This presentation examines podcasting in light of McLuhan’s truism that “the medium is the message” with a look at the nature of “community” as it applies to what podcasters do. In addition to looking at the origins of other similar communities and their characteristics, the presentation will present an overview of the nature and content of the podcast community represented at PAB.
This episode of Canadian Podcast Buffet is brought to you in part by TD Canada Trust. When you switch your main chequing account to TD by August 3rd, you’ll qualify for either a free Shuffle, iPod Nano or a 30 gig iPod. Click here for details.
Photo by Laurent LaSalle.
Mark Blevis: I’m Mark Blevis.
Bob Goyetche: And I’m Bob Goyetche. Welcome to special coverage of Podcasters Across Borders 2007 here on the Canadian Podcast Buffet.
Mark Blevis: Don’t forget PAB 2008 is already booked, taking place June 20 through June 22, 2008 in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Stay tuned to the Canadian Podcast Buffet and keep watching Podcasters Across Borders to find out more about the speaking sessions, social activities and registration.
Bob Goyetche: And just a side note, if you’re submitting shows to the www.canadapodcast.ca directory, we are still updating the directory, and we will announce your show once we come back this fall.
Mark Blevis: This episode is brought to you in part by TD Canada Trust. Listen at the end of the show to find out how you can get a free iPod
Bob Goyetche: But for now, let’s go listen to Ted Riecken from Island Podcasting. Podcasting is a community, who are we?
Ted Riecken: Well, first of all, my desktop doesn’t really look like that. What you saw up there is some kind of a compressed version because of the difference between the display rate of the projector and my MAC Book. So I’m not as untidy as it looked when you saw that. It’s probably too early in the conference to see whether there’s going to be any over arching theme emerge. It was interesting listening to Arthur because some of what he had to say, I’m going to build on and you’ll hear some similarity in terms of what he was saying and where I’m headed. I’m gonna be talking about podcasting as a community. And in fact, I’ve also been influenced, as a Canadian it’s hard not to be influenced, by Marshall McLuhan, who is arguably one of the greatest media theorists that ever lived and worked right here is this country. But unlike Arthur, I’m not looking so much to the future to say where we might be going, or where this revolution is taking us. But I’m going to look partly to the past to get a sense of, if there’s anything similar that’s happened before and what we might expect if in fact podcasting has analogues previous to it in days gone by.
And so speaking of days gone by, you probably remember these guys. It’s been 25 years since Bob and Doug McKenzie emerged and really helped to define in some ways who we are as Canadians. The term “hoser”, I think, was part of their original skit. And it’s over the years grown to become part of our language and our culture. And I don’t know where, you know, who the next generation is. I watched The Trailer Park Boys movie on the plane flying out here yesterday and these guys, I suppose, were The Trailer Park Boys without all the swearing and the not so obvious dope smoking, although they too like to drink their beer. But we know that things change. And over time, one generation replaces another. And if fact, you can see if you look in this room, that you might recognize some of these people.
Mark Blevis: I want a copy of that.
Ted Riecken: My apologies for the…I had lost my copy of PhotoShop so it’s crudely done, but a little bit of fun there. But seriously though, what I’m here to talk about is podcasting as a community. And this is who we have gathered here in front of us, gathered around us. And I want to use two historical comparisons and talk about early cities and how podcasting can be looked at in some ways as something similar to what happened in the middle ages. And also more recently, say in the last 100 or 200 years, compare podcasting to elements of frontier culture.
If we think about communities and why they exist, obviously we’re here because we have some shared interests, we have similar backgrounds. We also see this as a kind of gathering space for communication, although it’s a gathering space that’s as virtual as it is real. I mean, here we are in this room today, but for many of us, myself included, we’ve not met one another face-to-face. This is the first time we’re hearing, or we’re communicating with anything other than voice and we’re actually being able to put an image to the other side of that voice that you listen to through your headphones or out of your ear buds, or your computer speakers. In terms of the city analogy, I draw this from an individual by the name of George Woodcock. Is anyone here familiar with George Woodcock or heard of him? Canadian essayist, author of many, many books, was a friend and colleague of George Orwell and in fact was George Orwell’s original biographer. And as a political theorist, Woodcock described himself as an anarchist. And in fact, lived in Vancouver for most of his life. He’s passed on now but about five or six years ago, he was honoured by the city for his accomplishments and was given a key to the city by the Mayor. And one of the journalists who was interviewing Woodcock said “Well, isn’t it a little bit ironic that here you are, an alleged and well published anarchist and political theorist, taking recognition and honour from a city, because wouldn’t an anarchist stand outside a city?” And Woodcock’s response was “No actually, it’s just the opposite”. In medieval societies, cities emerged as kinds of libratory zones. What cities did was they allowed people who lived on the periphery, people who were outside these castle walls and not able to access the wealth and the riches of the kings and the kingdoms and lived on the edges of feudal society. Cities began because those kinds of people who were excluded, the people who were on the periphery, came together to survive. And that was really how cities began in medieval Europe. And I think that by people joining together, they were also able to avoid the kind of servitude that comes with being a serf to the king. These were people who were independent, people who were free thinkers, people who were able to bring their ideas and thereby get freedom from the customary obligations that were part of feudal society.
