I listened to a well-known Apple-focused podcast the other day. The show is prat of a tech podcast network, and also part of a somewhat larger circle of people who, broadly speaking, cover the Apple beat. From this episode, I learned that the hosts love their iPads, their iOS apps, and their kind sponsors. I learned that they, like this week’s guest, have many friends who say things about Apple on their own tech podcasts. Actually, I knew that already, but the name dropping this week was especially heavy. The hosts’ mentions of their friends did not include a journalistic-style ID, just a first and last name for each colleague. In these familiar confines, no explanation seems necessary.
I can put myself in the minds of these hosts: they probably listen to the shows produced by their friends. They likely share a Slack channel. And drawing their combined Twitter feeds on a social graph would certainly produce a tight, overlapping set of circles. I have been that person, interacting with a smallish group of people who make and consume the same content, attend the same conferences, and venerate the same tech products, right down to the apps and phone cases they use. But when I listen in, I’m an outsider. I consume a few tech podcasts; shows that meet my interest in efficient delivery of information without a lot of chatter. I do not engage fully in the interlocking clusters of shows and networks that have developed around the Apple beat. Sure, my engagement is limited by my desire to listen to other kinds of shows, but I have always found fanboy insularity and group think to be a problem in Apple land. And podcasting has made it worse, with practitioners assuming that everyone listens to the same shows, and knows the same people. Uniformity of perspective, in-jokes, and a tendency toward referencing and respecting the same thought leaders make it difficult, and even a waste of time to listen to more than a few of these connected shows.
A few networks and thought leader types have made noises about diversity. It’s a thing now, right? Occasional adjustments to guest lists sometimes result in a slight opening of the tent to new voices. But so long as referencing one’s friends is endemic, and, more problematically, producers assume the audience has the same friends, real diversity doesn’t stand a chance in tech podcasting, or anywhere in media.
People talk a lot about hoarding nowadays. I’m told by multiple sources that there is a reality TV show featuring people who do it to the extent that their houses and lives are destroyed. Sounds super-entertaining, huh? That’s another subject, and one on which you probably wouldn’t like my opinion. But whether it’s inspired by basic cable or not, the word “hoarder” comes up all the time when people need a word to describe their inability to unburden themselves of the objects they have accumulated. Is it a different thing when you need to carry the objects with you?
Before I go on a trip, I feel compelled to stockpile things that I might need; electronic equipment, cables, batteries, and bar tools have all ben stuffed into roll-y bags for trips both long and short. Lately though, what with iPads and phones, and tiny audio recorders, I don’t carry so much excess heavy stuff. All of my pre-travel pack ratting is digital.
I’m about to go to San Francisco for five days. I expect my days and evenings to be packed with events, and that I will tumble exhausted into my bed at ridiculous times of night. And yet, my iPad Mini, iPhone, and iPod Nano are each stuffed to the gills with movies, music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Why? Because I detest the thought of reaching for a digital entertainment and finding that I don’t have it.
I need a movie for the plane ride. Better take four, in case film noir seems more appealing than a musical once I’m in the air. But wait! About half the time, plane cabins on morning flights are too bright to watch a movie, and I scroll through podcasts to find a Fresh Air interview, or a friend’s vacation story show. And what of those late nights when I fall into bed and grope for the device charging next to me? I’ll need some audio drama, or the latest episode of my favorite hometown radio show–until I fall asleep after 20 minutes.
Speaking of that radio show, though, it needs to be on the iPhone, along with the New York Times audio digest I listen to first thing every morning. I must be able to download the new shows while I’m gone, even though I packed gigabytes to take with me on the trip. I will dutifully fire up the slow hotel wi-fi just when everyone else is getting up too, impatiently checking to see that my newspaper has made it onto my iGadget when I exit the shower.
Music? This is the thing I am least likely to consume. I listen to podcasts when I walk or ride public transportation conveyances. Music is for writing time, or as a salve for bouts of insomnia at home. But wait! I might not be able to sleep in the hotel. Better take 4000 or so songs with me.
