Podcasting with WordPress

So my name’s Mark, I’ve been a WordPress developer for about eight years… also work in… do a little bit of app stuff, a lot of different development stuff, but one of my big passions is in the medium of podcasting, and it has been for many years. And the first podcasts I started doing were all hosted and run through WordPress, and I think it’s about the best way – if you’re into the medium, whether you want to do it for marketing or whether you want to sit and have a chat with a mate… a podcast I’ve just started listening to now is Drunk Philosophy, and it’s literally two guys who over Skype both get pissed and they have a philosophical discussion about a topic each week… and so whether it’s something like that, you just want to shoot the breeze with friends or you actually have a real marketing plan, then I think it’s a fantastic medium.

It has its roots in interesting places. A little bit more about me… I will do this a lot because I always end up talking and then realising “oh no I’ve got a slide that says all the things!”

So this guy is the chap who’s basically responsible for what we understand podcasting to be. So, for some podcasting just means putting a video up – like, if you do a YouTube channel that’s enough – it’s not what I would consider podcasting. It doesn’t make it any less valuable… I’ve had this discussion with someone… I did a similar talk last month and someone came up to me afterwards and said “I’ve been making audio -programmes, putting them on the web for ages, I did that like 10 years ago. Was I not podcasting?: And I said “well, you were making Internet audio, I wouldn’t have called that podcasting but I’m not saying that what you did was wrong”. Podcasting does mean a specific thing, in my humble opinion, and this was the first guy to take what was ostensibly an Internet radio show, record it, put it on an MP3 file and then start using XML, the same technology – RSS – the same technology that we use to subscribe to blogs, and work with techies to basically turn that into a podcast. So the podcast is your audio content plus the feed which people to subscribe to, and it’s that subscribing mechanism that makes a podcast important, and this guy back in 2004, Adam Curry, former MTV VJ was the first guy to do it with a show called the Daily Source Code. Lots of people were making downloadable audio programmes before and since, but this was the first guy who started attaching that to an RSS feed, and then came iTunes and other podcatchers as they’re sometimes called, which then read that RSS feed which some people were writing by hand, back in the day… which sounds painful.

These are some of the people who around the same time came into the medium and some of these actually… I think probably… I think all three of them, you’ve got Brian Ibbott, Scott Johnson and Tom Merritt who are longstanding American podcasters in Colorado, Salt Lake City and California, and they’ve been doing this for over 10 years as podcasts, and they all run their sites on WordPress.

The weird thing with – please excuse the pun, the weird thing with – podcasting, certainly in America which is different to how we might view it in the UK, is that it comes from this tradition of ham radio, which is very social. People have handles, they use their Internet handles in names… the guy I showed you at the bottom right, Tom Merritt is known all over the Internet as acedtect, and people know that interchangeably with his name. And so the tradition that podcasting comes from in America is slightly different because we’ve got a history of Radio 4, we’re all very comfortable with good-quality speech radio, which America doesn’t sort-of have, and so their podcasting tradition, which I really subscribe to is about DIY, about making it yourself, a bit of spit-and-sawdust, Sellotape and pipe dreams and make something together. And that’s part of what’s great about WordPress, is that you can really bootstrap what you’re doing with very little money and actually make something and that’s part of what I really enjoy.

One of the great things that I love about podcasting is the opportunities it gives you. I went to Atlanta last year, I met those people on the right, who I’d been speaking to for the last 18 months because we’d been making a podcast together. I got to go and meet weird people and sit with R2D2 and stuff and so one of the things that fuels my passion about podcasting is the fact that it really makes a difference; it really allows you to expand your life, and find new friends, find new people, find new contacts, everything… it’s a wonderful medium for what it can allow you to do.

So the way we get started with podcasting… my recommendation: there are a few podcasting plugins around. This is in my considered opinion the very best. It’s simple (obviously, given the name). I’m going to take about what Seriously Simple Podcasting allows you to do in a bit, but first I want to talk to you about the fact that those websites of those podcaster I told you about, those venerable podcasts, all have websites that kind of suck, in my humble opinion!

This guy’s actually a web designer so he does some of the work himself, but I think the work he does for his clients is better than his podcast, yes. There’s a big tradition in this. It’s a very strange thing: most podcast websites suck! A lot of it is because they’re not using plugins, they’re actually just hand-uploading things, they’re having to embed audio things themselves and so they haven’t got time to deal with that because they’re not using some of the tools that make it a little bit easier to manage. I just wanted to give you some examples. These are all very very like… this guy, his whole show, Tom Merritt’s show is funded through Patreon and I’m a subscriber. I subscribe to that! Because the audio programme and the video programme, it’s brilliant, it’s absolutely great! But that’s a default WordPress theme and he’s… the focus is not on making good websites or making websites that look great or feel bespoke. The focus is on making the audio and I think there’s room to really, actually combine the two.

It’s nice to be able to tell someone to go to a podcast’s website and actually give them a nice experience, because why not? There are so many gorgeous themes out there, you can make your own or you can commission people to make them. Why not build a website that looks as good as it can do?

So I used to run a podcasting network which I’d built in a web framework called Django, and these are some of the things I learned. That its really hard. You can make… so, I’ve just talked about making sites look – it’s nice if sites look nice… nice sites are nice! – but theres a weird thing about over-polish, so the pendulum can swing the other way. So one of the things I learned is that doing too much, making a site look too slick then detracts from that ham radio aesthetic that I talked about, that DIY aesthetic, and so there is sort-of a balance to try and strike.