And I think that in some ways, we can see that these sort of self-governing entities that sprung up really have an analogue to podcasting. Because if you look at podcasting, you see this as a kind of libratory space as well. You see that, in fact, if you even look at some of the languages that we use, we talk about libsyn. How many people publish their podcast through Liberated Syndication right? It’s a freeing up, a way of spreading your word and doing it in a way that’s libratory. LibriVox is here, taking works that are in the public domain, turning them into spoken versions and getting them out there for people to listen to. I think one of the first podcasts that I came across and listened to was Caribbean Free Radio, Georgia Popplewell’s piece that she does out of, I think, it’s Trinidad. But the idea that it’s free and it’s out there and it’s something that you can access really says something about this as a space that’s open and libratory. It does, for most of us, allow us to exist outside mainstream media. I don’t consume much mainstream media anymore. The CBC is probably as close as I get to that and much of the commercial stuff that comes over the airwaves anyway I probably haven’t tuned into for years. And certainly…would almost say not at all since I started podcasting and discovered podcasting.
It’s about people with common interests coming together. So the interest in this case is not necessarily subject matter, but it’s the medium. It’s both the message and the way that we, that we do it. Arthur referred to podcasting as a way of learning about how to do podcasting. So there’s that idea that we can feed off ourselves and off our own interests, and off our own knowledge by using the very thing that we’re playing with in the first place. It also, to me, has some, a really high, high degree of authenticity. These are realistic alternatives that people put together for learning and sharing. And I’ve got a chart here that I’ll put up in a minute that shows who’s here. And when I look at the number of people that are doing podcasts that have to do with teaching and learning, and certainly that’s my background as an educator, it’s a medium that we’re using to inform ourselves and to inform others. And it’s a way for us to grow and change. It’s also real people. These are genuine stories, and these are our own lived experiences. There’s nothing phoney or fabricated. Yes, some of us do storytelling, some of us craft what it is that we’re going to say before we say it. But in many cases, this is from the heart and genuine experience that you can somehow relate to, much more so than watching reality TV or listening to things that have been honed and polished and developed with budgets that are tens of millions of dollars, that let us view realities that in a sense are artificial and created for us. As opposed to podcasting, which is very real, genuine and as I say, from the heart.
And it also, and this is what is exciting for me, is that it exists in a mostly unregulated space. You can say what you want, to whom you want, how you want, in a way that you want, whenever you want. And that’s not the case for people working in mainstream media. That’s not the people, not the case where people who are producing commercial media. They are regulated in ways that we, as podcasters, simply don’t have to worry about.
Now the other sort of analogue that I wanted to talk about is this idea that frontier culture also characterizes podcasting. If you think about the emergence of the frontier, and this is a phenomenon that’s, well, I guess it characterizes Canada, although mostly we think about the US as having a frontier culture in the wild West. And what did that mean for the growth and development for them as a country? I think that there’s some analogues here to podcasting as well. What are some of the features of frontier culture? Well, we know that it’s certainly something that’s transitory, that it’s emergent, that it’s evolving. If you look at the emergence of the wild West, as it were, it changed very quickly over time. Here, we’re already having conversations about the first year of podcasting and how it’s different from the second year and how it’s changing and shifting right beneath our feet. So that’s one of the features of a frontier culture and I think arguably, this is a kind of frontier that we’re on as well. But also in a frontier culture, there’s…kind of a limited and alternative forms of commerce. And we talk here, joke here, about monetizing your podcast and trying to make money from this. And it’s becoming apparent that the typical business models, or the typical ways of commerce and this form of media intermeshing don’t necessarily apply. And I know that it is certainly the case for most of us, it’s passion driven. Although some of us are doing it as a business and some of us are maybe even making a living at it. But it’s a very different form of commerce than what we’ve been used to in the past. And that again reflects that sort of frontier dimension to what it is that is happening here.
