Converge South, Day 2, lunch and afternoon

I meant to post all these yesterday, but the built up fatigue finally wore me down.

Lunch involved talking to a number of folks, and then seeing Mark from Mount Airy wearing an EGC t-shirt! That was on oddly cool moment. I actually went outside with him and we filmed a video interview about his experience with new media, as a listener to podcasts. Really nice guy. After that, I sat in a circle with Dave, Dan and Janet, Ed and many others whom my weary mind is blanking on. It was brought up at that time something I had been thinking, how nice it was to actually have black people at a tech conference. I can’t remember if there were more than five or so black people at the entirety of the Stanford Bloggercon. The A&T students I talked to were smart and interested and really raring to engage. I hope to see them really knocking socks off soon. I subscribed to my first new blog by an A&T student yesterday. Cobb (who I met while riding in the shuttle van) discusses that he didn’t see any Asian people but that wasn’t such a problem in Stanford, for example. Even if it wasn’t as diverse as the Billy Jack movies told us our future would be, it still felt like a great step to me. My only thing was that not enough students started conversations with me. I did talk to some, but I almost always had to approach them. Was I intimidating or something? I’m a chubby gregarious teddy bear, come chat with me! Chat with everybody, pick our brains for what we already know and tell us what you think we should know. It’s why we all came to you.

After lunch was the Dave Winer led session about tools. There was some interesting discussion. I threw out how much I liked WordPress as an ongoing tool even if the setup isn’t necessarily something a novice can do. Some people said the hosted WordPress solution wasn’t even as good as a default WordPress install on your own system. Some fascinating talk was raised about having a wizard-like interrogation process as the setup on whatever blog system as a new blog is being created, which would do a lot of automatic configuring based on the needs of the blog. Is it multiperson, do you want comments/trackbacks, do you need sidebars, etc? One of the professors of a nearby school (I talked to her but have forgotten her details, my brain was full by then) wants to write grant proposals and get some of this stuff built to lower barriers to entry. I’m all for that, and I’d love to see NC colleges take the lead in those projects. She’s got my card, I hope she writes. Key moment of that panel was the 20-ish young lady student that says she runs three blogs, two on WordPress and one with a tool she wrote herself. I don’t remember if she was an A&T student or a different school but that was so cool to hear.

After that was the podcasting session, led by Herb Everett. I met and talked to Herb a little (and had even listened to episodes of the Beat on the way up) and he is a great guy. However, this session was probably the biggest disappointment of the weekend. Here’s one where you could feel the culture clash of the collaborative and interactive style of the rest of the conference clashing with a centralized college lecture style. The room was buzzing at the beginning and there seemed to be a lot of energy there but it just dissipated quickly. In retrospect, part of the problem was that there were too many constituencies to please them all – introduction of the concepts for interested beginners, discussion of the concepts and issues for current podcasters, details of how to do it across a dizzying variety of platforms and systems. Mostly though, the audience spoke too little and it was funneled into the lecture model, where people would throw out a question and Herb would answer it. Personally, I would have liked it better if Herb had done his 15 minute intro and then mostly served as a traffic cop to allow the audience to talk to each other. There was a lot of knowledge in the room and a lot of interest in the room, and most of that never got out. Next year, we’ll have a better idea how to do it. I suggest having a workshop, much like the hands on thing in the computer lab where they had folks setting up their first blogs. Have a room where people bring their stuff and we make it work, and then remove all that talk from the actual session because there are too many details that aren’t portable to be of interest to more than a handful of the 200 people there. Sorry Herb. If you do it again next year, give me a call and I’d be happy to talk about these ideas.

To be continued

7 Replies to “Converge South, Day 2, lunch and afternoon”

  1. Don’t be sorry. I agree. I never wanted to stand up and do a lecture. But there seemed to be quite a few different constituencies and most of the questions came from a newbie.

    I also agree about the room, too, which was much too big. I was going to record about 10 minutes of the lecture and post it right then, but with the tech issues, I had to punt that part.

    My suggestion for the format next year would be stick the podcasters in a much smaller room that’s better lit and focus on best practices in equipment, developing content and marketing. This may happen in January at PodcasterCon. I’ll be there, and I hope to see you.

    As I said during the session, I’m not a sound engineer and I would have loved to have learned more about production.

    I brought in Robert Kirk for a session on equipment and it was awesome.

    I’d love to work with you, so keep in touch!

  2. I think students today are more insular, and have a more timid attitude towards the outside world. (thats what it feels like anyhow) Its probably helped podcasting in its rise, people feel more alone nowadays and crave their own little niche and to find that there are people like them.

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  4. Indeed, for all people.

    I’ve spoken and written about this before and I’m sure no one disagrees with me in theory, but we need to become more creative in evangelizing podcasting – not just how to create one, but possibly more importantly, how to download and listen to one.

    This was the perfect opportunity to get non-geeks interested in podcasting – and maybe doing it. So, it’s not that we should separate out the podcasters; I think that’s the wrong approach. Most podcasters right now are geeks or tweakers. What we really need to do is kick the podcasters out of the room and let the focus be on the non-podcasters. I think that sort of approach would’ve leveraged the great “For all people” atmosphere of the conference.

    In general, podcasters need to become more creative and careful in how they evangelize podcasting to non-geek non-podcasters. Podcasting is much more nuanced, technical and unapproachable than blogging ever was. The old model won’t work.

  5. Todd, That was her, thank you.

    Ryan, I don’t agree with you totally, but I do agree that subsequent conferences – this and others – should seperate the topic into two issues. How to listen and how to produce are each big topics now, and going between them causes whiplash. However, I think the listening session should always come first in the sequence so that people who get excited about production from that session can attend the production one. In a way, I hate seperating them because part of the power is that the audience is empowered enough to produce but it probably has to be done.

    VCG, I don’t know if it is students today or not. I can’t claim I’d be any different if it was my self from 20 years ago in the same spot. But still, taking advantage of situations when they fall in your lap is a good life skill that should be learned as early as possible and then used as often as possible.

    Herb, thanks. I was worried you’d find that antagonistic. I think like I just said, splitting this into 2 panels or 2 panels plus a hands-on workshop would have taken care of a lot of issues. I do appreciate your efforts and think that with the experience of this, we can make it fantastic next time. This is really just the point at which this type of session fails to scale. A year ago, like at Bloggercon Stanford most people in the room were both audience and podcasters and now we just have to deal with the differences in the participants and how their needs are changing.

  6. Ryan, I think there are a couple of ideas here. Are you talking about evangelizing creation of podcasts or evangelizing listening to podcasts?

    To me, at this particular conference because of the focus on how blogs are shaping communities, I went in with the idea of talking about using podcasting to help build up a community of listeners around particular topic or issue: students using it help other students; tech folks helping each other; folks providing information for nonprofits; entertainment from your community that you can find in the mainstream.

    But I sort of felt compelled once we started to talk about the tools because of the questions. And I think I spent too much time on that part. If that was going to be the case, then we should have offered a podcasting 101 for the folks interested in getting started and a best practices session where experienced users could discuss the how-tos and help each other grow. We could have even added a third as an intro for people who want to find good stuff. Podcasters could put together 30-second to 1-minute promos of their podcasts and some of their favorites and discuss what they liked about them. Then they could have shown people how to subscribe and listen.

    The last part is where we’re losing most people. iTunes has been a big help with one-click subscription, but there have got to be easier ways for people to subscribe via a Web browser.

    Podcast Alley helps with determining popular shows, but, frankly, it’s still hard to sift through all 15,000 or so.

    Dave, no worries. It’s good to learn from experience. And I hope to see you at PodcasterCon in January!

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