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Tips and Tricks for Mix Your Own Podcast

by Harold Neal
Jan 7, 2009

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Harold Neal

We've had a positive reception to the Mix Your Own Podcast tool launched December 18. Here are a few tips to help you get more out of this new feature.

Every Story is an Episode

Our traditional podcasts, launched in August 2005, often combine multiple stories in a single podcast episode. For example, the Economy podcast has episodes that typically contain 4 stories, delivered on Tuesday and Friday. With Mix Your Own Podcast, each story appears as its own episode. Here is a Mix Your Own version of the Economy podcast. This allows you to download the stories as soon as the audio is available on NPR.org, and it gives you more control over what you want to listen to.

However, if you set up a podcast on a popular topic, you may get several episodes per day, so you may want to adjust your podcast software to keep more episodes available. In iTunes, this is done by selecting the Podcast Tab and then clicking the Settings button on the lower left. You may also want to set your software to download episodes more frequently so that you get timely news as soon as it is available. Here are some suggested settings.

Refined Search

Mix Your Own Podcast finds stories relevant to your interests in one of two ways. First, NPR categorizes stories in many different ways: the program on which the story was aired/published, topics associated with the story, the reporters of the story, musical artists featured in the story, and so on. You can use any of these pre-existing categories to build your podcast. In the Mix Your Own Podcast tool, pre-existing categories will appear as you type in the keyword field. You can select these categories by clicking on them.

Second, your podcast can be based on free text searches of the content of stories. Originally, this search was done on any text content found on the web page for the story as well as the audio transcripts for the stories (if available). While comprehensive, this can find stories that are only tangentially related to your keywords. For example, if you entered "Cat" as your keyword, your podcast could include stories where a reporter used the phrase "Let the cat out of the bag." So, we have changed the way text search is used in Mix Your Own Podcast; now, we will only search the title and the summary of the story. This should provide more relevant stories for your podcast. This change took place automatically, so you don't have to make any changes to your podcast to take advantage of it. However, if you liked the full text search, see the next tip.

Mix Tool for Power Users

You can still use the full text version of search to build your podcast via the API Query Generator. Mix Your Own Podcast is built on top of the NPR API. Using the Query Generator, you can fine tune the criteria used to pick stories for your podcast. To use the Query Generator, you will need to sign up for a free API Key. Then, in the Query Generator, go to the "Fields" tab and select "Podcast" as your "Output Format". You can then use the other tabs to customize your podcast to your heart's content.

For example, if you preferred the full text search option for building your podcast, go to the "Control" tab, type in your search terms, and select "Full Content of Story" as the "Search Type".

Another example of what you can do with the Query Generator is controlling how your selection criteria are combined. In the Mix Your Own Podcast tool, we return stories that match any of your specified criteria. If you enter several categories, the podcast will contain stories that match at least one of the criteria. In technical terms, we call this a "Boolean Or" API query. Perhaps, though, you want to combine your criteria to get a more focused podcast that contains only the stories that match all of the category selections you have made. For example, if I wanted a podcast that contained only stories that were about both Technology and Politics, I would go to the Query Generator "Topics" tab, check both the "Technology" and "Politics" options, and then go to the "Control" tab and select the "And" option for "Boolean for IDs" option.

The end result is my Techlogy and Politics custom podcast.

We would like to hear how you are using the Mix Your Own Podcast tool. If you have created an interesting custom podcast, please post the URL in the comments section of this post.

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