In September of 2006, a few creative geeks in Boston hosted a small event called PodCamp. It was designed as a peer education and social network for podcasters — that is, people who make audio and video content for the web. They were expecting a few dozen attendees; they got over 300.
People from as far away as California, Florida and England converged on Boston that weekend to meet their peers, share their collective knowledge and build a real-world community around an online pastime. The energy and insight on display that weekend was infectious, and so PodCamp founders Chris Brogan and Christopher Penn decreed that any of us who wanted to host a PodCamp in our own hometowns could do so with their blessing.
Since then, there have been dozens of PodCamps around the world, from Sweden to Hawaii. There will be 20 hosted this year alone, including the 4th annual events in Boston and Pittsburgh. Global attendance for PodCamps measures into the tens of thousands. And yet, in all this growth, one subtle change seems to go mostly unnoticed:
PodCamp isn’t about podcasting anymore.
Instead, PodCamp has become a catch-all for blogging, social networking, personal branding and SEO (among other themes). The number of actual podcasters has dwindled precipitously since 2006, while the number of casual social media aficionados has exploded. (To wit: of the four long-running and nationally-recognized podcasts in Pittsburgh, all of them — Should I Drink That?, Something to Be Desired, The G Spod and The Wrestling Mayhem Show — existed prior to PodCamp.) And it’s easy to see why:
- Podcasting takes more time, energy and resources than text
- Podcasting is frequently collaborative; blogging is not
- Podcasting gets compared to the work of professionals; writing is personal
- Podcasting is a multi-step process; text can happen anywhere
Our move toward ever-faster means of communication with fewer barriers to entry means the cheapest, fastest and easiest will always become the most ubiquitous, while anything more complex will be relegated to the Land of Niche. But complexity is entirely relative.
When I first started producing Something to Be Desired in 2003, I thought we had to move fast because producing a web-based sitcom was so easy, everyone would be doing it. I was only half-right; it turns out producing a continuing series only seems easy, while producing individual web-based videos is far easier. Very few people have the time, interest, help, skill or ideas to sustain an ongoing show. So although I expected the web to mount a serious challenge to TV and film paradigms through an explosion of independent talent, the web instead provided disruption through distribution, not production.
Who knew that the audience at the first PodCamp would be the anomaly rather than the norm? Who could predict how easily we’d convert from an audience of makers to an audience of talkers? And who could expect that the democratic web, which once seemed on the verge of detonating our expectations about what was possible artistically, would so quickly be co-opted as just another distribution tool by the existing media conglomerates — one which we’re content to analyze but not to utilize?
If actions speak louder than words, why are so many of us content to just keep talking?