Crowdsourcing Drives Podcast Quality

Jan 13 2014, 10:02am CST | by

Crowdsourcing Drives Podcast Quality

One of the great joys of the digital age has been the uncoupling of entertainment from both time and location.  Gone are the days of finishing up dinner in a hurry to get to the TV in time to see I Love Lucy.  With digital video recorders (DVRs) like TiVo, Sling, and Dish and streaming services like Apple’s iTunes, Netflix, Google's YouTube, and Amazon.com's Instant Video, people can watch their favorite shows pretty much anywhere anytime.

A subcategory of time-and-location-independent entertainment is the podcast, which does for audio what the services just mentioned do for video.  The term podcast derives from Apple’s iPod, a tribute to Apple’s solid grip on digital audio during its early days.  Audio, which uses far fewer bits than video, was more easily adapted to digital transmission and storage when they were still slow and expensive.

Just as with video, a podcast user can either listen to the digital stream in real time as if it were a radio program or download the program to a device for later, unconnected listening.  Either way, the user has a choice of when and where to enjoy the content.

For me, podcasts opened up a whole new world.  I stopped listening to radio years ago.  But certain podcasts have really caught my attention.  I want to hear all of them, but rarely have the time.  On long plane rides, however, I can run episodes back to back.  Watching a movie in flight can be stressful.  The eyes need to focus.  With a podcast, you can close your eyes and relax.

One of my favorites is This American Life, hosted by Ira Glass.  His team has done some amazing reporting over the years since the show started in 1995.  Some classics include The Giant Pool of Money, done in conjunction with National Public Radio’s (NPR’s) Planet Money team in 2008.  In accessible terms, it covers how the financial collapse then underway occurred.  Another, Somewhere in the Arabian Sea, done in 2002, brings to light in fantastic detail what life on an American aircraft carrier was like during a stint in support of the war in Afghanistan.

The reporting on This American Life is superb, and Glass is an excellent and understated narrator, but after more than 500 episodes, it’s no surprise that the show sometimes finds itself casting about for topics, reaching farther and farther for each one, and sometimes not entirely hitting the mark.  Stories about favorite TV shows, middle-school angst, and a random assortment of events that happened during one particular week aren’t nearly as compelling as some of the deep reporting on politics, economics, science, or history.

This is where my other favorite podcast shines.  The Moth is a show that keeps on giving.  As its tag line says, The Moth offers “true stories told live.”  The show originated among a group of friends who told stories on a front porch late into the night.  The moths, beating themselves on the porch lights, gave the show its name.  Gradually, as more people got involved, it moved to a club venue and then became a traveling show, with amateur nights, and story slams, which pit contestants against each other for wit and wisdom in a tight, 12-minute format[?].  Rules state that “… stories must be true and must be your story — not your sister’s or your best friend’s.”  And no notes are allowed during the live telling.

I notice that, as The Moth gets more popular, the quality of the stories increases.  Although some celebrities, writers, and professional stage personages (e.g., Salman Rushdie, Jamaica Kincaid, Ernesto Quinonez, Christian McBride, Adam Gopnik, and Nathan Englander) have joined in, most of the stories — and many of the most popular — are told by unknowns, regular folks.  And while it’s true that most of us are not great story tellers, almost all of us have at least one really great story, and even if only 10% of us can articulate it, that still means that The Moth can harvest up to 30 million great stories.  The show’s Webpage solicits material from anyone, and hosts encourage people to give it a try during live broadcasts.

Crowdsourcing is what makes the Moth so powerful.  If This American Life is like the Beatles, cranking out hit after hit with surprising range, The Moth is the sum of all those one-hit wonders like Manu Dibango, Barbara Fairchild, and Candyman.

I expect that, if its infrastructure holds up, the Moth will continue to grow in reach and popularity for years to come.

Twitter: RogerKay

Source: Forbes Apple

 
 

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