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I recently had an enormous amount of fun working with Jesse Thorn from The Sound of Young America radio program putting together a panel for this year's Public Media Conference. Truth be told, he did all the hard work. I mostly adjusted microphones and fetched sandwiches. I can, however, take credit for helping come up with the original idea...

Most entrenched broadcasters are so good at doing what they do, they would never consider alternatives. Unfortunately, their methods attract a lackluster online audience because the traditional short-head approach aims to mostly please most everyone. To make things worse, they manage to tote along the baggage of bloated cost structures, plodding time-to-market, and a complete detachment from audience involvement.

This might have gone unnoticed if it weren't for several highly creative individuals who have figured out how to do things differently. They are using low cost tools, rapid-fire release schedules, free internet distribution, and an army of enthusiastic followers. Their creative products look nothing like what hits the mainstream - and this is often what makes them so compelling.

Listen in while Jesse talks with 43folders.com writer and podcaster Merlin Mann, Homestar Runner creators Mike and Matt Chapman (aka The Bros. Chaps), and Jeff Olsen, creative director for adultswim.com about the Internet, creativity, and, well, stuff.

Download this TSOYA episode (mp3)

I have written about the VRM ListenLog before, so I won't recount the basics.

One of the panels I sat on for the 2009 Public Media Conference was the mobile tech day panel along with folks from APM, PRX, NPR, and the Berkman Center. Here's the audio overview of my brief ListenLog presentation:

Check out the Public Radio Tuner project I talk about in the audio.

WBUR Hyperlocal Discussion Following a recent post and discussion on hyperlocal news, WBUR was kind enough to let me initiate an open discussion on the topic during their monthly meetup at the station.

Around 15 people participated in this discussion, including Lisa Williams from Placeblogger, Ben Terris from Boston.com's Your Town, Adam Weiss of Boston Behind the Scenes, Persephone Miel from Internews Network, and Doc Searls from Harvard's Berkman Center. You can hear the conversation here:

The conversation covers a wide range of topics, including:

  • Trends and directions of hyperlocal news. Where the emerging opportunities might be.
  • What the user demand might be around hyperlocal news - where the current gaps are in addressing user needs.
  • The rising importance of immediacy and speed of hyperlocal solution deployment
  • The problem of scale and searchability around hyperlocal sites
  • How hyperlocal sites and the online-offline proximity connection might address the human need for social cohesion

Here are some thoughts I've put together in preparation for a Beyond Broadcast panel discussion that I'll be participating on entitled "Mapping the Money."

Briefly share some observations and suggestions on funding streams/structures for public media. [The idea here is that traditional public media is trying to find its place on the Internet, and in so doing, needs to find a sustainable funding model.]

I probably approach this from a different perspective than those who are actively allocating funds towards this problem or are trying to generate revenue for broadcasters (I help generate community for public broadcasters through our community engagement platform, Public Action). They are seeking a sustainable monetization scheme first and foremost. While I think there are some untested funding models based on Public Media's existing online presence that have promise, I have a slightly different approach to building sustainability online.

In the online world, community and user participation is, in and of itself an asset to be cultivated and social production and interaction are, in a sense, the new online currency. There's a reason that Google and Yahoo! give away their content and applications for free. They are trying to attract people. 

This is not a new idea for "Web 2.0" companies who often don't initially try to monetize. They concentrate first on building up a base of users. For these new web applications and services, there is real value - sometimes in the millions or even billions of dollars - in merely getting users to interact with your product or media in some way. The objective here is to connect and relate to more people in a positive way, whether this means more downloads, more registered users, more redistribution of content, more comments about your product on Twitter, etc.

One of the reasons for focusing on users is the network effect that results from attracting a critical mass of individuals. If your product benefits from more users, which most do at least on the word-of-mouth sharing level, then more users means a better chance of attracting even MORE users. In essence, there is a cascade effect. With this increased number of participants, you ultimately have more choices in how you might eventually choose to monetize things. You certainly have more leverage in working with other organizations and potential partners.

Additionally, individuals have an increasing amount of control over your products, your visibility, your brand perception, and ultimately even how you make money. Traditionally, you made money only by being a centralized business entity - you invested in a means of production and then controlled the revenue stream. This is changing. Distributed individuals now can dictate not only if you succeed, but even how and why - in fact, the public media monetization scheme of the future may be entirely created and controlled by the public. Ultimately, the organizational entities that we know and love today may play little to no role in how public media is funded. An argument for attracting participation might be if only to position ourselves better and be more literate in this for this future.

It is important that public media institutions try to build their online user base before aggressively monetizing their media and services. The best chance of generating meaningful dollars is through increasing our visibility, reach, interactions and relationships. We must figure out how to relate positively to more people online - something that we're notoriously bad at doing. Success will increasingly be dictated by the number of users on the Internet, their opinions, their participation, their goodwill, their willingness to share – none of which are in our control, and the more we try to control, the worse off we'll be.

The problem with an initial focus on monetization is that issues arise when users are seen as something to be mined for cash. This is where you get into trouble. If monetization is an initial goal, it will create an unwelcome environment for engagement and deter the participation that is needed in the first place.

We need to be extremely cautious about monetizing public media – the competition here might just be free and open production, whether organized in a structured gift economy in places like Wikipedia, or truly distributed across blogs and bittorrent. If, like the New York Times, we try to enclose our assets to make money, we will be effectively losing out to those providers who chose to be open and free.

Eric Von Hippel and Karim Lakhani spoke on "Democratized and Distributed Innovation" at the Berkman@10 conference last week and You can listen to the session here:

Von Hippel and Lakhani focused on internet-driven collaboration in user-led innovation communities. They point to some specific research examples including kite surfing, PostgreSQL, and the MATLAB collaborative programming contest

Over the last several years, these two (amongst others) have radically challenged the conventional thinking on who innovates and how it's done. Our understanding of the innovation process is at an interesting juncture, where open sharing and online collaboration has helped highlight the growth of user-led, community-driven solution design. This notion first gained popularity in 2005 when Von Hippel published a book on his research, inspiring me to first blog about democratizing innovation.

Description from Berkman:
Internet and the widespread availability of sophisticated digital design tools are radically changing best practice in product and service development. What was until recently a process concentrated within producer firms is now becoming democratized and widely distributed. This fundamental change has widespread consequences. What is the impact of these developments on innovation processes, business models, and government policies?


Derek Hoffend, sound artist and teacher at Boston's School of the Museum of Fine Arts presented tonight at Boston's monthly Dorkbot get-together. He showcased video of four very cool art installations he created that can be found in his online portfolio.

Listen to his full presentation below. If you're following along at home, you might want to walk through his portfolio videos on his website.

Derek presented the following projects, in this order:

  • Untitled Arrangement for Steel and Feedback II
  • Vis(c)area
  • Haptigenic
  • ...and an outdoor project in Union Square that I can't find on his site.

Derek's projects allow participants to interact directly with his physical installations to produce and control manufactured, complex soundscapes. To create and manipulate sound, he uses a combination of transducers, mics, analog and digital circuits, and Max/MSP software (depending on the project). Above is a picture of his Haptigenic sound circuit, using pressure sensors connected to manipulatable latex sculptures to control a rich audio experience.

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