My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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mainstream-ification and podcasting

This week, i went to Duke to participate in the Podcasting Symposium. It was a great opportunity to talk to folks dealing with podcasting from different roles – podcasters, lawyers, scholars, businesspeople, etc. I participated on the Identity and Performance panel; here’s a synopsis of what i said.

I began by quoting James Polanco of Fake Science:

“The issue with today’s community is not a lack of professional content or a lack of audio quality that many listeners or media would assume. In my mind it’s the almost cult like adoration and exclusionary attitudes that is causing many of my fellow podcasters much grief. Too many of today’s major community leaders are playing in a popularity contest instead of focusing on what I feel podcasting should be about, creating interesting content… Over the last year, Adam Curry has re-emerged as a public icon and with urging from the community he is now the golden-child and the face of podcasting. The community worships Adam in a sycophant, cult-esque way that really frustrates me. The community has deemed titles upon him such as the ‘podfather’ which Adam then quickly embraced. Look at the front page of the podcasting iTunes site for the graphic for his new show ‘podfinder’. Adam is dressed in an all white reverend suit with a rainbow over him and his hands are out like he is giving podcasting to us straight from God.”

(I apparently hit a nerve using this quote since many in the audience were quite ecstatic to hear someone throw a punch at Curry. ::sigh:: It is sad when movements acquire leaders at the expense of other practitioners.)

Next, i talked about how the rapid mainstream-ification of podcasting has really splintered the early community and made it difficult for an organic community to grow and learn from each other. The combination of mass media podcasts and iTunes popularity systems make it very difficult for amateur production to emerge and for groups to actually support each other. This is quite sad because i think about how valuable the community element of blogging was, even though it was quite diverse and there were many different communities – it let a wide range of practices emerge under the header “blogging.”

Podcasting mainstream-ification has cemented the idea that podcasting is about one-to-many. For those allured by this mass audience possibility (preachers of religion, culture, news and politics), this is *fantastic.* But it also leaves behind those invested in one-to-few. People talk about podcasting being about niche markets, but it’s still visioned as getting everyone of some particular niche. When i think of one-to-few, i think of my grandfather leaving audio recordings of his life or families in India talking about what they see out in their hometown for their loved ones who are far away. I think about audio storytelling for groups who know each other, not just gossip for the masses.

Finally, i talked about how remix is about mixing consumption and production and allowing communities to come together through shared cultural references. Remix has its roots in the ephemeral, not the permanent. Yet, the persistence of things like podcasting means that it is not only public but very very public. Remix was always available at the local club, but now that niche community can be observed by anyone.

I also included a bunch of questions:

  • Who are podcasting creators/consumers? Who are we supporting? How are we supporting them?
  • How has the emphasis on one-to-many and popularity affected podcasting?
  • What about one-to-few populations? Do we care about them?
  • Do we want to make the new radio? Is this only about create mass audiences? What about helping people express their thoughts in audio?
  • How are technology and business choices affecting practice?
  • How do people deal with different constructions of ‘public’?
  • What happens when underground behavior goes mainstream?
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4 comments to mainstream-ification and podcasting

  • Great post…thanks for stepping up and being one of the first to take a swing at the podcasting pinata.

    We need to continue to remind ourselves that we’re in the early, early stages of all this, and no guru, god, or icon has all the answers, or even some of the right answers.

    After all, in the first decade of radio, the technologists and early adopters all felt the big market was in personal broadcasting. This led to building expensive radios that could both send and receive, which led to limited consumer adoption, which led to starting over which led to radio as we know it today: big transmitters that send stuff to little receivers.

  • kris olsen

    A couple weeks ago, you asked your readers over at M2M what they’d like to see posted. I think this one, the media/copyright post from 9/29, and the Web 2.0 posts are all relevant M2M topics.

  • Adam Curry totally has his ego issues, and lots of other issues (like being an upper class twit), but I think you’re missing some irony on his part here. Podfinder in particular, and really so very much of what he’s doing in the podcasting world (like the Podsafe Music Network and the Podcast Alley) are ALL ABOUT helping listeners discover new podcasts and indy artists. I think he’s making fun of himself with this choice of graphics. I think you’re really missing out if you don’t get to utilize some of the work he’s doing. And Yeast Radio, that’s rad too. That movement really does not need leaders at the expense of other practitioners, but I think Curry is making a good and honest effort to avoid that. Have you listened to Podcast 411? That’s somebody else who I think is trying hard to highlight other podcasters. Of course white, male dominance of the podosphere is a major problem – but those are a couple of guys who I think are trying to do their part to change that.

  • Sounds like a fascinating speech.
    Would you be interested in spreading the word a bit further by participating as a guest speaker at the International Podcasting Expo (a 3-D Virtual Expo)
    http://global.co-opworld.com/intlpodcastingexpospeakers.php
    are some of the people we have at the moment.