There’s one more media type clogging up my gigabytes: despite the fact that the average audiobook is at least eight hours long (many are far longer), I have loaded up 11 (ELEVEN) fiction and non-fiction titles. Because, like, how do I know whether I’ll be in the mood for World War II era spy novel, or a critique of the modern military general staff? Maybe it will be a book about how the British interacted with the Union and Confederacy during the Civil War. That’s on standby in case the Tom Perrotta novel with the great reviews seems boring. In any case, there is no chance at all that I will finish any single book during my trip.
Why do I do it? Why, when confronted with one of the greatest cities in the world, and both business and pleasure reasons for visiting, would I go to such lengths to make sure that I can entertain my ears in four or more different ways, on three machines? I don’t know, but TSA hasn’t regulated the digital heft of our iDevices (so far), and disk space continues to be of inconsequential cost. So I might as well, right?
If you follow Apple at all, AND care about podcasts, you probably know about the new Podcasts app for iOS devices. I took it for a spin on the latest episode of App Store Pundit. Did I like it? You’ll have to listen to find out.
Don’t you hate when people write promo copy like that?
I’m not here to offer advice to marketers about how to alter the tastes an culture consumption habits of social media users. That sort of thing makes my skin crawl, frankly. I have noticed, though, as I talk to fewer people IRL on a daily basis, and listen to less broadcast media, that my opinions, and certainly the opinions of people who consume way more media than I do, are influenced much more by the online world than they would have been even a few short years ago.
As a non-regular TV watcher who reads a lot of tech blogs, I know that many people consume shows via Hulu, Netflix, and their DVRs. Given a lack of channel-surfing or exposure to a network’s show promos, how does one decide what TV shows to check out and follow? Same goes for music. If you’re not geeky enough about your tunes to read music blogs, and you don’t spend your nights at live shows, how do you come across and choose the stuff you want to download from Amazon, iTunes, and “other” sources?
The answer, as SM aficionados will gleefully tell you, is the kind of online word of mouth that social networks facilitate.
What has me wondering about this theory is the multiple circles I tend to inhabit. Many of my online friends are self-described “geeks” and they talk about series like “Heroes” and “Big Bang Theory”. Based on their descriptions of these shows, I’ve never been inspired to check them out. The ironic hipsters of my acquaintance, many of whom are gay or “gay adjacent” (I so love that phrase) find joy in campy reality shows like “America’s Next Top Model” or “Real Housewives…” Nothing will ever convince me to watch. Fashion and shallow women are two of my least favorite things. And finally, my “NPR intellectual” friends, and the blogs and periodicals I favor, can’t stop talking about shows like “The Wire” and “Mad Men”. Well finally! I did check out the latter, mostly because of the “period” gimmick of setting the show in the past. And because “Mad Men” works pretty well as a soap opera, and partly as history adjacent, I kept watching.
It’s striking to me how little overlap there is. My geek/podcast friends have never mentioned “Mad Men”. And I don’t think Slate has any ongoing discussion threads about “Heroes”. It’s almost as if you need to choose, just as you might feel compelled to choose a political party, a clique in high school, or a neighborhood in which to live. The negative spin on that would be Balkanization. The positive might be “the long tail”. To me, it’s a mite weird.
So why, aside from a conscious intent to severely limit my TV consumption, do the passions of my friends leave me utterly cold? Am I more resistant than most people to peer influence? Am I so invested in my iconoclast self-image that I won’t succumb? The truth could be in there somewhere, but I also wonder if I simply require more and better evidence than word of mouth provides. I guess I don’t find links or two-minute YouTube clips very compelling. “What’s in it for me?” I wonder, when presented with an opportunity to engage myself with a continuing series? And the answer tends to come back that what’s in it for me would not extend very far beyond shared experience. And I can get that any day of the week by simply loading up Twitter, turning on a podcast, or god forbid, walking outside my house.
I’m a big ol’ critic of the current frenzy for social media. That is, I’m critical of the “social media can do EVERYTHING, replace ALL mainstream media, CURE CANCER, etc. school of thought. But I am not critical of the tools that make it possible to exchange information, or add deeper meaning to the content of media. Platforms like Twitter, podcasting, uStream, and Facebook, to name just a few, can unleash not only creativity of content-makers, but the imagination and enthusiasm of content consumers.
I’m thinking about this today because I’m working on a plan to cover a conference I’ll be attending this summer. Tales of the Cocktail is an annual event for bartenders, beverage professionals, and cocktail enthusiasts, held in New Orleans.
