Photos by Debra Jean Dean and Michael W. Dean
The Podcast and New Media Expo is always the premier gathering for podcasters, but this year it was also four days and three nights of fun, frolicking, sleep deprivation, and running around the hotel, convention center, and parties. This was the show's third year in Ontario, California (about 40 miles east of L.A. — that is, a two-hour drive, most days). Next year it's moving to Las Vegas, reflecting the growth of the personal broadcasting field.
As expos go, the Podcast and New Media Expo is a damn fine one. First of all, all podcasters love to chat. So you're never at a loss, the way you might be at some other tech expos that are filled with people who are more comfortable interfacing with machines than yacking with humans. (You can hear highlights in last week's Digital Media Insider podcast.)
As Jochen Wolters said of podcasting in his Musicmesse report earlier this year, "What was a niche medium until fairly recently has now entered the mainstream full blast, enabling anyone to become an international radio host."
And Jochen is right. Podcasting has not only leveled the paying field, it's torn it up and planted a garden. During his Keynote at last January's Macworld, Steve Jobs reported that Apple has 125,000 podcasts on iTunes.
(Just to address one of the most common misconceptions about podcasting, you do not need an iPod, or even iTunes, to listen to podcasts. You can download the audio files manually from most sites or automatically with any of dozens of podcatcher programs — and then listen on your computer or portable MP3 player, or burn the files to CD and listen in your car.)
The Podcast Pickle: good company, creepy corporate mascot. (By the way, we followed it into the changing room. The pickle is a guy before lunch and a gal after.)
This is the second year my gal, Debra Jean Dean, and I attended the Podcast and New Media Expo. This year also marked our first wedding anniversary.
Debra Jean and I love podcasting. Personally, I've always wanted to have a radio show with a worldwide audience. Now I do. We love sitting down every Saturday night to record. (Remember: People who change the world aren't out in bars on a Saturday night. They're at home, in front of their computers.)
We've made up a cutesy name for ourselves as podcasters: pod weenies. This isn't derogatory; it's gloriously self-effacing. We think anyone who believes the world should listen to what he has to say from his living room is a bit of a hubristic weenie. In a good way. And that certainly includes us. (We do the Clone the Homeless podcast, and also another podcast that I can't mention; you're not old enough to hear it, no matter how old you are.)
"Pod weenies" has evolved into an imaginary food, poduine (as in "linguine," but still pronounced "pod weenie"), and our favorite imaginary dish, poduine and clam sauce. ("Clam" is an old studio musician term for a mistake, e.g., "Damn, there sure were a lot of clams on the guitar in that last take.") Another reason "poduine" works well is that "linguine" means "little tongues" in Italian. So we imagine that "poduine" means "many pods." Or "many tongues talking into many pods."
We had a lot of poduine and clam sauce this past week in Ontario.
Simply everyone was at the Podcast Expo. Everyone who's anyone, as well as everyone who's no one — because it's not only okay to be a no one in podcasting: it's cool to be a no one in podcasting. Podcasting is pure citizen media at its best. Sure, there are rockstar-level podcasters, but most podcasts probably have under 50 listeners. Many probably have well under 50 listeners. And that's fine. That's part of the beauty. It's one-to-one (or one-to-few) entertainment and education with a low barrier to entry, both for consumers and content producers.
Some folks will go to any length to get attention for their agenda, and hey, there's something I like about that.
Even the gear is accessible. We saw everything from individuals who don't even own a computer or a mic and who podcast from their cell phones (which, in my opinion, sounds like crap), to major corporations. (Nokia was there trying to sell people on listening to podcasts on their cell phones. I'm not going to do that either.) There were a lot of people giving seminars on "how to make money at this," and a few of them had actually made some money at it. (By the way, the wife and I are not trying to monetize our podcasts. We're maintaining our amateur status so we can compete in the Olympics.)
This panel was called "Veterans of the Yahoo! Podcasting Board: What We've Learned These Past Two Years." Left to right: moderator Ed Vawter, speaker Matthew Wayne Selznick, and yours truly. Not pictured (but interviewed in last week's Digital Media Insider): Evo Terra and Stephen Eley.
Stephen Eley came closer to blowing my mind than anyone else I talked to at the expo; I still have a dent in my head. Notice his Zoom H4 on the table; podcasters usually record other podcasters recording them. Steve also produced Podholes: a Podcast About Podcasts. I once threatened to do a "podcast about podcasts about podcasts," in which I would just review each episode of Podholes, but I never quite got around to it.
In attendance were cool OGs (original geeks) like Steve Eley, Matthew Wayne Selznick, and Mur Lafferty, who have popular podcasts. On the other hand, there were a ton of people dressed up in ridiculous costumes, some paid, some not, trying to get attention for their agenda or product or service or podcast. There were a lot of vendors selling stuff that they promised would "change my life." Very few things anyone has ever sold me have changed my life.
Podcasting itself changed my life, but it was free (well, except for the six grand I've spent on gear, but most of that was unnecessary gear pornage and I've made that money back, and then some, by engineering and managing Debra Jean's commercial voiceovers in our home studio).
Doug Kaye is to serious podcasters what Jim Marshall is to guitarists, because Doug co-invented the Levelator. He also started Gigavox and recently started the Conversations Network. Mark my words: this kid is going places.
