IT Conversations will be seven years old in three weeks, and as often happens at this time of year I find myself taking a step back from the day-to-day issues surrounding The Conversations Network to try and see the big picture. Where are we and where are we going?
I’ve published the Annual Report and assimilated the results from our annual survey of members as I do every year, but those only address the mostly tactical issues (How well are we doing what we’re already doing?) as opposed to the more strategic ones (What should we be doing?).
This time around I’m going to go through the process more publicly than usual, partly because blogging about it helps me organize my thoughts, but mostly because I want to get input from as many people as possible.
When I started IT Conversations in 2003 virtually no one else was posting free audio recordings of conferences, events and interviews. It was relatively hard to do, so I had to invent many of the tools, processes and even a suitable content-management system for high-volume audio post-production. Over the years this became known as podcasting and hundreds of thousands of people learned how to do it.
Two years ago with help from our Boards of Advisors and Directors I realized that podcasting and video had become so easy and ubiquitous that the needs of the larger community had shifted from “How do you do it?” to “How do you find it?” The discussions that followed led to the creation of SpokenWord.org, our site for finding and sharing audio and video podcasts.
But while SpokenWord.org now has metadata for over 640,000 audio and video programs from nearly 7,500 RSS feeds, it hasn’t really caught on in the way that IT Conversations did in those early years. Ask most geeks, and they’ve probably heard of IT Conversations. But aside from our 4,000+ registered members, virtually no on has ever heard of SpokenWord.org. Sure, we haven’t done much to promote it, but neither did we do so for IT Conversations. SpokenWord.org just isn’t solving a big enough problem for enough people to make it worth our user’s time and effort to tell someone else about it.
Taking stock, what are our assets and our strengths?
- We have an excellent team of 35 (active) part-time writers, producers and audio engineers who create IT Conversations, Social Innovation Conversations and CHI Conversations, and good processes for recruiting, training and management.
- We have excellent processes and technology for audio post-production, task allocation, content management and automated show assembly.
- We have a good metadata directory for audio/video programs and feeds with personal-collection features (SpokenWord.org).
- We have an archive of 2,500 of our own programs.
- We do this all for less than $35,000 per year.
- The growth of podcasting (not just ours) is flat.
- SpokenWord.org has a very small user base and in it’s current form isn’t solving any big problems.
Don’t get me wrong. The Conversations Network’s channels are the best podcasts on their topics and SpokenWord.org is a terrific resource for those who do use it. But I believe we can (and should) do a lot more with what we have.
The Conversations Network is a 501(c)3 non-profit, which implies a mission to benefit the public. So the question to you (staff, listeners, members and readers) is: What should we do next to continue that mission? I’ve got my own ideas, but I want to hear from you first.