There’s also an emphasis on freedom, an emphasis on opportunity, and an emphasis on growth. And I think that’s the case for each and every one of us that’s podcasting. It allows you to express yourself, it allows you to grow in ways that you maybe weren’t able to do before you discovered this. And it’s just full of opportunity to meet people, to learn, to do all kinds of creative things that, for me, really define this medium. It’s also in many ways on the edge. It’s unregulated, as I’ve said before. It operates on the periphery. And we know the debates about whether music is Podsafe and how much can you slip into your podcast without having the RIA come after you. And, you know, do you really have to report every time you use something from the IODA promo net and so on? So there are issues around what we can and can’t do. And again, that reflects this idea that we’re on the frontier. In many ways it’s undefined and it’s emerging.
And it’s also easy access for all. It’s inexpensive to do. I wouldn’t say my total investment in podcasting exceeds $200 or $300 by the time I’ve paid for my domain name and bought my blogging tools, and the odd microphone and so on. And anyone with a little bit of extra cash can get into this and do it, in the same way that when the frontier opened up, if you wanted to come in and work hard, they would almost give you the land to work on, to build the nation, to develop the settlements.
Now just to summarize quickly, as a community, what are some of the features that we have? Well certainly we sit outside the mainstream. We also have a really strong emphasis on freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of expression. You can see that, hear that, as you listen around the room. There’s all kinds of ideas about what we should and shouldn’t be saying, talking, thinking about, through podcasting. We do have a common set of interests and in that sense it’s the medium. It’s both the message and the tools that we use to spread that message. But it’s also, to me, kind of a collection of people who do care about one another, people who are concerned about the connections that we have. We take pride in having our name mentioned in another show, or being able to connect with people that we’ve met before over the internet, or through our podcasts. And again, it comes back to this idea that these are real people, these are authentic stories and this is experience that’s actually been lived through, rather than coming from the mind of a script writer, someone sitting in Los Angeles and dreaming up the next episode of Friends of Seinfeld or whatever it might be that gets produced and presented as how live is lived. That’s not what podcasting is like. So who’s here at PAB? You’ve seen the list. There’s over a hundred of you and as part of my preparation for this, I thought I would go through and take a look at each and every one of these websites and links. And it’s astounding, it really is an amazing collection of people who are here. And this, you know, as we know is a tiny, tiny fraction of this larger thing we call the podosphere. If there’s a hundred people here, how many podcasts are we looking at now? How many are in the iTunes directory? Probably 5,000, 6,000. So here we’re looking at a small fraction of less than 1% of the people that are here.
So what I thought I would do was try and categorize these and that’s hard. The people who run directories, I get a sense now of just how difficult it is to slot people into different groups. Because when I went through and tried to put people into different groups on the basis of what it is that they do, I ended up sort of, I think, pushing people into categories that may not think they fit into. But for the sake of today, I thought I would just do it as I came up with that rough categorization. And you can see those big chunks of the pie there…the…that pink one there is the largest, almost the largest one. And that has to do with education and learning. People who are doing things about parenting, about books and literature, about anything and everything to do with teaching or learning. And then the other large one is something that I call regional culture. And I guess that’s maybe where I would…well that’s where I did slot myself. People who talk about life where they are, and what it’s like on Vancouver Island or in Prince Edward County or in Ottawa or wherever they might be coming from. So they’re speaking about life as it’s lived in their part of the world. Then another big one, of course, is music. And the other large, large one there is what I call storytelling or personal blogs, where people are just literally documenting their life as it’s lived and putting it up as a podcast or a videocast. And we get to learn about them through the episodes that they post. So a very rich mix.
