This Friday and Saturday, I’ll be blogging and podcasting from the Blogging, Journalism & Credibility Conference at Harvard. Rebecca MacKinnon was kind enough to invite me so I could experiment with my new mobcasting tools; several other attendees will also have podcasting privileges on my new mobcasting site, so we’ll be able to post podcasts from our mobile phones there. Meanwhile, I’ll post blogs and other content to my main blog. Stay tuned…. -andy
Archive for January, 2005
This weekend, I wrote an essay about the concept of mobcasting — using mobile phones and blogging tools as a way for large groups of people to create audio podcasts on the same website. Ethan Zuckerman and I exchanged some ideas about it on the Global Voices blog, and I spent part of the afternoon tinkering with a variety of tools to see if I could come up with a relatively easy way to do this.
The result: a new experimental blog called mobcasting.blogspot.com. It’s a free Blogger website that I’ve set up with an RSS feed that supports enclosure tags — the key to publishing podcasts on the Internet. Now, I have the ability to give anyone posting privileges on the site, which in turn would allow them to use Blogger’s free Audioblogger.com tool. Audioblogger lets Blogger users call a phone number and post an audio blog to their blog. But since I’ve set up the blog with a podcast-friendly RSS feed, I’ve turned Audioblogger into a simple telephone-based podcasting tool. Now I just need some volunteers to contribute to the site. If anyone would like to experiment with it, contact me and I’ll give you access to the site so you can post your own telephone podcasts to it.
I could see this method being used by groups of people attending an event, whether it’s a conference, a protest or any other public gathering. Any situation in which you’d want to give a number of people the ability to podcast on the same website would apply.
How would you do it? It’s easy.
Step One: Go to Blogger.com and set up a free blog. Just follow the instructions; it basically involves creating a username and password for yourself, giving your blog a name and description, then choosing a template. The easiest method is to have Blogger host it for you; this would end up giving you a blog with a URL like XYZblog.blogspot.com, with the first part of the address depending on whatever your blog is called. For example, my mobcasting blog is located at http://mobcasting.blogspot.com.
Step Two: Post an intro message to your blog. Just say whatever you’d like to say; the point here is to get your blog’s URL working, and it won’t work if you haven’t posted anything to the blog.
Step Three: Create a podcast-friendly RSS feed for your blog. Blogger will automatically generate an RSS feed for your new blog, located at an address that looks something like http://XYZblog.blogspot.com/atom.xml. Again, the first part of the URL will be determined by whatever you named your blog, Unfortunately, this feed won’t work with podcast -subscription software, so you need to create a new feed for it. The good news is that it’s easy to fix. Simply go to feedburner.com and type in the RSS feed generated by Blogger (that’s the one that looks like http://XYZblog.blogspot.com/atom.xml). Once you’ve submitted it to Feedburner, you’ll see a long list of options for your feed. The one that’s important is the one called SmartCast, This will enable your RSS feed to support podcasts. Be sure to check it and submit it to the website. At this point, Feedburner will make you set up a free account before they’ll activate your new feed.
Step Four: Add your new feed to your website. Log into your Blogger account and click the settings button for your blog, then click the template button. You can add a link to your new RSS feed in the sidebar section of the template, near the bottom.
Step Five: Set up an Audioblogger account. Go to Audioblogger.com and sign up for audio blogging access on your blog. Just log in with your Blogger user name and password, then tell it your primary phone number and a four-digit PIN code you’d want to use when making your podcasts.
Step Six: Post your first audio blog! Call 1-415-856-0205 and follow the instructions. You’ll have to enter your primary phone number and PIN code.
Now you have your own phone-generated podcast: check your blog and you’ll find the message you just posted with your phone. Every time you call the phone number, your blog will display your message on the homepage.
Now for the final step to turn your blog into a mobcast:
Step Seven: Invite friends and colleagues to participate in your mobcast. If they’re interested in participating, you’ll need their email address to give them posting privileges. Then, log into Blogger, click the Settings tab, then the Members tab. You’ll then find a big orange button labeled “Add Team Members.” This will bring you to a form that will let you invite three people at a time; just type in their email addresses in the appropriate fields. You can repeat this process if you want to invite more than three people. When they receive the invitation email, they’ll find a link to the Blogger website that will let them create a username and password; if they’re already a Blogger member they can simply log in. Either way, they will then be able to set up an Audioblogger account and post their first podcast, following the instructions as listed above in Steps Five and Six.
