The Conversations Network — Phase 2

The mission of The Conversations Network is to publish online, free to all, the most educational, inspirational and entertaining spoken-word events that would otherwise simply evaporate – be lost forever. We’ve succeeded in that mission, but only with a few niche channels such as IT Conversations and Social Innovation Conversations. As we look to apply what we’ve learned to address a far wider scope – encompassing spoken-word events of all types, on any topic and in many languages – we can’t simply expand the current model. While our processes, tools and team could scale by a factor of perhaps 10x, that’s still just a drop in the bucket of the programs we’d like to help make available. We need an entirely different approach.

Our next challenge isn’t merely to scale what we’ve done by one or even two orders of magnitude, but rather to scale it infinitely and thereby enable virtually every event, no matter where or how small, to find its way to the Internet and from there to anyone who might want to see, hear or read it. To achieve this goal The Conversations Network will evolve from being strictly a producer/publisher to an enabler of others, offering a wide range of assistance to any legitimate organization or individual who needs our help.

We will enable the publication of spoken-word events in three ways:

  1. operate a free and open online service for people to find and share recordings and transcripts of any and all spoken-word events, no matter the source;
  2. provide assistance in the forms of tools and services to others trying to publish spoken-word events online; and
  3. continue to expand our curated channels as examples of the best practices in spoken-word event publishing and as test beds for new concepts and technologies.

Evolution

Phase 1 of The Conversations Network has emphasized a top-down model in which all programs are curated, post-produced, published and distributed by our own staff and on our own web sites. The quality has been high and we’ve built loyal audiences, but we’ve also become a scarce resource – a gatekeeper. Although our post-production costs are very low, we still require an audience of at least 10,000 listeners to each program in order to pay for the publication of that program through a mix of membership dues and underwriting sponsorships.

When our IT Conversations channel pioneered publishing conferences on the Internet in early 2004, many of the required technologies were in their infancies. We had to invent some of them ourselves. Important tools such as our Levelator software, which we distribute for free, are now used by tens of thousands of amateurs and professionals alike in the daily production of spoken-word programs. There are still some missing pieces in the start-to-finish process of recording, producing and publish events, but the tools and know-how are far more widespread than even just a few years ago. As we’ve researched the expansion of our curated-content production model into additional verticals, we’ve increasingly found that others have begun to make substantial progress. If you look hard enough, you can now find a podcast or videoblog covering almost any topic.

But while online-media publishing is simpler than it was four years ago, there are still areas in which people need help. Relatively few lectures, meetings, conferences, speeches and debates are readily available to all. Our plan for Phase 2 is therefore to leverage our expertise by helping others in the production, publication and distribution processes rather than provide a single-source solution as we have done until now. In this way, we will serve far more events and reach a much larger audience than we have under our current (Phase 1) model.

Publishing Challenges

The following are the areas in which we will help others produce and publish spoke-word events:

  • recording live events (production)
  • editing, mixing and encoding (post-production)
  • publication, distribution and syndication

And for listeners, viewers and readers:

  • finding recorded and transcribed events
  • sharing them with others

During Phase 1 we solved these problems for our own channels and under our own brand. In Phase 2, The Conversations Network will continue to address the full life-cycle of publishing spoken-word events on line, but through an á la carte menu of wholesale services (most of which will be free) from which others can pick and choose according to their needs.

The Phase 2 á la Carte Menu

Here are examples of the services we plan to make available under The Conversations Network Phase 2:

  • Recording Events. PodCorps.org is our free matchmaking service connecting event producers with stringers: independent audio/video professionals and semi-pros who can record spoken-word events. As of the end of May 2008, 640 stringers worldwide were registered members of PodCorps.org. We will expand this online community and the forum and wiki that allow stringers and event producers to learn from one another.
  • Post-Production. In some cases, PodCorps.org stringers will also provide post-production assistance. But some event producers want a one-stop solution comparable to how we produce event recordings for IT Conversations. We will therefore offer a fee-based post-production service that will take event recordings and generate completed audio, video and slideshow files as well as associated web pages for event producers who cannot do this themselves or who cannot for whatever reason use the services of PodCorps.org stringers. Overall, this fee-based service will produce only a small portion of the events we’ll promote through our finding/sharing web site, but it will fill a need and also generate revenues for our other activities.
  • Publication. Through our online forums and wiki we will advise event producers on how and where to host their media files and we sites. We will not provide hosting ourselves. We’ll leave that to the many media-hosting sites and services that are now available, many for free.
  • Finding and Sharing. Our most ambitious Phase 2 project will be helping people find what they’re looking for in what will soon become a massive distributed collection of audio and video recordings. We will do this using a social-networking model, which allows anyone to post links to recordings he or she finds, to build collections or playlists of their favorite recordings, to share those playlists with others, and to rate and comment on playlists or individual recordings posted by others. These will not be limited to recordings produced by The Conversations Network, but rather from any and all online sources.

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