There is a lot of great and interesting content on YouTube for anyone interested in learning new stuff. Between keynotes, conference presentations, lectures from professionals to professionals or classes from teachers to students, the amount of things that you can learn is just staggering. The problem is that I’m having a very hard time watching videos on the Internet for long periods of time. Even if I purposely carve out a half hour in my day to watch a video, it never takes long before my mind starts wandering and I get tempted to check email, the end of a compilation or any of the dozens of other distracting things that happen on a computer connected to the Internet.

What’s frustrating is that most of this content wouldn’t lose much without the visuals: the slides are usually more useful for the speaker than for the audience, and whatever is written on them is typically a shorter version of what you are about to hear anyway.

Solving the distraction problem requires finding a better device to play this content, which leads me naturally to my phone. Between commuting, walking the dog or waiting in line somewhere, there are many opportunities to play this content throughout the day with a lot less distraction than when sitting at my computer.

With that in mind, I started looking for a solution to this problem, which I decomposed in three parts.

Converting

The first step is to convert these videos in an audio file (mp3 or other). There are a lot of web sites that provide this service for free and I ended up picking Video2mp3. You enter the URL of the YouTube video you need and a few minutes later, you download the corresponding mp3. This site also offers a Chrome extension that adds a very convenient “Convert to mp3″ button to the YouTube page, so converting videos into mp3 has turned into a one button operation.

It’s probably a service that YouTube should offer.

Transferring

Now that I have an audio file, I need to transfer it on my phone. As an Android user, I have a deeply seated hatred for cables (this is the 21st century, people!) so I’d like this to happen over the air. Another concern is disposing of the file: once I have finished listening, I don’t want to have to delete it manually, like I would have to do if I just copied this file on my SD card and played it with a music player.

Do you know what’s perfect for this? Podcasts. What if I could turn this audio file into a podcast so I could play it with a podcast app? Podcast apps perform this kind of management automatically so that I never have to worry about cleaning up. The only remaining problem is that podcast apps usually connect to podcast feeds (as far as I know, happy to be hear about more clever apps), so I would have to set up such a feed.

Setting up a podcast feed turned out to be trivial: it’s a forty line script written in, you guessed it… Perl! Just kidding, it’s PHP, of course.

The script scans a directory and returns the ten most recent files as a podcast RSS feed. Now, all I need to do once I have the audio file is copy to my server in the right directory and I’m done.

Playing

All that’s left to do is ask the podcast application on my phone to sync and the file is magically transferred over the air on my Android phone.

I have been using Car Cast for a few months now (there’s a free and a pro version) and I’m very happy with it, but I’m always interested in hearing about alternatives, so feel free to share what Android podcast application you prefer.

Ideally, I’d like to automate this process even further: having a button on the YouTube page that will automatically convert the file to audio and add it to my podcast feed. Until then, the current procedure seems to be working great and it has already provided me with a lot of content I would never have watched otherwise.

Speaking of suggestions, what kind of content would you recommend for this kind of approach? Recently, I’ve enjoyed listening to the OSCon 2011 keynotes (I especially recommend Bob Lee and Martin Odersky), Stephen Hawking’s “Did god create the universe”? and pretty much anything that Neil deGrasse Tyson publishes, especially his Universe series.

What do you listen to?