Outskirts Observations

I made it a priority to go this year because, frankly, all of the talk about it last year made me jealous. It sounded like I’d missed the podcasting event of the year — and back in the day, I probably did. There was no PodcasterCon, no PodCamp, and very little at Dragon*Con. This year? It wasn’t the only game in town, but I think it was very much worth the expense to go from a business perspective, and it was a hell of a lot of fun.

I went partly to get some business done, and mostly to meet people. I’d call the business part about a 60% success — I’m not going to talk about everything I’ve been involved with, but I had a few important conversations and missed a few others because everyone was busy. No big deal; that’s what e-mail and Skype are about. The biggest accomplishment was the energy behind the Podcast Guild; we got some new gears turning, and it looks like it’s finally on its way to becoming what it needs to be. More later on that.

The people, though — that was hugely successful. I met most of the people I was hoping to meet, and many more. And it bears out an observation I’ve made from other events: despite our personas online or behind the mic, in person we’re a big circle of friends. I didn’t shake a single hand that wasn’t warm and welcoming. In some cases this surprised me: as much of a smartass as I am much of the time, I expected at least a few cold shoulders or even harsh words, but there were none the entire weekend. Everyone was cool. It was a great vibe.

Was it a deep learning experience? Not to me, though I confess I’m an unfair judge. I don’t know everything, but I know quite a bit already of what was being presented. However, the few program events I sat in on were more slick, corporate-vanilla, and “on the surface” than deep examinations of the issues. I’d even include Evo’s and my own presentation in that. I actually felt better about the panels at PodcasterCon last year, where there was less speechifying and more intimacy between the moderators and the audience. That’s not to say this was a dud; there were some good messages here. I’m just not sure from my own perspective that a session pass would’ve been worth the money, if I hadn’t had a free pass already as a speaker.

The exhibit hall was much the same: a fun place, but little depth and few surprises. Podcast Ready put on a great face as the primary sponsor, and the Podango mini-conference seems to have been a hit. Most of the rest of it was what you’d expect: here’s Shure and M-Audio, there’s LibSyn, over there’s PopCurrent, yonder are a few podcast producers, etc. There were only two gadgets that threw me for a loop:

  • Box Populi’s “Podcast in a Box,” a Linux-based recorder that delivers true, no-kidding, automatic podcasting with zero interface. Aimed right now at the university market under the Meedu brand, you don’t even have to push a button: your tech guy either schedules a start and stop time for your lecture and it begins and ends recording (and publishes to their Web host) with no intervention, or you pop in a USB flash key which triggers the recording, and it publishes when you take it out. I have never seen a podcast process with no grunt work before. I think it’s brilliant.
  • The iMorphosis “PodcastLink,” a sort of hardware-based podcatcher that will plug directly into your MP3 player (including iPods) and populate it without a computer.  This reminds me of those old $100 e-mail and Web appliances — the ones they marketed to your grandparents. Like those, it will fail, because it’s a clever solution lacking a problem. Anyone who has the knowledge and desire to listen to a podcast is going to have a computer sitting around. Under what circumstances is it worth real money to avoid plugging your MP3 player into your computer?

What mattered far more than new gizmos was just listening in for the general tone of the Expo. Leo’s keynote, about getting down to business and protecting what we do as a brand and an industry, pretty much set that tone, and I felt it throughout most of the presentations and a lot of the conversations. You had plenty about podcasting for fun, sure, but underneath it, everyone was really focused on success. There was a drive throughout the whole thing. A hunger. I cannot tell you how many times and in how many ways I heard the word “metrics” used, during the day and late into the drunken night. I can’t really criticize — I was saying the same lines as everyone else.

Is attending the Expo important? That’s a complex question. It’s fun to attend regardless of its importance. I’d say it’s moderately important to attend if you’re treating your podcast as a business; and it’s critical to attend if you intend to stake a claim in podcasting beyond your own podcast. Events like this are, in a very real way, the conversation that podcasting has with itself. The sharpest observation I had was that the conversation was entirely about the people and companies who were there. People talked about Podcast Ready. People talked about SwitchPod. People talked about Blubrry and Podcast Pickle, both of whom had successful and fun party suites.

Apple was discussed very little except in regard to the recent fracas with Podcast Ready. And I barely heard Podshow mentioned at all. Even the Podshow podcasters who attended weren’t talking about Podshow. The ridiculous Hummer limo, running guests to their anti-conference or whatever it was, only got rolled eyes. I’m pretty sure they have no idea how much it’s hurting them to detach themselves from podcasting’s conversation. They weren’t there, so they weren’t on the radar. And a company that survives on the creativity of individuals can’t afford that.

Besides, they’re missing the fun.

I didn’t miss the fun. I had lots of it. All businesses, priorities, and importances aside, I’ll be going again next year.



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