I say “cover” because, as a long-time journalist (and proud of it) that’s how I view events that I attend. I see my attendance as a way to bring information, context,and energy to people who can’t attend themselves. that mindset is in my DNA. I want to tell people what happened, how it felt to be in the room, and who made what kinds of impacts on or within the audience. Frankly, I’m still working on the interactive part; how, using social media tools, can I let my audience influence my coverage, ask questions, give me feedback?
So much of what passes for social media coverage of events is poorly thought-out or lazy. Pointing a camera at a speaker, or lieblogging a seminar on Twitter feels great in the moment, but how, six months later, can content consumers process hours and hours of video, or Twitter posts which, if archived at all, lack real context outside the instant they occurred? I want the work I do in July to stand on its own in December, and also be consumable by busy people who wouldn’t have time to sit and watch old seminar sessions. I want what I do to inform people who attend the conference the following year, or discuss and write about its topics between events. You know, kind of like those old-fashioned things called news and feature articles used to provide a record that people could rely on for reference.
My idea right now is to combine liveblogging with edited audio podcasts. My version of liveblogging will be more like note-taking than instant news reporting. After all, this isn’t an Apple product announcement, with readers hanging on every word I write. From the liveblog posts, which can stay up for anyone who needs that level of detail, I can construct more orderly “permanent” stories that place what I’ve seen, heard and experienced into some kind of context.
Podcasting, which will always be my medium of choice, gives me the ability to record both the voices of speakers and fellow attendees, and my own. I’m likely to roll a lot of tape, then edit what I collect into manageable audio pieces that can be released one or two per day during the event. If all goes well, I might do shorter, more frequent live-to-tape podcasts consisting of interviews, or cocktail tasting notes. These could be aggregated into their own feed for people who are comfortable consuming a lot of audio in bit-sized chunks.
These are preliminary ideas. I know from attending Tales last year that it offers ample opportunity for learning, and for sensory overload. My challenge is to distill (yeah, that’s what I said) what I see and hear in ways that make it valuable to readers and listeners, both in real-time, and after the fact.
I just learned that I’m listed in the Austin Social Media 100, in the tech category. I can’t say that I know much about this set of rankings, but I’m flattered to be included. I’m also mining the rest of the list for fun and interesting people to follow on Twitter or elsewhere.
As promised, here’s part 2 of my prescription for the newly podcast-infused BlogWorld Expo. Check out part 1 here:
Thriving in spite of Vegas. Opinions about Las Vegas vary. For many, the bright lights and myriad attractions confer bigness and importance on a trade show. More people will come, the theory goes, to combine work with pleasure, and more people from all over the country will be able to find discounted travel options. But Vegas is not conducive to community-building. From the awkward layout of the LV Hilton/convention center, to the sheer size of the venues, Vegas tends to swallow people and communities up. That certainly happened at this year’s NME. and BlogWorld Expo, from my observations of the 2007 event, was far less focused on interactions between people and groups than it was on the content of its events, and its “name” speakers. Making recommendations on this topic is hardest, because you must essentially offer people compelling reasons not to wander away from the trade show. And that’s incredibly difficult.
BlogWorld-sponsored social events and BOF sessions, as I’ve already suggested, will help. and it may be that scheduling more informal events inside the cavernous convention center would keep people together. Finally, using the SXSW model of pre-expo meetups around the country could help attendees make connections in their own areas before they arrive in Vegas, giving them pre-made connections that stem from their commitment to supporting Blogworld Expo.
Loosen up and think outside the box. From my perspective, BlogWorld is a less welcoming and open environment than NME has been. There, I said it! Even in its first year, BlogWorld seemed burdened by the hierarchy of blogging’s A-list, and a set of relationships that existed long before the show began. It lacked the genuine enthusiasm and innovation of BlogHer, or the community focus of NME. It was, in short, a bit of an old boys’ club, that was also burdened by some procedural weirdness, such as onerous session signup and verification measures, and keynote sessions held in dark, echo-filled spaces. I also sensed a lack of participant diversity, despite the event’s heavy focus on political blogging. In a nutshell, I did not feel that BlogWorld Expo met my needs as a publisher who does not operate within the celebrity strata of the blogging world.
