COUNTY OF ALBEMARLE
Podcasting Board of Supervisors Meetings
Discussion on possibility of podcasting future Board of Supervisors meetings
Tucker, White, Davis, Catlin, Brown, Pack
LEGAL REVIEW: Yes
May 3, 2006
ACTION: X INFORMATION:
The Board of Supervisors has expressed interest in making its meetings more accessible to the public, specifically the possibility of using podcasting technology as a means of sharing meeting information with citizens. Staff has researched the details of podcasting to identify what would be involved in creating podcasts for Board of Supervisors meetings, and to understand issues that the Board should be aware of in considering this possibility.
Goal: 4.1 - Provide effective, responsive and courteous service to our customers
What is Podcasting?
Podcasting is a word formed from combining broadcasting and iPod to describe the act of producing and distributing digital contents (mostly audio file in MP3 format) via cyberspace. It consists of an array of technologies for creating, producing, managing, distributing and receiving podcasts anytime via the model of “publish and subscribe” over the Internet.
The “publish and subscribe” model in podcasting enables the podcaster (or publisher, the County in our particular case) to publish a list of self-produced podcasts (or programs, individual meetings in our case) with the use of "feed". Feed is a standard format widely used on the Internet for website content to be read in different format. RSS (Real Simple Syndication) is one of the feeds and it is the format used in podcasting. A listener who wishes to listen to the podcast could subscribe to the feed by using podcasting software. The software will intelligently scan the subscribed feeds from time-to-time and download new podcasts automatically once it become available. Users could also visit the county website and listen to or download the audio file whenever they wanted to.
What Would it Involve to Podcast Board of Supervisors Meetings?
The County is already capturing audio from Board of Supervisors meetings via the FTR Gold recording equipment used by the Clerk’s Office to record minutes. To create a podcast, we would need to convert the FTR Gold files to the MP3 format which is used in podcasting, and then post those MP3 files to the website. This would require the purchase of two software packages that can be obtained for under $100 total, and would take approximately one hour of staff time to do the conversion and posting per meeting.
The podcast would consist of one continuous audio file that would cover the recorded portion of the individual meeting, and we would create a series of podcasts as we added meetings to the website. In order to listen to or download the podcast, users would have to have access to some type of media player which is a fairly standard feature. Users could visit the website to access the podcast or they could choose to subscribe to our RSS feed as described above which would automatically alert them to the presence of a new podcast when we posted it to the website.
Issues to Consider Related to Podcasting
Podcasts create fairly large files which can be compressed so that they take up less storage space. IT staff feels that currently we have adequate storage space to handle podcasts within our resources. Again because the files are large, there could be an impact to our bandwidth capacity if large numbers of users decide to listen to or download the files simultaneously which could slow down the system. At this point IT staff feels that bandwidth capacity should be adequate, but depending on the number of users combined with other applications being added to the system in the future, this is something that would have to be closely monitored.
While the time required to prepare the podcasts would be fairly minimal – approximately one hour per meeting – there would have to be a dedicated commitment to ensure that this was followed through on in a regular and timely manner.
Podcasts would not be an official record of the meeting and would not replace minutes as the official record. Once we post audio files to the website in the form of a podcast, we lose control over those files – like any file on the website, they could be downloaded and edited or rebroadcast in whatever way a user may choose to present them.
While the audio files can be very clear and understandable, the quality of the audio does depend on how close a speaker is to the microphone and other variables that can not necessarily be controlled by the County. The podcast comes directly from the FTR Gold recording, so any comment that is made into a live microphone during the meeting will be part of the podcast. Conversely, any comment that is not made into a microphone and recorded will not be part of the podcast.
The ability to distinguish speakers from each other – including staff and Board of Supervisors members - again depends on the quality of the recording – sometimes it is possible and sometimes it is not. The only way to insure accurate identification is to have speakers identify themselves or be named by the Chairman before they speak.
There would be an initial cost of no more than $100 to purchase the necessary software. Depending on usage and other future applications, some adjustment to the County’s bandwidth capacity may be necessary over time.
If the Board of Supervisors is interested in pursuing podcasting, staff recommends a trial period of between three to six months to see how much usage the podcasts receive and whether there are any impacts on bandwidth capacity that need to be considered before a more permanent decision is made.
Return to regular agenda