Count the Listeners vs. The Listeners Count

I was pretty much out of the blogosphere during the whirlwind of PME. Related to the release of Audible’s Wordcast there seems to be a lot of fumfarall about it over the weekend, with a cage match including Mitch Ratcliffe, Dave Winer, Jeff Jarvis, Doc Searls and others. There are already way too many posts to link to individual ones. Here’s my perspective: I think most of the conversation is not right and as the saying goes, it’s not even wrong.

In particular, Jeff and Mitch seem to be talking about the best way to measure the audience. One part of my talk this weekend was suggesting that we never count the audience. We all know those counts are bullshit anyway but everyone kind of winks and joins in the consensus hallucination that those things matter. That is, except when we find out things like the fact that the Chicago Sun Times has been lying about its circulation or that interns buy stacks of books at the reporting bookstores to push them up the bestseller charts. I say let’s not rebuild the corruption of previous media in our new ones, instead we should build other better ways to measure the value of a show. We’ve already seen that from Podcast Alley to iTunes, all the ways people try to gain these numbers old media style tend to be gameable. As the axiom goes, “any gameable system will be gamed.” Why bother, let’s find a better way. I don’t know what that better way is (yet), but I know that trying to find a way to count every single time an audio file reaches a person’s ears is cold potato.

I’ll note that I’ve had sponsors for most of the last year, and I’ve never given any of them a number to better precision than an order of magnitude, and not even that for a long time. I don’t even know the numbers of downloads I get, I’ve long since abandoned trying to count and have learned not to care. What matters to me are the number of sensible comments, the other shows that quote me, the number of people that came up to me and talked to me at PME and told me they enjoyed the show. These are not simple numbers, but the simple numbers are flawed and odd and full of fraud. This reality is complex, so any simple number anyone provides you is wrong and doesn’t model that reality.

I suggest that we build a new system and ignore the old one. The people from media backgrounds who have been steeping in the broth of those numbers their whole careers won’t like it. Big deal, no one ever likes having their core skills cease to apply and their business processes stop working. I see the whole discussion as a failure of vision.

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Dave Slusher is a blogger, podcaster, computer programmer, author, science fiction fan and father.

10 thoughts on “Count the Listeners vs. The Listeners Count”

  1. The entire issue of “counting” is an attempt to push this new media into a mold that the old media existed, which is effectively why it is currently failing. Once you starting worrying about numbers, content goes out the window as you try to appeal to the largest audience.

  2. Don & Dave, couldn’t agree more. We live in an age where things can be micromanaged down to the very last granular number, all in the name of productivity and penny pinching. I think that you are absoutely right that if the content is there, then that’s all that matters. Of course, the whole point of monetization is to keep costs low and profits high, which would lend itself to the micromanagement model. That being said, I am in full agreement that podcasting doesn’t necessarily have to be apart of that in order to legitimize itself. As long as one person is listening to another, podcasting lives and is legitimate in the lives of those people. Good comments! Can’t wait to hear the PME keynote 🙂

  3. What an honor to be posting behind the Bitterman.
    Dave, one of the many things I admire about you is your uncanny instinct to get to the “true” root of the matter, and push away the dross. I appreciate your built in “ABD”(anti-bullshit device) circuitry which combined with your feistiness makes you one hell of an interesting iconoclast.

  4. Your comments about doing things a different ways makes me think of why Google’s search methodology changes the old rules. By looking for the ways that websites refer to each other and the resulting networking patterns that evolve, Google was able to leverage the human factor and help people find the things that other people asking the same questions found relevant instead of just looking for the sites that had the most traffic of the most of a particular word in the page.

    For example if you like a website, blog or podcast and you say so then because I respect your opinions then I might just go there too. These person to person referrals will become more important AND will be harder to game, because they are based on trust. If someone compromises that trust with overt advertising or insincere endorsements then the links weaken, and the network continues to evolve.

    The question is will trust or money rule this network? If trust wins then i think that the money can follow. The reverse however is less likely.

    –nick coster

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