Monday, April 11, 2005

IT Conversations

Doug Kaye

Today I learned a lot about Web Services from Halsey Minor and Open Source from Tim O'Reilly, and if you were to pick the two most savvy people in those fields, it would be those two guys. Remarkably, they talked to me while I climbed Laurel Trail in the regional park not far from my house. I listened to them on my Creative Nomad, a 3" long, 2.7 ounce mp3 player with ear buds. One end of this tiny device is a USB connector that lets me copy audio presentations I download from the web into this little device.

My interest is learning to better navigate IT (information technology) issues, and the source I turn to is IT Conversations. ITC posts nine shows a week to the web(dozens a week by the time you read this.) These free downloads are audio recordings of interviews, panel discussions, and conference presentations. Currently, conference presentations from hot speakers attract the most listeners, closely trailed by high-quality one-on-one interviews. More than ten thousand people download an average show in the first sixty days it's available. As many as 30,000 people download a chartbuster like Malcolm Gladwell's talk at PopTech.

On any given day, 12,000 of us download shows by speakers of this calibre to out iPods and mp3 players:

Like a lot of breakthrough concepts, IT Conversations was created by one guy, entrepreneur and author Doug Kaye. When writing his latest book, Loosely Coupled, he recorded his interviews with experts. Figuring they knew more about the topics than he ever would, he re-recorded the interviews and posted them to the web. The rest is history.

Just kidding. Doug casually mentioned to me that before getting into IT, he was an audio engineer. In fact, he was a motion picture sound editor, so from the get-go he knew that high-quality sound requires equalization, filtering, splicing, and encoding. One reason for ITC's success is the high quality of the sound they produce.

ITC's listeners are passionate. Initially, they steamed presentations for listening at their desks. Now most people download presentations and listen to them while communing to work, on airplanes, and while exercising. They request topics and they volunteer to help. Not long ago, listerners complained that they weren't being charged for IT Conversations. Some feared that Doug would lose interest without money pouring in; others felt guilty getting something for free that was better than things they paid for.

Doug is actually having a ball, "the best time of his career." He has no business model beyond serving his listeners. Twenty volunteers recently formed Team ITC. They'll split up what comes into the tip jar but they are not in it for the money. IT Conversations is morphing into an Open Source webcasting service. Doug foresees similar services in biotech, physical sciences, and natural sciences. And why not? Doug recently recorded an O'Reilly conference attended by 700 people. 70,000 people will listen to presentations from the conference from IT Conversations. The time-delayed audience is one hundred times more than attended in person! Conference producers who once feared that IT Conversations would cannibalize their market now recognize that it's as good an advertisement for next year's event as they can get!

What can we learn from this?

At least one institution uses IT Conversations to help students learning English as a second language. They learn current material and tech jargon as well as the nuances of spoken English.

A major consulting firm uses IT Conversations to keep its professional staff abreast of current issues.

"You may have missed the meeting but we've posted the PowerPoint slides on the intranet." I would get about as much out of this if the slides were in Urdu. Why not offer a recording instead? Especially for people who are pressed for time. Give the sales force iPods and offer audio briefings on new products, marketplace trends, strategic changes, and other in-house programming. This is not rocket science.

Some lament that there's no video. In many cases, that doesn't take much away from the experience. (And in a speeding automobile, it provides a margin of safety.) People who take part in many video conferences soon stop watching the other participants on screen. A shared white board, sure. Watching people sit at a conference table? It's the high-tech equivalent of watching paint dry.

Speed of execution is becoming the touchstone of competitive advantage. I can telephone my free blog account and record a message. Syndication would enable my call to get to every subscriber by any means at their disposal.

IT Conversations 2.0

Inspired by the citizen-journalism movement inspired by Dan Gilmour and JD Lasica, Doug came home from Gnomedex and announced IT Conversations 2.0. It should probably be called just Conversations, because Doug's intent is to podcast speakers on any and every topic. Think thousands of downloadable audio presentations. If only the Library of Alexandria had had the technology to do this, they would have backed up, and we'd be able to read all of the plays of Euripedes.

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