Out of the Fishbowl, or Are We Ready for the Middleman

by Goldie on June 3, 2007

in Society and Culture

I’ve been hanging out on twitter and on some of the BlogTV and Ustream live broadcasts put on by Jeff Pulver and Chris Brogan and one of the popular topics has been how do we get podcasting and videocasting out beyond the fishbowl . There are a few thoughts and ideas I have on this, and of course please share your own – this is best done as a conversation. (I have a few ideas specifically for how to get listeners to podcamps as well, but that is another post.)

So the first way to get beyond the fishbowl is the slower technique. Talk to people. No, I don’t mean talk to other podcasters and techies, I mean talk to people outside the fishbowl who you interact with. Talk up your podcast, or your favorite ones, to your dentist. (My dentist bought an iPod because he thought mine was so cool.) Talk to the cashier who rings you up at the grocery store. If you feel really adventurous walk up to someone on the street and strike up a conversation. You could even throw in a “man in the street” interview as part of the pitch. As these folk outside the fishbowl find the podcasts they like they will spread it onward, slowly, and only as fast as the non-technical grasp and find their podcasts.

The other way, the one more likely to succeed, is building the new middleman. It is funny that each time we destroy the middleman – no more big networks, no mainstream media, we can do it on own – we rediscover the purpose and need of the middleman. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t periodically blow away the middleman. A complacent middleman can become selfish and greedy. There is a reason why independent music labels have sprung up. But even as it is necessary to wipe the slate clean there comes a time when we need to build the new middleman, or curator as Chris Brogan posted today. So why the middleman?

We talk about how great the new media is because we have the freedom and power to chose whatever we want. This is incredibly powerful from a creative perspective. However, from the consumer end, those who would be only listeners, choice can be highly overrated.

Think about some product that you consume that isn’t your passion. Lets say toothpaste. So you can have mint, wintermint, ginger, fennel, bubblegum, tutifruti. And in each of these flavors you have, plain, with fluoride, with baking-soda, with baking-soda and fluoride, tartar control, fluoride with-tartar control, and whitening. And this is all one brand, there are also 5 other brands on the shelf. I don’t know about you, but I usually settle on a flavor and feature combination and that is what I buy unless I’m feeling like trying something new, which isn’t every shopping trip. It works, why change it?

Now apply that to podcasts. Even if they are free they still cost, they cost a person’s time and attention. Why should they seek them out instead of some TV show they can buy in the iTunes store? Even worse, they don’t even know what to do with it. I know I need toothpaste, what I use it for and why I might or might not want fluoride in it. What do I do with a podcast? How do I know I’m interested in it? How do I know what is any good? Sure people may try out a podcast here or there, but if the first one they pick isn’t remotely what they are interested in they’ll go back to their pre-packaged TV. This is where the middleman becomes useful.

The middleman can provide a categorization and winnowing of podcasts into podcasts that meet a standard. The middleman can then speak to the potential listeners and tell them why they would be interested and what they would do with it. They can curate for the listeners to the pod/video/livecasts they are interested in. They can be the trusted introducer. This is what it will take to bring this new media to those non-early adopter listeners.

One thing to note, even with the introduction of the middleman it does not mean every ‘cast needs a middleman. Once listeners find out that they have a use and desire for these casts they will look around and try an occasional independent cast. In a sense the middleman develops the market, but everyone can benefit from the market being developed.

I know there are some networks out there that cull and categorize podcasts, but I think we are still at the preliminary stages of the development of the middleman role. The mainstream listener still doesn’t understand why they should seek out the podcasts. When they see the value to them, they will come to listen and the ‘casts will become part of the new mainstream. Are we ready for that?


Lance Weber June 4, 2007 at 2:51 pm

Good food for thought…I started writing a short reply that eventually grew into a blog post of it’s own: http://www.alfheimstudios.com/blog/?p=40

Dean Whitbread June 4, 2007 at 6:33 pm

Couldn’t agree more. UK Podcasters Association has two aims – to protect our members’ rights, and to promote podcasting, and actually we spend 90% of our time doing the latter. If ‘casters don’t interact with the rest of the world, we are navel gazing…

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