Once you start podcasting, you may start to think “I wish I could show my listeners things as well as tell them about them.” Of course, if you go too far down that road, you arrive at the video podcast, but let’s assume you want to stay with audio but somehow enhance it.

Lucky for you, there is a way to do just that. It is called — not surprisingly — an enhanced podcast. I don’t want to get into the details of how to put together an enhanced podcast, as there are plenty of places that will tell you how to do that. What I want to do is address why you’d want to do it, and more importantly, if you’d like to.

An enhanced podcast lets you embed images, chapter markers, and hyperlinks into your audio file. This way, your listeners can see a picture of what you are talking about or easily skip two chapters ahead for the segment they came to hear. And, with a color-screen iPod, they can do all of these things on the go (except the web links, of course).

Sounds great, right? But before you run off and “enhance” all of your episodes, there are a couple of downsides to the technology:

First of all, when I said you listeners would be hearing you on their iPod, I meant it. You need an iPod to listen to enhanced podcast AAC files on the go. Of course, if all of your listeners have iPods (and I’m sure a big chunk of them do) or only listen at their computer, you are all set — until someone with a Sansa or iRiver comes along and feels left out. Of course, you could always create both an MP3 and an AAC file, but I’ll address that later.

So, let’s assume for a moment that everyone has an iPod or listens through iTunes: Think for a minute about how you listen to podcasts. For many people, podcasts are companions when commuting, walking, cleaning or exercising. How often do you look at your iPod during these activities? For that matter, how often is it safe to look at your iPod during some of them (i.e. driving). When you start to really examine the idea of an enhanced podcast, you realize that you’ll have to cue your listeners to look at the screen when a new image comes up, unless the images aren’t necessary to tell the story.

This now means that your audience has to pay more attention to the process of listening to your podcast: they hear the little beep or the instruction to look, dig the iPod out of its pocket or case, then put it back until the next change. This works fine for educational content used in classwork, but is a bit of a stretch for the casual listener.

If you do enhance your show, you’ll probably want to create an “un-enhanced” version compatible with other portable players. Of course, if you leave the image cues in (or talk about the images on the show), those listeners will again feel confused and left out. This really means than an effective enhanced podcast has to be produced as its own separate offering. That is a lot of work.
If you have a show that has a controlled audience, enhanced podcasts are great. Podcasts of class lectures are a prime example of this. If you are looking for a general audience and want your pictures to be more than just wallpaper, enhancing a podcast with anything besides chapter markers if a big undertaking, and may not be worth the effort.