And that’s it. If you just follow steps one through six, you’ll be able to create your own podcast blog, posting podcasts through your phone. And if you want to get a group of people contributing to the same podcast — a mobcast — Step Seven will take care of that for you.
If you decide to create your own mobcast, please let me know. I’d love to hear stories about how you were able to use it… -andy
I’ve been thinking a lot about podcasting over the last few weeks, particularly in terms of the role podcasting can play as a tool for civic engagement and citizen journalism. To date, many of the podcasts you’ll find online today tend to be oriented towards discussing technology, entertainment and the like. A few pioneers like Brian Russell of AudioActivism.org have started to challenge us to think about ways the medium can be used for positive social change, but otherwise, notions of civic engagement have just begun to enter podcasting discourse.
This weekend, I came up with a way to create podcasts with only a smartphone. It’s fairly straightforward for those of us with a little bit of tech savviness, but I wonder if it’s easy enough for the average Jane Q. Citizen with no previous blogging or podcasting experience. Hard to say – perhaps I’ll have to encourage a few members of the Digital Divide Network to give it a whirl and see if it’s an easy solution or not. Even if it’s not the best strategy for creating MoPodcasts (mobile podcasts) on-the-fly, at least it’s a start.
But it makes me wonder what the Internet will be like when literally anyone with a mobile phone can publish audio, video and text to the Internet. In the past I’ve written about projects like Witness.org and OneWorld TV, which empower activists and the public at large to capture socially-relevant content, from civil rights violations at protests to war coverage, with a video camera and a website to host it. But with the proliferation of video-enabled smartphones, it seems that it would be a natural progression to mobilize the millions of people who are buying these tools with an easy, no-nonsense way to capture socially-relevant footage and get it online in near-real time.
Think of the role played by people using mobile phones and SMS during the ousters of Slobodan Milosevic and Joseph Estrada respectively. Now empower them with video phones, 3G mobile telephony, and a Flickr-like tool for uploading audio and video to RSS-enabled websites.We’re no longer talking about mobile blogging or podcasting now – we’re talking about a social revolution. We’re talking about mobcasting.
What do I mean by mobcasting? Well, it’s really a portmanteau: a play on both mobile podcasting and Smart Mobs, Howard Rheingold’s notion of viral-like social coordination enabled by information and communications technologies. Smart mobs got a lot of hype last year in the mainstream media, usually in the form of surrealistic group performance art initiated over the Internet. But smart mobs are much more powerful than just a group of college kids showing up in an art gallery at 12:15pm, standing on one foot and yelling “Tevye, get off the roof!” before dispersing without further comment. Like the case of SMS use during the anti-Estrada demonstrations in the Philippines, smart mobs can be any form of group social action enabled by ICTs.
A quick example: imagine a large protest at a political convention. During the protest, police overstep their authority and begin abusing protesters, sometimes brutally. A few journalists are covering the event, but not live. For the protestors and civil rights activists caught in the melee, the police abuses clearly need to be documented and publicized as quickly as possible. Rather than waiting for the handful of journalists to file a story on it, activists at the protest capture the event on their video phones — dozens of phones from dozens of angles. Thanks to the local 3G (or community wi-fi) network, the activists immediately podcast the footage on their blogs. The footage gets aggregated on a civil rights website thanks to the RSS feeds produced by the podcasters’ blogs. (Or perhaps they all podcast their footage directly to a centralized website, a la OneWorld TV but with an RSS twist.) This leads to coverage by bloggers throughout the blogosphere, which leads to coverage by the mainstream media, which leads to demands of accountability by the general public. That’s mobcasting.
