Mainstream-ification and Podcasting

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by: danah boyd

This week, i went to Duke to participate in the Podcasting Symposium. It was a great opportunity to talk to folks dealing with podcasting from different roles – podcasters, lawyers, scholars, businesspeople, etc. I participated on the Identity and Performance panel; here's a synopsis of what i said.

I began by quoting James Polanco of  Fake Science:

"The issue with today's community is not a lack of professional content or a lack of audio quality that many listeners or media would assume. In my mind it's the almost cult like adoration and exclusionary attitudes that is causing many of my fellow podcasters much grief. Too many of today's major community leaders are playing in a popularity contest instead of focusing on what I feel podcasting should be about, creating interesting content… Over the last year, Adam Curry has re-emerged as a public icon and with urging from the community he is now the golden-child and the face of podcasting. The community worships Adam in a sycophant, cult-esque way that really frustrates me. The community has deemed titles upon him such as the 'podfather' which Adam then quickly embraced. Look at the front page of the podcasting iTunes site for the graphic for his new show 'podfinder'. Adam is dressed in an all white reverend suit with a rainbow over him and his hands are out like he is giving podcasting to us straight from God."

(I apparently hit a nerve using this quote since many in the audience were quite ecstatic to hear someone throw a punch at Curry. ::sigh:: It is sad when movements acquire leaders at the expense of other practitioners.)

Next, i talked about how the rapid mainstream-ification of podcasting has really splintered the early community and made it difficult for an organic community to grow and learn from each other. The combination of mass media podcasts and iTunes popularity systems make it very difficult for amateur production to emerge and for groups to actually support each other. This is quite sad because i think about how valuable the community element of blogging was, even though it was quite diverse and there were many different communities – it let a wide range of practices emerge under the header "blogging."

Podcasting mainstream-ification has cemented the idea that podcasting is about one-to-many. For those allured by this mass audience possibility (preachers of religion, culture, news and politics), this is *fantastic.* But it also leaves behind those invested in one-to-few. People talk about podcasting being about niche markets, but it's still visioned as getting everyone of some particular niche. When i think of one-to-few, i think of my grandfather leaving audio recordings of his life or families in India talking about what they see out in their hometown for their loved ones who are far away. I think about audio storytelling for groups who know each other, not just gossip for the masses.

Finally, i talked about how remix is about mixing consumption and production and allowing communities to come together through shared cultural references. Remix has its roots in the ephemeral, not the permanent. Yet, the persistence of things like podcasting means that it is not only public but very very public. Remix was always available at the local club, but now that niche community can be observed by anyone.

I also included a bunch of questions:

  • Who are podcasting creators/consumers? Who are we supporting? How are we supporting them?
  • How has the emphasis on one-to-many and popularity affected podcasting?
  • What about one-to-few populations? Do we care about them?
  • Do we want to make the new radio? Is this only about creating mass audiences? What about helping people express their thoughts in audio?
  • How are technology and business choices affecting practice?  


  • How do people deal with different constructions of 'public'?
  • What happens when underground behavior goes mainstream?

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