Although having said that, there’s also something that I think we need to be cognizant of. Something that we need to think about, and that’s avoiding what some people call the “echo chamber effect”. And I picked up on this from some work that I was reading, a young guy by the name of Phil McCray who’s studying the growth of internet cultures and the development of connectivity through the internet. And what he’s pointed out is that we can, in internet communities, have both what he calls positive and negative feedback loops. And what he means by a positive feedback loop is a loop that lets you listen to the people who you really like listening to and who you tune into on a regular basis and you hear again and again and again and they might reference you and you might reference them and it’s great because you get this strong sense of connection. But the downside to that is that by focusing only on those connections that you are familiar with, or that you’re interested in, that you narrow your focus to the point where you can, in some cases, and he’s used extreme examples of this, but in some cases, go into a kind of downward spiral. So you get re-enforcing for what could be very negative views and the examples that he gave were the kids who got hooked into a form of internet culture that was very dark, and very destructive. And if they were people who were on the edge to begin with, this simply re-enforced negative beliefs to the point where they’ll go out and pick up a gun or go out and harm someone based on the re-enforcement that they got through that positive feedback loop that just continued to re-enforce a very narrow set of beliefs.
So what happens then is what he calls an echo chamber effect. And we, working with audio, know that if you get too much feedback, and it feeds back and back and back, all of a sudden you get this squeal and it overwhelms and takes over the positive. So it’s important, I think, then to encourage diversity and this is what we’re doing here today. If you look at that, if you go back to that pie chart and you see the tremendous variation in terms of who we are and what we’re doing. We build that kind of critical enquiry, we build the communication, we build through these negative feedback loops where we’re not just stuck with who we know and what we are, but we get out and we talk to someone at a different table, we get out and we socialize. And we meet one another in ways that let us get beyond our own sort of self referential enclosed loops. So it’s important that we do that because what that does, what it allows us to do, particularly in a country like this, is that we build democracy that way. And we build insight that way through interaction and through discourse, through communication and exchange of ideas.
So that’s really my closing note. I think that we’re here to kind of mix it up, to communicate with one another, to share and to enjoy each other’s presence. So I would like, just in the few minutes, in the minute that I have left, to thank Mark and Bob for organizing this and bringing us all together. And I’d like to thank all of the podcasters who put out their work on a regular basis for us to learn from one another. And I know that many of you already advance this message. I learn as much about what new shows are out there or the variation in programming by listening to…
Mark Blevis: We were wondering when the battery was going to die. Are you going to take care of the battery? I’ll hold on. We’ll get to do questions in a moment too.
Ted Riecken: It’s on? Okay, so don’t buy Rayovac batteries. Rayovac is going to sue us, I suppose.
Mark Blevis: Oh, so do we have…oh, do we start off with Jay? Once, you know, the seal is broken, you know.
Jay: I stayed quiet through Art and now. No I wanted to…I wanted to actually really address this slide, because this is surely a big thing for me.
Ted Riecken: Okay, hang on, I’ll just…
Jay: And, and there’s probably no definitive easy answer for this. This probably could be a whole other conference. For my show, which is an online music marketing show, I recently signed up for one of those…what is it….K7 phone numbers. I actually hadn’t had one before, because I wanted to extend the conversation, because I sort of was feeling a bit of burn out on some of the topics that I was doing, because, you know, I’m sort of talking about the stuff that’s interesting to me. Now my intention with that show is to address musicians and people who are interested in music marketing and, you know, hopefully to extend my influence in that area and to give some valuable information to people. So great. So I sign up for this line. It’s…oh, am I standing…that was nice…yeah, thanks…so I signed up for that line. And it’s one of those numbers you call into Seattle. And so far I’ve had four callers, which is great. Now the four people who signed, the four people who called, could you put your hands up? No, they’re all in this room. Yeah, I know my Mom doesn’t count, but they’re all in this room. Now I love you guys…Bill Deys, Chris Penn. I don’t know where Brian Pearson and Dave Delaney. Okay, you guys are awesome, and your questions are great and I will address them. But here’s the thing. Not only do I know these guys and could call them personally, but also none of them, at least to the best of my knowledge, are operating as musicians. Chris to some extent is a music marketer, yeah, no, fair enough. But for the most part, you guys aren’t really my audience, at least not my intended audience. So that’s kind of my question is, it’s great to talk to everybody in the room, I love this community, I love you guys. My show isn’t really necessarily for most of the people in this room, except the ones that are musicians or are into music marketing. It’s great to have people who aren’t necessarily in your target audience listening. But really it’s your target audience you want to have listening because that’s where I want to extend my information and extend my influence hopefully. So how do we get out of this into that? And that’s sort of my big question.
Ted Riecken: I don’t have an answer to that, but, you know, other than…I mean, this might be an example of this kind of new economic forums, maybe not working as well as we would like when you look at what you’re trying to do or what you’re trying to accomplish and use this medium to do something that you might have done with a different medium in the past. Whether it’s going to work or not, I don’t know. I mean it’s…target audiences are…something I don’t know that podcasters think about that in that way.