Smartphones are getting cheaper every day, and 3G networks are now commonplace in Europe and the Pacific Rim (sorry America, we’re running behind yet again, but at least community wi-fi is still a possibility). As blogging software becomes more mobile-friendly, more people should soon have the ability to create mobile podcasts without too much effort. And thanks to mobile-to-Internet services like Flickr, I hope we’ll soon see push-button-easy methods for videophone owners to capture footage and post it to podcast-enabled websites. Perhaps all the pieces are already out there and we just need to connect the dots. Either way, it won’t be a huge technological leap to reach that point. The bigger challenge will be encouraging activists and socially-conscious members of the public to embrace the idea: that they too can do their part to contribute to civic journalism.
Mobcasting. Power to the people, baby. -andy
A recent conversation on the Podcasters email list got me thinking about how to create podcasts using nothing but a smartphone — a mobile phone with Internet access. I’d used my smartphone (a Handspring Treo 600) to posts blogs and audio recordings, but it was before I’d set up my blog to create enclosure tags for my RSS feed – the key ingredient for turning an audio blog into a podcast. The enclosure tags allows MP3 player owners to use software like iPodderX to automatically download new podcasts from your blog into the MP3 player. Hence the name podcasting: iPod + webcasting.
Given that I’d had some experience as an audio blogger, it seemed like a fairly simple proposition to take the next step and create a mobile phone podcast, hopefully without requiring that much technical savvy. I picked up my phone and went into my home office; five minutes later I posted my first smartphone podcast.
Here’s how I did it.
- a smartphone with email and Web access
- a free account on Audlink.com
- a blog that supports enclosure tags and RSS feeds (such as Radio Userland or Movable Type used in conjunction with the MT-Enclosures plug-in)
Optional: Blogging software for your smartphone, like mo:blog
Getting Started: Create an Audlink Account
The very first thing you need to do is set up a free account on the website Audlink.com. Audlink is a tool that allows you to call a telephone number and leave a voicemail message that’s automatically converted into an MP3 file and placed on the Audlink website. It also has the ability to post your MP3 in a directory on your blog; this will work for bloggers using Movable Type, Blogger/Blogspot, LiveJournal, JournalSpace and Nucleus. When you set up your account, you’ll have to come up with a numeric voicemail password; this will be used to when you call the Audlink phone number to record your voicemail. You’ll also need an admin password, which you can use to access your Audlink account online and change your settings if needed.
Once your Audlink account is set up, create a new contact in your phone for the number 1 (214) 752-7621. You should also make a note of your Audlink account number and your passwords, since you’ll need these on hand whenever you use your phone to create a podcast.
Making the Podcast
Essentially, creating the podcast follows three basic steps:
Step One: Record It
Once you have your Audlink account set up, you’ll need to pick up your smartphone and call the Audlink voicemail number: 1 (214) 752-7621. Please remember this is not a toll-free number, so long distance charges will apply. After dialing the number, you’ll be prompted to key in your account number and your numerical password. Then, you’ll be able to record your voicemail. You can record a message up to five minutes in length. Since there isn’t an easy way to edit your voicemail on your smartphone once you’ve recorded it (well, at least not yet), you may want to practice what you’re going to say. If you screw it up, you can always call back and make another recording.
When you’re done with your voicemail, hang up. Audlink will then take a minute or so to process the voicemail into an MP3, which means it’s now time for
Step Two: Find It
Now that you’ve recorded your message, you’ll need to find it. Unfortunately, Audlink generates a long file name for your recording based on a timestamp (for example, http://www.audlink.com/mailbox/1587/0501151149.mp3), so there’s no convenient way you’ll know ahead of time exactly what the URL will be. So you’ll have to do one of two things to find it.
The easiest thing to do is to go to your in-box on the Audlink website. All Audlink in-boxes follow a similar pattern, like this:
The XYZ would actually be whatever your account number is. For example, my Audlink account is #1587, so my in-box URL is this:
If you’ve set your Audlink account to FTP your voicemails to a directory on your blog’s website, then you’ll want to go to that directory instead.