Spend some time at a BlogHer event. Even in an environment where I knew few attendees, the contagious enthusiasm of attendees, and willingness of organizers to engage all comers, whatever their blogging specialty or level of fame and expertise, came through. The show was efficiently run, but laid back.Use the addition of podcasters to broaden the speaker pool, focusing, as I suggested previously, on tech, content development and business topics.
Listen to passionate podcasters. If podcasting is to become a vital part of the BlogWorld experience, the event’s organizers need to integrate the collective wisdom of the podcasting world to build good conference programming and exhibit hall experiences. Besides the kinds of technical content I wrote about yesterday, I see great opportunity for podcasters to learn how blogging and other media tools and methods can be used to build their shows, their brands, and their world domination infrastructure.
Seek out formal and informal advisors from within podcasting; people who can enhance conference content, exhibit hall programs, and after-hours social opportunities. These advisors should represent monetizers, hobbyists, techies, advertising brokers; the widest possible range of podcasters and podcast businesspeople. Survey Tim Bourquin’s mailing list to find out what past NME attendees want and don’t want. Use social media tools to facilitate open discussions between now and next year’s expo.
I wish Rick Calvert and BlogWorld Expo a lot of success. I also recognize that Rick is first and foremost trying to run a business. I sincerely believe that excellent content and attendee experiences are the first requirements for a successful event.
In a move that was first rumored back in 2007, Tim Bourquin has sold the trade show he created, New Media Expo, to BlogWorld, producers of BlogWorld Expo (link currently not working).
The 2008 New Media Expo, the fourth annual event that was aimed primarily at podcasters, did not quite live up to expectations, and Bourquin had not announced a 2009 event, leading to speculation that the show would either disappear or be moved from Las Vegas to a more conducive venue.
I’ll be honest with you here. I’m fighting the temptation to rain on the BlogWorld Expo parade, even before I hear what organizers might have planned. It’s not that I begrudge Bourquin’s desire to cut his losses, or to recognize that the NME cannot continue in its present form. Under the circumstances, Tim did the right thing. He ran a good event that earned the support of podcasters, ranging from the most committed monetizers to the strong contingent of community-oriented folk, both business-focused, and hobbyists. He listened to the suggestions of many podcasters and would-be podcasters and worked hard to weave socializing, technical and corporate-focused sessions, and exhibits into a trade show and conference that worked on many levels, and for many budgets.
The parade-raining part comes in as I consider the difference between NME and BlogWorld’s content and zeitgeist. I firmly believe that if BlogWorld is to truly embrace the podcasting side of new media, its producers will need to learn from Tim, and from those of us who supported and benefitted from New Media Expo.
Here’s the first of a two-part to-do list for integrating the best of NME into BlogWorld Expo.
Community, community, community. I’ve argued among friends that podcasting isn’t really an example of social media. But it is true that from the very beginning of the medium, producers were creating and participating in communities, building things collaboratively, creating meetup groups, attending PodCamps, and referring to themselves collectively as “the community”. The social aspect of podcasting, I would argue, earned the first Podcast Expo (later to become NME) more broad acceptance than it otherwise would have had, giving the show the push it needed.
BlogWorld Expo should develop or encourage more social events, both on and off the exhibit floor, and encourage show sponsors to get involved, too. Conference sessions should feature speakers with roots in podcasting; people whose names and reputations were built by working actively with other audio and video producers.
Strong podcasting-specific content. Like many trade shows, BlogWorld Expo organizes its conference into tracks. Many of these are focused on content genres; politics, military blogging, mommy blogging, etc. Of course, there are also plenty of sessions about blog advertising and other business strategies. Podcasters will certainly gain from the expertise of bloggers, but their needs diverge in some key areas. Podcasting has a strong technical component, for one thing, and the BlogWorld folks will need to incorporate these topics into their session tracks. To this point, podcasters have been less likely than bloggers to organize themselves around the content genres they work in. The exception to this rule are the sci-fi/spec fiction producers, who have not only built podcasting tracks at Dragon*Con and Balticon, but have even gone so far as to hand out awards within their ranks.
BlogWorld organizers should do two things with regard to genre-focused producers: rely on the leaders of the spec fiction podcasting community for advice, and develop Birds of a Feather, or SIG sessions where genre podcasters can meet informally and exchange meaningful advice and information.
