduction To Wikis: How The Web Is Transforming Itself

Read Part IV: Introduction To Wikipedia And WikiNews: How The Web Is Transforming Itself

Next part: Introduction to Social Networks And Social Services

Originally published as "The Transformation of the Web: How Emerging Communities Shape the Information we Consume", on by Josef Kolbitsch (Graz University of Technology, Austria), and Hermann Maurer (Institute for Information Systems and Computer Media, Graz University of Technology, Austria) on August, 2006

About the authors

Josef Kolbitsch


Josef Kolbitsch holds a PhD in computer science from the Institute of Information Systems and Computer Media, Graz University of Technology, Austria. He has conducted Several projects in the area of web-based database systems, information processing and information management systems for organisations including the Association of Telematic Engineers, the Association of Austrian Business Engineers, Graz University of Technology, and Lebenshilfe Steiermark. In addition he has been the Software trainer and personal technical trainer for Berufsf├Ârderungsinstitut Steiermark and Symantec Corporation(Auckland Branch), software license manager for Graz University of Technology, and an honorary research assistant at the Department of Computer Science, University of Auckland, New Zealand.

Contact Information: josef.kolbitsch(at)

Hermann Maurer


Hermann Maurer holds a PhD in Mathematics from the University of Vienna. He has been teaching at various universities since 1966, and has been the director of the Research Institute for Applied Information Processing of the Austrian Computer Society 1983-1998; chairman of Institute for Information Processing and Computer Supported New Media since 1988, director of the Institute for Hypermedia Systems of Joannum research since 1990, director of the AWAC (Austrian Web Application Center) of the ARCS (Austrian Research Centers) 1997-2000, member of the board of OCG (├-sterreische Computergesellschaft) 1979-2003, founder and scientific advisor of the KNOW Center (K+ Center), the first research centre on Knowledge Management in Austria. Since January 2004 Hermann Maurer is the first dean of the newly formed Faculty for Computer Science at the Graz University of Technology.

Contact Information: hmaurer(at)

Photo credits: Thumb up and thumb down - Artsem Martysiuk

Josef Kolbitsch and Hermann Maurer -
Reference: Journal of Universal Computer Science [ Read more ]
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posted by Robin Good on Thursday, November 30 2006, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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