Whether you go to your Audlink in-box or you use a directory on your blog, you’ll have to go to that URL to find the voicemail. If this is your first voicemail, it’ll be easy to find it; just look for a file name like this:
If you have more than one voicemail in your in-box, you’ll have to figure out which one is your new recording. Since the name of each file is basically a time-stamp, you just need to figure out which one looks like the right date and time. For example, if you break down the file name 0501151149.mp3 you’ll see it means this time-stamp:
Year: 05 (2005)
Month: 01 (January)
Once you’ve figured out what the proper file name is, make a note of it. It’s not a bad idea to write it down, but otherwise you can use your phone’s copy-and-paste feature to copy the file name and then go to
Step Three: Blog It
There are various ways to blog from your smart phone. For example, some blog tools have the ability to send an email to a particular address and automatically post the text of your email as a blog entry. Or, you can use your Web browser to go to the URL you use for posting new blog entries. Additionally, there’s mobile phone software you can download into your phone for posting blog entries. For example, I sometimes use Mo:Blog, a shareware application available for the Palm operating system. It’s like a simple notepad that will post the note to your blog.
Whichever way you choose to do it, the key thing is that you’ll want to use the phone for posting a blog entry to link to your podcast. When you fill out the blog entry, create a link to your voicemail MP3 file. If you’re using Audlink, you’ll want to link to the file inside your voicemail in-box, which will look something like this:
If you’ve set up Audlink to post to your blog, the URL would look something like this:
Whichever way you do it, the key thing is to create a hyperlink that points to the voicemail URL. Then, when you post your blog entry, the blog will link to the voicemail on your blog homepage and in its accompanying RSS feed.
And that’s it. Instant mobile podcasting in three (relatively) easy steps. Happy MoPodcasting! -andy
Today on the Podcasters Yahoo group, I posted a message about some of the tools I’ve used to record voicemails and post them to the Web. Amy Gahran commented on how great it would be to create podcasts using only a mobile phone. So I decided to give it a try. The result is this podcast, which was done entirely with my Handspring Treo smartphone. I’ll explain how I did it in my next blog entry…. -andy
Late last night I finished editing a podcast called Anatomy of a CNN Interview. It’s about my adventure on Wednesday going into Boston to do an interview with CNN.
A CNN producer had called me earlier in the day wanting to talk to me about the digital divide implications of the new Mac Mini computer, Apple’s first low-cost computer. I didn’t expect to do an actual interview with them because they were hoping to do it in New York, so I went into a meeting for a couple of hours.
Coming out of the meeting I found a message from the producer asking me if I could be at a TV studio at 1:15pm; it was now almost 2pm. Frantically I called her up and asked if we could still do it; she said they’d rescheduled the studio time to 2:45pm. This gave me less than 45 minutes to get to Boston from suburban Newton — on public transportation, no less.
Since I had my iPod with me, I decided to make an audio diary about the experience, from the painfully slow commuter train, to getting lost in downtown, to the interview itself. The podcast is a bit of a departure from my previous Internet radio programs in that it’s a bit tongue-and-cheek, and it incorporates a lot of music remixes I made, courtesy of the Creative Commons/Wired Magazine music CD. All of the songs on the CD can be re-used for sampling purposes, so I took full advantage of it.
Anyway, hope you enjoy the new podcast…. -andy
I’ve just posted a new podcast called Overcoming Wikipedia’s Growing Pains. The podcast was inspired by a Wired News article talking about the challenges faced by the online encyclopedia Wikipedia as it tries to become more broadly accepted both by experts and the public.
As always, the music in the intro and closing is courtesy of the band SubAtomic Glue, used according to their Creative Commons license.
Here’s the transcript:
Hi everyone, Andy Carvin here…. Wired News ran a story yesterday regarding Wikipedia’s growing pains. The open-content encyclopedia is growing at a rate at seven percent each month, yet many wonder whether the encyclopedia will ever be seen as a “legitimate” reference resource by the general public.
Some academics like Danah Boyd from UCal/Berkeley worry about the site’s accuracy. “Usually there’s only one or two people involved in writing the entries,” Boyd said, “and you don’t know anything about who they are.” She also added that while some entries, particularly technology-related ones, are in-depth and well-rounded, non-tech entries can be hit or miss. “Guess what?” she continued. “A lot of ancient-history specialists? They’re not online, let alone involved in Wikipedia. But a lot of students are going to Wikipedia for information on ancient history.”
