My good intentions to live-blog the Podcast Expo went awry after I found that the wi-fi access in the convention center were so unreliable. The Ballrooms, where the biggest sessions were held, had good connectivity, but the smaller sessions (most of the ones I attended) kept teasing me with the hope that I might actually get a good connection. So after a while I gave up.
Besides, with any conference, much of the most important and interesting activity takes place outside the formal sessions. It’s usually the opportunity to meet and talk with colleagues in the hallways, or over coffee or a beer (the “networking,” a really bad name for an important activity) that repays the effort and expense of attending a conference. The problem with networking, though, is that as a conference gets bigger and more diverse, networking opportunities may diminish.
At the Podcast Expo, the overwhelming emphasis was on “monetizing your podcast”–how to make money from podcasting. Of the five program tracks, only one–Podcasting as a Hobby–provided an alternative to the money-chasing. Dave Slusher’s program was excellent; he gave great encouragement to those of us who are podcasting because we enjoy it and think it’s a worthwhile activity in itself. Even Dave, though, had issues with the theme, which he talked about on several episodes of Evil Genius Chronicles. “Hobby” and “amateur,” the terms applied throughout the conference to those podcasters who weren’t there to sell something, need not be pejoratives–but that’s the way the came across.
Certainly, many of the podcasters I met whom I listen to, like Bruce from The Zedcast and Daryl from the poddog show, clearly do their podcasts for love. But even within the “amateur” or “hobbyist” group, there are lots of us who are considered “niche” podcasters, like me with Check This Out!, and Corey and Paul of 501c3Cast. “Niche” status makes networking with other podcasters a challenge: they often assume that if they’re not a librarian, they can’t get anything out of my podcast, and so don’t bother to give it a listen. More fundamental, though, is basic human nature. Most people like to hang out with people they know. Podcasters doing business-money-technology podcasts have a lot to talk with each other about, and a lot to gain from cross-promotion. Other podcasters doing storytelling shows, or couple-casts, or online diaries, rants, and the like–the more “general interest” shows, often on pop culture topics–also have a lot in common. It’s harder for niche podcasters to join those conversations.
This is, at root, the same problem I’ve seen at conferences like AALL and CALI over the years. I hated my first couple of AALL conferences. I didn’t know anybody besides the people I worked with, but they all knew lots of other people. I still remember the sting of seeing a couple of librarians I had met earlier engaged in conversation in the lobby bar, asking if I could join them, and being told “no, we’re having a private conversation.”
The problem with conferences–every conference I’ve ever attended–is this: the organizers, the insiders, the old boy/girl network, need to constantly remember to make newer participants feel welcome and help them become contributors to the conference and its activities. AALL is getting better at this, with the Mentoring Program, and I always try to go out of my way to introduce myself to new librarians I haven’t met before. I’ve always given my students and new librarians an assignment for their first AALL meeting: they have to collect at least 25 business cards from other librarians. Maybe we senior librarians should do something similar: we should all try to collect at least 25 business cards from newer librarians we haven’t met before.