Podcamp Logo

Originally uploaded by Chris Brogan.

It’s been a little over a year since I attended the first Podcamp. Since that time, I’ve been to and spoke at Podcamp Toronto, helped organize and spoke at Podcamp NYC, attended Podcasters Across Borders, was the Lead Organizer for Podcamp Philly, and am currently helping to organize Podcamp Boston2 and Podcamp NYC 2.0. Clearly, I am a Podcamp Junkie.

Chris Brogan, along with Chris Penn, have asked some of us who have run our own Podcamps to think about where Podcamp might be going in the next year. So here’s my contribution, based on my experience.

What Podcamp Is About and the Secret Sauce

Podcamp is not just about audio podcasting or videoblogging. From the very first podcamp, sessions have not only dealt with technical issues surrounding media on the ‘net, but topics ranging from blogging to search engine optimization, to community building, to social media and where it’s heading.

Because of this, the name Podcamp is kind of a misnomer. While podcasters/videobloggers/new media makers are the focus audience, the use of the “tools of the trade”- blogs, audio and video media on the internet, are important to almost every business, educational institution, public relations person, and almost anyone with a presence on the internet. It’s not a conference solely for gearheads- it’s for anyone looking for a way to have their voice heard to a greater audience.

The Secret Sauce to the success of Podcamp is the people and the community. Unlike the Podcast and New Media Expo, Podcamp is more “educational” or academic – it’s about sharing knowledge about what’s happening on the bleeding edge of the internet, as communities form, grow and change. You can’t yet take a college course on new media or social media, but if you did, the finest professors in the Country could come out of our ranks.

I’ve always thought the beauty of Podcasting has been the ability to communicate with people all over the world, regardless of time zone- the communication is based on mutual interest and concern. I’ve gotten emails from listeners in Vancouver, Canada and South Africa; I see people from Germany and Japan and Norway downloading my podcast- what an amazing thing.

My podcast is about learning and learning disabilities, a niche topic that probably wouldn’t draw enough listeners in any one city to get anyone to take it seriously. But if you take the people who are interested, and expand it across the internet, you get audiences that do start to make sense. And instead of trying to find each person who might be interested, they find me, when they need the information I offer. That works for everyone, much better than traditional broadcast media like magazines and television or even terrestrial radio.

So my community is now global in scope, but focused around a particular niche interest.

The Problem Faced by Podshow and More Traditional Media Models

Advertisement tends to be based on getting someone motivated to do something- usually buy a product. Since podcasting is global, those products either have to be available on the web, or available locally in a bricks and mortar shop. Since we can’t predict where or when people will hear or see the ads on the ‘net, you can’t reasonably ensure a supply of Oreo Cakesters, for example, at the local store in Bombay India, making any ads for this pointless on a podcast.

The other thing to know about New Media enthusiasts is they are the Mavens and Connectors Malcolm Gladwell talks about in the Tipping Point. They are obsessed by specialized knowledge, they are willing to help just about anyone, and they seem to know EVERYONE, at least online.

If you interact the New Media people, they will spread the word- not only to everyone they interact with every day, but to everyone online. They’ll tag pictures and blog posts to make them easier to find on search engines. And they’ll also do a good job of telling a story about a brand and product- like a walking, vocal, enthusiastic (or dreadfully dangerous) Consumer Reports.

Podcamp’s Growing Pains

Podcamp started out with about 250 attendees. Podcamp NYC has been the biggest to date, with about 800 people attending, although Podcamp Boston 2 may surpass this figure. The largest challenge has been figuring out how a relatively intimate conversation scales up with larger crowds? Can it do so and maintain the sense of community and user participation?

Podcamp NYC seemed to do this successfully. By making tracks and adding in some predictability features, we tried to make the big crowd seem more like a family, and I think we succeeded on many levels. The same will be true for Podcamp Boston.

The things I’ve learned most from my multiple podcamp experience have been:

* The Power of Coffee and Donuts: people like to gather and talk while sharing food- it is a low impact way to start to get strangers to interact and meet each other.

*The Law of Null Space- one of the reasons why colleges and universities make a great setting for podcamps, is that the buildings are designed to allow for lounges and places where conversations naturally occur. Hotels and other venues don’t have this same sense of community space, making the natural flow of conversation harder to sustain. People want to sit and schmooze- if left alone in a hallway, they will migrate elsewhere, often remarking- “Wanna go grab a coffee somewhere?”

*The number of registrants will exceed the number of attendees. Because Podcamps are free to attend, often many more people sign up to attend than ever actually show up. This makes planning very difficult, since every t-shirt, swag item, printed schedule, and certainly any provided food costs the organizers and sponsors money. We have to look at how to address this problem. Is a small fee enough to help cover expenses and deter the “unserious”? Should Podcamp become more like a traditional conference, even if the speakers list is open to the community and the emphasis or culture is still on peer to peer interactions?

There are tons of tiny problems in organizing podcamps, ranging from finances, to finding and approaching sponsors in a way that fosters and nurtures relationships. I hope that the Podcamp Foundation may ultimately be able to help make this happen in a bit more of a cohesive fashion, as well as provide assistance to those that may want to organize a podcamp, big or small, in their own local communities.

One thing I know for sure. It’s ultimately not about the money, venue or gear, it’s about the people. The trick is going to be to figure out a good way to measure who is listening to what shows and why, and to find natural and sensible ways to help sponsors/advertisers/angels to help new media mavens, while new media mavens help them connect to a world of engaged and passionate people.