While these are all fair points, I get frustrated by critics who complain that Wikipedia lacks quality entries in their specific field of expertise. Because Wikipedia is a community effort, the quality of a particular entry rests entirely on whether or not there is a critical mass of expertise to author that topic. Wikipedia needs to do a better job at attracting experts to contribute to the project, while experts who poo-poo Wikipedia need to recognize that it’s incumbent upon them to volunteer or encourage their colleagues to contribute as well.
One thing that might be valuable is creating a more transparent way for Wikipedia users to judge the provenance of a particular entry by seeing who created it and their areas of expertise. As it stands right now, when you visit a Wikipedia entry, you can take a look at its edit history to see who’s contributed to the page, but you can’t always gain much insight from this information.
Take the edit history page for the term Digital Divide. Looking at this history you can see that there are at least a dozen people who’ve contributed to this page (including me, but only very minor contributions to date). In this list, there are contributors like Dusik, Stevetheman and 188.8.131.52. Of these three individuals, only one of them – Stevetheman – has a profile that leads me to information about him that allows me to make an informed judgment as to whether or not he might be qualified to contribute on this subject. (The third person, as you can see, is just an IP address — just a bunch of numbers — so there’s no way to even know who on earth they are.)
I think that Wikipedia is wonderful because everyone who’s online has the right to contribute to it. But it would be beneficial if there were more transparency in knowing who’s contributing what and why. It’s a fundamental prerequisite of information literacy: having access to enough information to make an informed decision as to whether a source is accurate and unbiased. The more information you have about the producer of a Wikipedia entry, the better you can decide for yourself whether you think the information they provide is the honest truth, a bunch of horse-hockey, or somewhere in between.
So if it were up to me – and it isn’t – here’s what I’d recommend.
- Allow anyone to contribute to Wikipedia — but require them to create a free membership first. Too many Wikipedia entries are authored by anonymous people whose only identification is their computer’s IP address, and that doesn’t help you judge them as a reliable source or not. For example, I made a very minor edit to the Wikipedia page for the Sultan of Oman, but if you look at the edit history page, you’d never know it because I edited the page without logging in, so my contribution remains anonymous.
- Encourage Wikipedians to create a bio of themselves. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy; just something that lets us know about your background, interests and expertise. For example, my user page shows that I’m the director of the Digital Divide Network, and other facts about my background. This information allows a user who visits the “digital divide” entry to make a judgment that a) I’m involved in this particular issue professionally, and b) that I may have a particular policy bias that should be considered when you read Wikipedia entries I’ve worked on.
- Make Wikipedia more welcoming to experts. Wikipedia is world-famous (okay, Internet-famous) as a place where anyone can post their own encyclopedia entry. This virtual bazaar of cyberpopulism has attracted thousands of participants, including some who think it’s their God-given right to be the only editor on a particular subject, whether or not they’re an expert. As noted in the Wired article, many experts who’ve tried to contribute to Wikipedia find themselves criticized by these people, and it turns them off. (On several occasions, I’ve felt that other Wikipedians have talked down to me and have been dismissive of my contributions because I’m not a “regular.”) How this gets fixed is a tough question, but it’s incumbent upon those of us who contribute to Wikipedia to keep an open mind and not be selfish or overly protective of our entries. If someone comes in and it’s clear they’ve got an expertise on a subject, hear them out and don’t be defensive about the entry you already created. Wikipedia should be about knowledge, not egos.
Of course, no matter what improvements Wikipedia makes, many people simply won’t trust it because it’s not entirely written by experts and can be changed by anyone else. I have a feeling it may be nigh impossible to mollify critics of this particular persuasion. Nonetheless, Wikipedia is a valuable tool for finding information when multiple references are required.