Continued technical focus. I’m a geek. I like to sit in sessions where the slides or live demos feature waveforms, or where a presenter does “show and tell” with a table full of podcast gear. Both new and experienced podcasters need outlets for their technical questions and discoveries. As podcasting has matured, the number of opportunities for tech talk aimed at wannabe producers have diminished. Even the PodCamp movement, where larger discussions of social media and marketing have, to some extent, smothered discussion of podcasting, has de-emphasized the tech.
BlogWorld has an opportunity not only to help NME refugees get their tech on, but to empower its blogger base to begin podcasting. Tech sessins at the begining and advanced level, led by experienced podcasters and audio/video producers, should occupy their own conference track.
Coming next, loosen up, listen, and ignore Vegas.
Lately I’ve found that Saturday and Sunday afternoons are podcast prime time. I posted two shows this weekend, so go out and get em if you want em.
Last week’s New Media Expo was, to a large degree, what I expected it to be. Frankly, I had hoped that my original expectations would be proven wrong, because I like attending this event, and I think its focus on the podcasting aspect of new media (despite the more inclusive name) is a valuable concentration for those who are more interested in making and producing audio and video than they are in finding new ways to market themselves in 140 characters.
Despite assurances to the contrary, it has seemed to me since the announcement that NME would move from the isolated Ontario California to the bright lights of Vegas, that the change would not produce the kind of cred the show needed in order to grow. I think I wrote at the time that a move was inevitable, and a good idea, but that I questioned Vegas as the next step in NME’s evolution. The basis for that conclusion, borne out by the 2008 show, was that a city like Vegas, with its myriad distractions, and a venue like the Las Vegas Convention Center/Hilton, with its cavernous spaces, could not hope to support the networking and community aspects of NME that most repeat attendees prize.
In my blog drafts folder is an unfinished post about the NME conference program. In it, I suggest that despite the innovation inherent in the Podcamp format, NME’s nuts and bolts attention to the tools and techniques of podcasting make the conference a better choice for serious (hobbyist or pro) podcasters than the most recent batch of unconferences. It’s fair to point out that many of NME’s speakers are repeat presenters, and that’s a bit disappointing, and frankly, indicative of the lack of growth in the podcasting world. But it’s also clear that at NME, marketing from the front of a seminar room is kept to a reasonable level, and that the focus is less on trendy “social media”, and more on making, distributing, and selling better content.
But a respectable group of speakers and an organizer who I sincerely believe wants to produce a conference that is good for podcasters (Tim Bourquin is a podcaster himself, after all) is not enough to leverage the successes of NME past. Like it or not, the community aspect of this event is integral to its success. It’s not merely a warm fuzzy for what Bourquin calls hobbyists. Podcasters have tended to create formal and informal alliances, reference one another in text and audio form, and evaluate the viability of attending a conference based on “who else is going”. Then too, a lot of podcasters think of themselves as “social media” creators, and that demands, well, some socializing.
Much of this community-centricness was baked in at the crowded Ontario Marriott bar, and on an exhibit floor that served as a daytime mingle spot for those who couldn’t afford the sessions. This year, the usual social networking tools made it possible for people to plan meetups, but the lack of natural gathering spots, and a dearth of sponsored evening parties made it hard to find the people I wanted to see or meet, beyond a group of friends who communicated via Twitter and text message, all pre-arranged. The tepid show floor experience ensured that visits there were shorter, depriving attendees of another chance to see and be seen.
How to fix? Linda Mills of Podcast User Magazine twittered about rumors that the next expo might take place in San Francisco. And at this writing, no dates for a 2009 show are posted on the NME site. Further, Tim Bourquin, in a very informative post on the difficulties of running trade shows on a small scale, suggests that he might be leaving the business.
I for one hope that NME can be revitalized. San Francisco is a great choice for next year’s event. I would also like to see a Midwest (Chicago) or East Coast (Boston) event. Podcamp attendance patterns could provide good gudeance about locations that could best support a podcasting conference. Finally, I would like to see Tim hire a community-builder for NME. This person’s job would be to develop events and venues that would be conducive to more social options. Two important parts of this job would be finding sponsors for open events, and seeking out affordable, public meeting places that would draw NME attendees willing to socialize on their own dime.