Interview: Cast Easy creator Juan Alvarez

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To say podcasting blew up last year would be to downplay the power of dynamite. Within the space of twelve months, it went from whatcasting? to the Oxford American Dictionary’s word of the year. From a hobby for a handful of bloggers and early adopters, podcasting developed into a full-blown media channel that even mainstream broadcasters couldn’t ignore. So where will it go next year? And are there tools now that anyone can use to create a podcast? Playlist talked to Cast Easy developer Juan Alvarez to get the dish.

Playlist: What is Cast Easy, and who is it designed for?

Juan Alvarez: Cast Easy is podcasting for the rest of us. Not for those who want to create XML by hand, or don’t even know what XML is. I created it so that people can create podcasts without knowing the innards of RSS feeds. I started with that and kept adding features, like video capabilities. We wanted to show what your podcast would look like in iTunes so we did that. We’ve added many features from then on, like converting video files to podcast files. We also created the opportunity to create enhanced podcasts that allows you to put chapters in episodes. Really it was designed for the rest of us; those who don’t want to read the manual.

Playlist: How does an enhanced podcast differ from a normal podcast, and why would I want to create one?

Alvarez: For an episode that’s one or two minutes, it’s not necessary to create an enhanced podcast. Or if it’s a complete statement or story then, of course not.

But say you create a podcast with different sections. Let’s say I have a talk show with the fist section on entertainment, then another on tech or Mac news, then a third on where to purchase our product. An enhanced podcast is a way to break it down, so that later on I can just jump to that section. Especially for like an hour-long show.

Another thing is let’s say you want to show pictures of what you’re talking about. Satellite radio is getting very popular, talk shows like the Opie and Anthony show or the Howard Stern show, a lot of times they talk about something you want to visualize. An enhanced podcast allows that to happen, you can have pictures so your listeners can have a visual concept of what you’re explaining.

Another thing is links. A lot of times instead of saying ‘visit us at http colon slash slash yadda yadda whatever’ you can have a link just above the artwork and have them click that and it automatically opens in Safari.

Playlist: Who are some podcasters using Cast Easy? Anyone I would have heard of?

Alvarez: There’s one called Get Your Fix. They do entertainment news and gossip. Anything about entertainment will be on there. They use Cast Easy’s enhanced podcast to show pictures and for links. Dollen.com [Note: adult-oriented] is another. They are a modeling agency that likes to spread the word about their talent with podcasts. They love Cast Easy and send me feature requests all the time. Another one I’ve noticed is by an independent film director, Skinny Bones on Air. They use Cast Easy to create their video podcasts of what’s been going on in the filmmaking and entertainment industry.

Playlist: You touched on this briefly, but what does Cast Easy do for video podcasters (vodcasters)?

Alvarez: The latest version blows the door open on video podcasting. Especially with the introduction of Apples 5th generation iPod with video, a lot of people want to create video podcasts. So, do you want [Cast Easy] users to spend $30 extra to buy QT Pro? No. So I created a one-click video file to iPod format so users don’t have to spend another $30 for QuickTime to make content for the video iPod. With one click you can convert a video file for the iPod, and add it to your podcast. We also added previewing. With the iTunes previewing, you can double-click and scan through [a video] and make sure it looks like you want it to in your podcast. We want video to be as seamless as audio.

Playlist: How did you get interested in podcasting?

Alvarez: I had never been interested in podcasting until iTunes came out with it. I said, ‘this is great!’ I wanted to look for applications that created podcasts. They were very slim. You had like 5 applications that all had their own strengths. One might have a nice interface. Another might have enhanced podcasts. But none of them have it all. I thought maybe I should do an application that can do it all under one roof. So the first version created basic podcasts and we added more functionality [over time].

The biggest thing I wanted to aim for was the interface. [Existing apps] weren’t very intuitive. The reason why Mac users are Mac users is the interface. You want features and functionality, but you don’t want to see everything at once. Keep it simple and intuitive, and the users will have fun with it.

A great example of that is Comic Life, that’s a great application, but it’s also so much fun to use! That’s what we want for Cast Easy and that’s what we’re aiming for.

Playlist: It seems like there are just as many good applications for podcasting on the Mac side as on the PC side. Or at least we’re not seeing as many things only for Windows with podcasting. Is that true? Is that your impression also?

Alvarez: That was one of our concerns creating Cast Easy was ‘do I have to learn Windows programming in order to create something for Windows.’ This is very prevalent in gaming. You have The Sims 2 or Doom, or any high-profile game, and it takes months to years to port it over to the Mac.

I wanted to be like other indie Mac developers who say ‘no, we’re going to be Mac-only.’ The development process is so much easier and more intuitive on the Mac. So then why go somewhere else? I’ve noticed podcasting seems to be much more popular on the Mac. Maybe the reason is we’re willing to experiment and use new technologies. We might even step forth and pay something extra to get something cooler that’s not the dominant thing. So we say let the community grow it and dictate it and see where it goes. We’re doing the reverse of a lot of the industry because we’re saying let’s do it here first, and maybe we’ll go to the PC. It’s very rewarding it looks like we’re finally on the cutting edge of development and is all because of Mac OS X

Playlist: What effect did Apple have on podcasting when it added them to the iTunes? Was this a landmark event, or would podcasting still have been just as popular last year?

Alvarez: I think podcasting is becoming a buzzword, even being added to the dictionary, because of iTunes. I knew of podcasting a year or so before iTunes came out with it, but it was for technophiles who wanted to add audio feeds to their pages. It was a very, very small audience. iTunes was a landmark that made podcasting go mainstream. 2005 was the year of the podcast and it was because of iTunes. It certainly was for Cast Easy. Does iTunes have a long way to go? Absolutely, but it’s come a long way and who knows what we’re going to see, maybe even in January [at Macworld Expo]. I think it was a big step, absolutely

Playlist: Podcasting exploded in 2005. What do you think is in store for 2006?

Alvarez: I Think it’s going to be more mainstream in that it will be something you don’t talk about as much, but you just do. People don’t talk about their televisions, but you talk about the TV shows that are on there. I think 2006 is going to be more about the content. It ‘s going to be more about what’s being provided. 2005 was about anyone’s ability to create a podcast. Now it’s going to be about the quality. I think video will be a big step, especially with the new iPod and Front Row. But at the same time I think audio will be as prevalent as video—people still listen to their radios. I think it’s going to be big stuff for podcasts but not for the technology, but the content. It’s all about passion. It’s not about the glitz and glamour, and what your name is; it’s about talking about what you’re passionate about. I think 2006 is the year of quality content.

Mathew Honan is a San Francisco-based writer and photographer. He frequently covers podcast-related issues for Playlist

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