So if you’re doing a book report for school, kids, don’t necessarily skip Wikipedia just because your teacher told you that you can’t trust it. Just don’t use it as your only source. Even better: become a Wikipedian and contribute what you’ve learned to the conversation. To paraphrase Jello Biafra: Don’t hate Wikipedia — become Wikipedia… -ac
A few weeks ago, Phil Shapiro set up a new community on the DDN website called Citizen Journalist. The community is about the role that the general public can play as citizen journalists, posting blogs, podcasts and other content on the Internet to add to civic discourse. Parallel to this, Brian Russell of AudioActivism.org and I have been corresponding with each other, thinking about writing a series of DDN articles that could serve as tutorials for newbie citizen journalists on blogging and podcasting. (Dave Warlick also blogged about this yesterday in the context of student podcasting.)
I think the blogging one would be fairly straightforward, since there are lots of blogging tutorials out there, not to mention a lot of good content on what it means to be a citizen journalist. The podcasting one, however, is a bit trickier, as podcasting is still very new and there’s no one single recommended process for creating a podcast. (I imagine if you picked two podcasters at random and asked them to explain how they produce a podcast, you’d get two totally different stories, with different software and gadgets being used.)
In my response to Brian, I said it might be worth talking with a broader group of podcasters to compare each other’s podcasting methods (their podcraft, to coin a phrase). That way we could create a tutorial that would guide people based on the tools available to them – PC or make, open source or otherwise, etc.
So here’s my question: are there any other podcasters out there who’d be interested in contributing their ideas to this? If so, please go to the Citizen Journalist community, join the group by clicking the join this community link at the center of the page, and let us know what you think. And of course, anyone else interested in this issue should feel free to chime in. Don’t forget to register as a DDN member and log in if you’re not a member, since membership is required to participate in DDN communities…. -ac
David Warlick has just posted a blog called The Other End of Podcasting, in which he talks about podcasting from both a podcaster’s point of view and a listener’s POV. Interestingly, he uses my most recent podcast as a reference point (not to mention inspiration to the schematic he created, seen on the right). Dave writes this:
Last night, Andy Carvin published a very interesting podcast (a must listen), as part of his Waste of Bandwidth blog. I believe that he used an iPod with an iTalk attachment to do the actual recording, but most podcasters use more traditional microphones. He imported the audio into his computer, mixed in some music, and saved it all as an MP3 file, and added the reference into his RSS syndication file.
At the end of his essay, he makes two very important points:
The broadcast industry has been completely passed over. This is true multicasting (as opposed to broadcasting), where anyone with the skills (basic literacy skills, I maintain), and access to basic consumer technology, can share their thoughts and ideas in a compelling way to a global audience.
If virtually anyone can populate the airways (webways) with compelling content, then it becomes all the more important that we teach our children to critically evaluate the information that they encounter. We must teach children to always ask questions about the answers that they find.
In an age of rampant media concentration in which quality programming can be counted on a single hand of a cartoon character, there’s nothing more compelling than a person taking a microphone, a computer, and a few good ideas and turning it into a powerful, entertaining narrative. Hopefully we’ll start seeing more young people producing podcasts in the same way that they’ve practically cornered the blogging market.
But like Dave says, we also need to make sure we teach kids the critical thinking skills to evaluate all of this content. Podcasting will face the same criticism often thrown at blogging – that much of the stuff being produced is personal naval-gazing on unsubstantiated rumor-mongering. How do you tell when one blogger or podcaster is more credible than another? Is it simply the slickness of their product? Or is there something more tangible than that? Can we teach kids to be smart consumers — and producers — of blogs and podcasts? And do we want to remain in a situation in which probably nine out of 10 educators don’t even know what a “podcast” or a “blog” even means? (According to Lee Rainie a the Pew Internet and American Life Project, two-thirds of Internet users surveyed don’t know what a blog is. Imagine if the same survey happened amongst educators in any given school district. I shiver at the thought.
With podcasting, we have the luxury of foresight. Blogging has been around for over five years now. (Or more than 10 years, if you count those of us who slogged away coding manual HTML to create personal homepages with news updates.) What can we glean from blogging as a phenomenon – and as an educational opportunity — and apply to podcasting? What can we do to encourage a generation of smart, thoughtful podcasters?
Sorry, folks, no answers today. Just a bunch o’ questions to chew on for a while… -andy