Speaking of Marshall, they make mics that podcasters dig — and can afford. And their USB mics do not require a mixer, which makes them even better for entry level podcasting that doesn't suck. Here I interview Marshall's Roy Harper. (He's not the Roy Harper who sang lead on Pink Floyd's "Have a Cigar," but this one returns my calls.)
Podcasting co-inventor Adam Curry (who once famously tried to anonymously edit his Wikipedia entry to increase his place in the history of podcasting) was there, according to photos on Flickr, although I didn't see him. Yet he was probably more visible than last year, when some say he had his limo driver take him into the parking lot, waved out the window with his one gloved hand, and kept going.
In short, and in many ways, it was a typical tech convention: something old, something new, someone trying to sell some stuff to you.
Many books for sale, most of them about "monetizing your podcast," many of them written by people who have not yet monetized their podcasts. (Click to enlarge.)
But of course those booths, and the income they bring in through rental fees and sponsorship, are what make it possible to run these things. There was an "unconference" called PodCamp that involved none of that, though they were given space as a gift by Expo co-founder Tim Borquin. I had a stomachache and didn't make it to the unconference, even though I was supposed to speak there. But I heard it went well.
The place the real fun happened was the invite-only parties and the low-key spontaneous get-togethers in the hallways and hotel rooms. Conferences actually exist to facilitate these things; the sponsors and vendor booths just make it possible to keep the lights on.
This is cool, humble, funny, and smart zoo vodcaster Joel Mark Witt. We're interviewing each other. Joel seems fascinated with my Zoom H2, but I think the aluminum briefcase is just as cool. (You're not a serious conventioneer if you don't have an aluminum briefcase, and fortunately someone at the expo gave me this one as a gift.) You can hear Joel on last week's Digital Media Insider podcast, or at his site, Folkmedia.org.
I went to a party in the presidential suite. I had a few questions for the president, but apparently he'd left by the time I got to the party.
Inside the presidential suite, we were entertained by the hip sounds of DJ Steve Boyette (from Podrunner).
Poduine party fuel: empty liquor bottle, half-empty chip bags, and wax fruit. You can't see it, but a few of the fake fruits had teethmarks in them, as it was well after midnight.
Left: Matthew Wayne Selznick. Right: Tee Morris. Damn smart guys, these. I invited them up to my room for an interview, asked them one question, and they talked for an hour. That's not uncommon with podcasters. We love to yack.
Speaking of spontaneous meetings, I've been to a lot of expos for a lot of things over the years, but this is the first time I've found a priest willing to bless my digital recorder. And I approached him because he was using the same recorder (the Zoom H2). I'm not religious, but there was no irony in my request, and he was so sweet about it that Debra Jean and I got choked up.
Here's Father Roderick of the Healthy Catholic podcast performing the first annual "Blessing of the Zoom H2s." (Truth be told, my H2 should probably go to confession at some point, because of some of the things it's heard.)
After the blessing from Father Roderick, I looked up and this is what I saw: peculiar, spacey decorations for the party room where the Podcast Awards were handed out.
I spent the week asking, "So...what's the future of podcasting?" of anyone who would talk. And I got some great sound bites from all the podcasting rock stars, but no one really blew my mind with their answer. They all basically had some variation of "It has to be as easy to use as TV."
So I may have to answer that question myself, or at least conjecture. Here's where I think RSS citizen media (podcasting, vodcasting, etc.) should be headed, way after it's long become as easy to use as TV: into the orbiting (figuratively or literally) PodBot, which archives all your data and makes it available to everyone, forever, for free, and can withstand the sun's blotting out the earth.
Because the things we say — we little poduines in our living rooms — might just be that important.
Here are the gorgeous podcast awards. Of course, broadcasting yourself globally is its own reward.
I talked to Tom Jennings and Jason Scott about the PodBot, but neither of them jumped on it. If anyone does make that PodBot a reality, I believe it would be an O'Reilly reader. And archeologists from the next millennium will thank you. (Or maybe curse you, when all blogs and all podcasts live forever. Future historians may long for a day with just bones, garbage, and cave paintings as the only data to sift through.)
Hell, with the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik last week, I oughta at least be able to make something out of that Czechoslovakian cold-war satellite stuff I just bought on eBay. Or maybe use my gray-market Radio-Free Europe tube preamps, cobble them in with an iRiver, a half-terabyte FireWire drive from NewEgg, the CB radio I got last week at the church flea market, and a vintage Signetics SE 555 timer chip. Then I'll train my cats to power it on a treadmill, train them to train their kittens to do the same, and I'll be golden. (Note to self: pitch this idea to Make magazine.)
Nelson Muntz: "Stop butlering yourself! Stop butlering yourself!" Butler: "Would if I could, sir." (I thought that was an irreverent enough caption for Michael Butler, one of the most irreverent guys that I'll still sit and talk with. He's hella funny, and has a way of seeming rude without really being rude.
This is the obligatory L.A. Podcasters shot. That sign is pretty damn nifty. The first time you see it, it makes sense in a "Of course there's an L.A. Podcasters freeway sign" way. Gathered underneath are guys from the Smidgits vodcast site. I have no idea what a Smidgit is, but I really like saying the word.
Buh-bye, brave and noble poduines! See you next year in Vegas!
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