So I took some of the learnings from building Poddle which was my podcasting network and I took the presentational end, the front-end of that site, all the HTML and the images and the styling and reworked it as a free open source podcasting theme for WordPress. Because there aren’t that many that are a) built for podcasting out of the box anyway, b) that work with Seriously Simple Podcasting and c) that are free, and so I thought “well, I’ve learned all this stuff anyway, I may as well give it away, ‘cos, why not?”

So this is a quick sort-of look through. It looks exactly like the podcast network that I setup, but it’s pretty customisable, you can change the fonts, the colours, obviously all the imagery, you can put your own menus in as you would expect. And you’ve got this sort-of grid layout where you can basically just decide what your most important content is or whether it’s just the newest content and just lay it in a grid format. You’ve got blog post formats, when you’re into episodes you’ve got a nice big player so if you wanted to do video podcasts you’ve got a player that’s that size, looks nice, and so that’s an awful example, and that’s a slightly better example. There you go, it’s another podcast that I do. It’s a list of episodes…

And you can sort-of use this and pick it up for free and I’ve got a link to it as well. So I didn’t want to necessarily build something that would be completely like a chameleon… I wanted to build something that just took my learnings and made it available, so if you look at it and go “Well that looks exactly like that site, I don’t want something that looks exactly the same as something else”, you can customise it, but also maybe take it, adapt it, do what you want with it. It’s on GitHub there and as I say I will make these slides available somewhere, but that is where you can find it if it is of interest.

What I would also hope would be of interest is, I’ve just got a video course up that is not strictly-speaking open to the public yet, because I’ve got to work out some of the freemium type stuff, so I’ve got to get my marketing stuff in place basically… took some learnings from earlier. But this is a seven-part video course that I basically made in-between the last… it’d be planned… but in-between the last WordPress Birmingham and this one, I’d finally got off my backside and made this.

So it’s, each part is about 15 minutes I think, and it takes you through setting up a site from the beginning, even getting a domain name, getting hosting ,considering the types of hosting you might need. There’s a comparison table to help you figure out, well if your’e going to host the audio along with the content of your site, along with the theme and the database for your site, then you need to pick the right hosting plan and there’s a comparison table, just as a Google doc that you can view as part of the course.It’s all free, there’s no… you don’t have to sign up for untying, you can if you want to, so when you download some of the resources like – theres a link to the theme there – if you want you can pop in your email address and there will be an upset as you can see here is, the bit that I’m going to be working on is getting a sort of freemium model in place, so that I can sell exclusive videos that will just go on for paid members and also release videos before they go to the public, before they go on for free, so people can have a look. I’m also going to be… so I’m leaving my job in the end of June and I’ll be a full-time freelancer, and of the things I’m going to be doing is opening up office hours on – I think I’m going to do it on – Slack, and I’ll have a Slack room that people can join me in if they want to discuss… if they’ve got specific podcast questions or WordPress questions they’ve got, troubleshooting that they need doing, they’ll have a certain amount of time every week that they can always come in and ask me anything and chat with people. So that’s the idea of the freemium model but as you can see I’m trying to just build that out a little bit more.

So that’s a little bit more about the course. I’m interested to see what people think about it, how people find it, whether it’s useful, so if you’re interested at all in this, if I’ve done anything to convince you that you might want to try podcasting and seeing what you can do and how easy it is because, I haven’t talked about the audio side of this because the course doesn’t really, the course doesn’t cover that, but it’s so simple. If you’ve got one of these – it doesn’t have to be a MacBook – but if you’ve got just a laptop with a mic you’re good to go. There’s free audio editing software, there’s all sorts of things you can do online, there are online podcasting tools that actually help you edit your show online, you haven’t got to download anything.

The bar to entry has never been lower, and your voice and your stories matter. Everybody’s got a unique perspective, and whether you’re just – like I said – shooting the breeze with a couple of mates because you think you’ve got a funny take on something or you’ve got a wonderful nugget of an idea, or you’re promoting a book! I work with the author of How to be a Productivity Ninja who is a splendid chap called Graham Allcott. He runs a worldwide company called Think Productive, and I have the distinct honour of producing his podcast. He does all the hard work; he goes out and records it, he finds all the guests, he actually sits with miss and interviews them and they he just brings me the audio and I put it together into a sort-of 45-minute/hour long show and that’s one of the services that I do as a freelancer, but he’s doing that to help promote his book, so whether you’ve got… there’s so many different ways that podcasting can be useful to you. It’s incredibly personal, you are in people’s ears, whether they’re doing the dishes or driving, sitting on the bus, going to sleep, you are in people’s ears, you’re in people’s lives and you can effect change, you can do amazing things.

On my site, if you’re interested I did a talk last month and I talked about a podcast that made me cry at the… I was in Jewellery Quarter Station and I had to stop. I got off the train, I was listening to a podcast and I had to stop and just stand sort of be like this and not seeing anyone and just cry, because I listened to something so emotional, so heartbreaking a story, and the beautiful way it was told made me just… you know that sort-of racking sob like you get when you got a skinned knee when you were a kid that sort of… it was like that, and I just had to sort-of silently go away.

There’s amazing things that the medium can do and I can talk for hours but if I’ve done anything to convince you then check out Podcasting with WordPress. I’ve got all the PodcastingWithWP.org/.com, there’s podcastingwithwordpress.com (but I’m not supposed to use that one ‘cos it’s against the… it’s a trademark problem), so go to Podcasting with WP please, if you would like to because I don’t want to get in trouble because WordPress are nice people and it’s a nice system, so thank you very much. I appreciate this time and obviously if you’ve got questions now I’d love to talk them through or if you want to come and speak to me afterwards then by all means do, but thank you.

WordPress Birmingham 27th April 2016
Grand Central Kitchen, 7 Stephenson Street, Birmingham