Arthur Masters: Actually I just want to address Jay’s question there about how do you reach your intended audience. Well, you have to remember, in broadcasting it’s a one way pipe. You’re up here, you send your signal out everywhere, and you expect people to come to you. This is narrowcasting where you can go to them, and you can go find some music shows that you really appreciate or people you really respect their opinions, send them a message. Like, when you’ve never heard from them, write to people that…go seek out people you’ve never listened to before, and don’t know you exist. Write them and that will…the first step in cultivating that feedback loop is sending the energy out so that you can get it back re-enforced. So I would say, don’t just make the channels open, like with that number, but actually be the first person to make contact.
Jay: But I’ve done that at conferences, I’ve done that at the…like I’ve talked to people…
Mark Blevis: Thank you Jay, thank you Jay…
Jay: But I don’t think…
Chris Penn: Jay, check out www.zoominfo.com…
Jay: Who are you?
Chris Penn: I’m Christopher Penn from the Financial Aid Podcast and PodCamp. Check out www.zoominfo.com. It’s $99.00 per month but it gives you access to every corporate directory on the planet and everyone’s e-mail addresses. We’re pulling for our thing every single SVP and EVP and President for every major media company in the US. We’re just going to send them all an e-mail. Its where our audience hangs out, so wherever you’re audience hangs out, message them.
Audience: Hi, I’m Wayne MacPhail.
Ted Riecken: You’ll give me…
Mark Blevis: One last question.
Ted Riecken: One last question, okay.
Wayne MacPhail: I’m Wayne MacPhail with www.rabble.ca. One of the things that we’re starting to see on the progressive left in Canada and in the US is a desire towards creating consortiums. And there’s a consortium going on in the US with Utney Reader and, you know, Mother Jones and all those magazines. And the same thing is happening in Canada, which is great to see. And within the podcasting community, I think we need to see more of the same kind of thing. Because what we’re seeing with successes are things like Facebook, for example, is the creation of…remember in Science class when you wanted to create crystals, you would have to create a super saturated solution. You know, you boiled water and you put salt in it, and salt in it, and salt in it until it couldn’t take any more. And then you dropped a string in and it crystallized around that string. And what we need to find for podcasting is a super saturated solution…that will crystallize…that we can drop our strings into and form crystals around. And the way we do that, I think, on the progressive left and the way we do that, I think, within the podcasting community, is to aggregate our niches together in a place where we can create a super saturated solution of an audience that will find our niches. And that’s why Facebook is such a phenomenal success. And I think a tremendously promising social medium for the progressive left and for podcasting, because it is a super saturated solution. And that’s where we need to be. And that’s where we need to focus our attention of finding commonalities and creating a common place.
Mark Blevis: Want to wrap up?
Ted Riecken: Okay, swag. We all are here in some way or another to try and promote what it is that we do. So I came in here last night and I thought as a way to distribute one of the very rare and there’s only twelve in the world, Island Podcasting t-shirts. Ken’s modeling one over there. I came in and I taped on the bottom of one of the chairs in here, one of my business cards. If you’re sitting in that chair, and you’ve got a card, I have a t-shirt for you…
Mark Blevis: Thank you very much Ted, that was an amazing presentation. And it’s nice to see that the floor is alive and well at Podcasters Across Borders 2007.
Bob Goyetche: This episode of Canadian Podcast Buffet featuring Podcasters Across Borders audio is brought to you in part by TD Canada Trust. When you switch your main chequing account to TD by August 3rd, you will qualify for either a Free Shuffle, iPod Nano or a 30 gig iPod. Visit www.tdswitch.com/pab for details.
Thanks to all of the PAB2007 Sponsors: Rogic Podcast Conglomerate, Third Storey Productions, TD Canada Trust, Thornley Fallis, StartCooking.com, Marion McDonald, Don Edwards, Freddie Litwiniuk, Bill Deys and Christopher Penn.
Bob Goyetche: For more info on Canadian Podcast Buffet you can go to our website www.canadianpodcastbuffet.ca.
Mark Blevis: For more information on Podcasters Across Borders visit that website www.podcastersacrossborders.com.
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Mark Blevis: Of course you’re welcome to join any and all of the Rogic forums including the Canadian Podcast Buffet forum, the Podcasters Across Borders forum, and there’s a link to that at www.rogic.com/forum on the Canadian Podcast Buffet website.
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