How should MP3 files be tagged for podcasts?

How should MP3 files be tagged for podcasts?

Summary: There's an old saying in the data processing industry: Garbage In Garbage Out (GIGO). The way that Apple's iPod or Creative's Zen can navigate playlists may easily define what it means to be a great user interface.

TOPICS: Big Data
There's an old saying in the data processing industry: Garbage In Garbage Out (GIGO). The way that Apple's iPod or Creative's Zen can navigate playlists may easily define what it means to be a great user interface. But, if at the end of the day, we as podcasters overload those UIs with garbage (Garbage In), thus turning the pristine user interfaces on their devices into a sea of unnavigable data (Garbage Out), we run the risk of having them tune us out. Shouldn't we respect their user experience?

So, here's a question that I'm not sure I know the answer to. If you're a podcaster who is publishing multiple podcasts per day or week or you're thinking about breaking into podcasting, have you given much thought to the formula you'll be using to add metadata into the MP3 tags that go along with your MP3 files? As I subscribe to more and more podcasts and as those podcasts are automatically showing up in my Windows Media Player's library as well as on my MP3 device (currently, an iRiver H320), I'm terrified that the undertow of poorly applied MP3 tags is going to pull me under a tidal wave of data that could eventually drown my personal audio experience. So, perhaps we should have a conversation about what to put in the tags or perhaps the conversation has already been had and I just missed it. But, I'd like to throw a few ideas out there and maybe some podcasters who are smarter than me will take the idea and run with it.

For most audio files and through many user interfaces, three (sometimes four) pieces of information are readily available. Almost universally, the track (song) name, artist, and album names are available through most UIs. In addition, the filename is often available as well. Without singling out any particular podcast, one thing I'm noticing is how, for a single show, it's hard to tell when exactly the show was published. This too me is a critical piece of information in determining what shows I'm going to listen to first. My suggestion (and one that I hadn't considered until I subscribed to 10 more podcasts in the last week) is to include the publish date in both the filename as well as at the beginning of the trackname. By including it in the beginning of the trackname, it makes it really easy to spot how recently each podcast was published. For filename, the convention that I've been using for ZDNet's IT Matters series of podcasts is "YYYYMMDDITMatters.mp3". For track name, maybe "YYYYMMDD - Interview with Super Pundit" makes sense.

Then comes artist and album name. For artist, I've been keeping it simple by using "ZDNet." If you have (or may have) multiple podcasters publishing under

MP3 tags

one brand, it might make sense to do something like "ZDNet's David Berlind". But, what absolutely doesn't make sense to me is to put your interviewee's name in this field (if you're interviewing somebody). This is because the user interfaces for most media players (software and devices) works best when organizing tracks by artist or by album. If the MP3 tags for each of your episodes are encoded with a different artist's name, then you will be very effective at breaking one of the most important principles of media organization used by media players and devices. Why not go with the flow instead of drown people with the undertow?

Like the artists name, media player interfaces like to index multimedia content by album as well. I'm already seeing how some podcasters are treating each episode of their show as a separate album. Even worse, some have a different artist name and a different album name for each episode. To keep it simple, I'm giving all of my podcasts for 2005 the same album name: "IT Matters Volume 1".

I have no idea if any of this makes sense. You tell me.

Topic: Big Data

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  • Time?

    While I agree that metadata is required, the bigger question you really have time to listen to all those podCasts?
    Metadata or no, the trouble with podCasts is they take way too
    much time and undivided attention. I can scan a website entry, I
    can't a podCast not matter how much upfront info there is.
    Sorry, podCasts are a non-starter. :-)
    • Need More Metadata

      1. Quite a few podcasts include no metadata at all. Extremely annoying. You'd think people who put that much effort to create a podcast would take a few seconds to add some decent metadata. I typically have to go in and add my own metadata.

      2. Re PXLated. Where would you listen to a podcast? Anywhere else you'd listen to audio. Podcasting is simply an automated way to download audio. I don't listen to many of the amateur podcasts, preferring to stick with some of the public radio offerings that are available through podcast feeds. I tend to listen to them while I'm running or driving. The idea that everything has to be as scannable as a website is just stupid (there's this newfangled thing called television which also requires a user's undivided attention...probably going to fall flat on its face).
      Brian Carnell
    • subbing podcasts for radio

      When I step back and consider what PXLated is saying, I think we have to realize that it's a pretty big personal cultural shift to incorporate time shifted audio into our lives. The three questions are:

      1. when do you listen to audio now.
      2. are there other times you might listen to audio (where you don't now) if the content was compelling enough and you didn't have to worry about access (ie: needing a radio or something)
      3. During all times when you do or can listen to audio, would you be interested in customizing the programming (building your own content stream)?

      For me, there were times that I was already listening to audio. Mostly in the car. There were also times where I wasn't (or, if I was, it was very sporatically). These were in my home office where I don't have a radio and only listened to the occasional Web cast (or streamcast), when I walk the dog, etc. Honestly, it took me a while to make the cultural shift. Not just to substitute podcasts for the audio I was listening to, but also to listen to audio at times where I wasn't before. For example, I can listen to talk radio while working. I just wasn't doing it. Sometimes I tune in (with my ears), others I don't. I can pay attention with one ear to see if something interesting is being said. But the cool thing is that I'm really able to choose what I listen to. Even if I'm subscribed to a particular program, when my player gets to that program and I find I have absolutely NO interest in the current episode, I can just skip to the next program on my player. Try doing that with your favorite radio station. You could change stations, but the broadcasters are still in control of what you're listening to. Once you put yourself in control, you'll find that you'll make the time to listen to more audio if the audio is compelling enough or it enriches your life or career in some way. Moving into a world of time-shifted audio is enough of a habit change that it does require some effort to make the switch. But once you do, it's very cool.
  • MP3/Music News

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  • Focused PodCasts

    Do you know if podcasting is used in a more focused manner such as in the classroom? I can imagine reading assignments and lectures deployed to students via a podcast. I would love to know if anyone is actually doing this..