Is a podcast just a thirty-minute long mp3? Sort of. Well, yes. But the reason iTunes helps is with the "cast" part. It updates automatically whenever a new one comes out. So it's an easier, more fluid, more passiveish distribution experience. If you have to check a website every week and download something manually, then manually import it into your playlist, well, that is a poor excuse for a podcast. That is a thirty-minute mp3.
I think there are other kinds of feeds you can use instead of iTunes. On Penny Arcade they keep linking to some mysterious page of gibberish, but I don't know what to do with it.
Luckily Penny Arcade has also put their podcast on iTunes. At first I wasn't too excited about listening to them brainstorm a comic, but it's actually pretty entertaining. In the process of creating the comic, they end up discussing all the video game news of the day and riffing on it with the smartass chops of the comedy writer and the in-depth expertise of the hardcore geek.
Basically you're listening to a session in a writers room. You hear them honing in on an idea and shaping it. And you can enjoy the dramatic irony when you hear one of them nail the idea for the comic in a throwaway wisecrack in the first five minutes, then explore other ideas for half an hour before recognizing it. I don't know if they do any editing after the fact, but the podcast is impressively free of any dull stretches of thoughtful silence you might expect from listening to a brainstorming session.
One non-gaming-related highlight: Tycho reveals that when he and Gabe were roommates, he would get up early every day and purposely run out all the hot water, forcing Gabe to take nothing but cold showers for several years.
The Ricky Gervais Show is also a good podcast, although now that you have to pay for it, you're better off buying a full season as an audiobook rather than subscribing for $1.99 an episode. You can get all six hours of the first season for something like five or six bucks on iTunes (the second season, which I haven't heard, costs more and is only three hours). Oddly, it turns out the show is not really centered on Ricky Gervais, but radio producer Karl Pilkington, a low key, dimwitted fellow with bizarre perspectives on the world. Mostly the show consists of Gervais and Stephen Merchant prompting Karl with questions, letting him expound on his ideas, and then mocking him mercilessly for them.
Signature bits include Merchant reading from Karl's hilariously matter-of-fact diary, and "Monkey News," in which Karl tells supposedly true stories of times in which a monkey was made to stand in for a human and did such a good job that no one noticed until afterwards--at which point Gervais inevitably interjects, "That's bollocks. You're talking shit, mate." In the first episode, Karl proposes a population control idea in which people would live to seventy, then give birth to a baby as they die. Gervais describes this rambling as the sort of thing you might find scrawled in shit in the home of a serial killer. He and Merchant are so mean, it's hard to believe Karl isn't a made-up character. Their insults roll right off his back.
Anyway, maybe your life doesn't include large chunks of time where you would be entertained by listening to other people's conversations. But if, like me, if you regularly spend a couple of hours a day in your car, listening to podcasts may be for you!