February 22, 2008 at 12:31 am #7989jschinkerKeymaster
And so I’ve been thinking about this little community that’s grown
up here. I’ve been trying to figure out why so many people have found
the site frustrating to newcomers. And yet, at the same time, we find
ourselves growing, with new people becoming active, full
participation in the Academy, and a growing number of regular
I always hear Dave in the back of my head (a sure sign that I need
professional help). "Who is the audience?" he would ask.
"For whom are you designing this web site?" After a
discussion characterizing lots of types of visitors, we invariably
end up with the "all of the above" answer. We want to
appeal to everyone who might drop by. And of course, that’s
While this may not be Earth-shattering (or, as some would put it,
groundbreaking), it helps me to think of our community as being
comprised of four groups of people:
Listeners are the consumers
of our shows. Most of them don’t contact us at all. But we have
hundreds of people listening to the shows on the web site, and
countless more subscribing to the RSS podcast feeds. This is by far
the largest part of the community, but because they’re silent,
they’re often ignored.
Participants show up for
the shows. Most were probably listeners first. Then they decided
they would join us for the live show. They jumped in the chat room
and now they listen live, make occasional comments, and — once in a
while — participate in the discussion.
Webcasters want to do this
webcasting thing. Maybe they were participants first. Maybe the
jumped in to one of the webcastathons. Maybe they joined the
academy. But they have a voice, and something to contribute. They’re
motivated to work out the techy stuff necessary to get their own
shows. Or, like me, they just started showing up and taking over
someone else’s show.
Community Leaders are concerned about building and
sustaining this EdTechtalk/Educationbridges multinational
conglomerate we’re putting together here.
We must concern ourselves with two questions. How do we meet the
needs of these four audiences? And how do we help people transition
from one level to another?
If we look at the whole of the community, I would guess that 90%
of the people who are involved with EdTechTalk are listeners. I’m
always amazed at the number of listens each show gets right on the
site. Those numbers don’t count the people who subscribe in iTunes or
Juice or some other podcast catcher. There’s a lot of people out
there. If I thought about doing EdTechWeekly in a room with 1,000
people, instead of in an upstairs bedroom by myself in a rocking
chair, I’d probably take the show a lot more seriously.
Who are these people? We don’t really know. Many of the people who
are now more involved in the community were once in this group, so we
can glean a little insight from them. I was in this group for more
than a year. They see this as professional development, or
entertainment, or… whatever. They get something out of it. They’re
out there somewhere riding on the long tail. They don’t think they
would find as much value in participating live. Maybe they’re in an
inconvenient time zone. Maybe they’re trying to find balance between
work/school/home/computer, and their time is better spent elsewhere.
It’s okay that everyone doesn’t participate live, or want to start
their own shows. We wouldn’t be able to handle that many people
anyway. But we still want to be inviting for those who want to get
The transition from listener to participant is perhaps the
hardest. The web site works reasonably well for the listener. I’m not
saying that it couldn’t stand some improvement, but it does list the
freshest content first, and the embedded Flash player makes it easy
for anyone to listen to the archived shows. The place where people
have trouble is when they try to tune in to a live show. The
technology may be different depending on the show. The chat room
requires a login, even though it doesn’t require a login. Users don’t
have to register on the site, but some of them don’t know that.
We talked about making the live page the main page for the site.
This would be cool if we could do it in a way that makes sense when
we’re not doing live webcasting, and if we can only emphasize the
tools in use at any given time. We also have to be careful not to
alienate the listeners in the process.
The participants — loosely defined — are the people in the chat
room during the show. Maybe half of them (a guess) stop here. They
show up for one or two shows during the week. Maybe they come and go.
Maybe they’re loyal to one particular show. They share some comments
in the chat. If invited, they may Skype in to a postshow once in a
while. Many of them may not have Skype or headsets or reliable
broadband. Some are happy to just click on the links in the chat and
read what others are saying during the show. Others are baffled at
how the show hosts can multitask so well.
Once people get to the participant level, they’re fine. They "get"
the community at that point. They understand what these crazy people
are trying to do. Again, maybe that’s enough for them. They don’t
need their own shows. It’s enough to listen to what others are
saying, add a comment now and then, and move on with their lives.
Webcasters are a different lot. They have something to say. Maybe
they have a unique perspective that we’re not addressing already.
Maybe they like the challenge of doing a show. Maybe they listen to
those goofs on Sunday night and think "surely, I can do better
than that." They’re driven. They help each other out. They go
through the academy. They’re drawn to the technological challenges.
They’re the heart of the community. They’re also a serious minority.
There are maybe half as many webcasters as there are participants.
These people need a different kind of site, but not too different.
A webcaster for one show is a participant for another, and probably a
listener for others. Still, they need access to different tools to
post content and access streams and get help. This access comes
through accounts on the site. It may be the case that people don’t
need accounts until they get to this level.
Handling the transition from participant to webcaster is one of
our strengths. Thanks to the foresight of Jeff, Dave, and others, the
Webcast Academy was born to serve just this function We need to
continue to foster this program and continue to ensure that it
remains relevant as the technologies evolve.
The last group is the group of community leaders. I think all of
these people are webcasters in some capacity, or at least show hosts,
who I put in the same category. These are the people who have moved
beyond the educational technology and into the realm of community
building. They’re the people who are struggling with the issues of
sustainability, and writing grant proposals, and talking about web
site redesigns, and exploring new technologies to make all of this
easier. These people believe that we have something very special
here, and they want to see it continue to grow in a sustainable way.
These are the people who are still reading this really long post, and
who will add their own thoughts if I ever get to the point.
From the web site perspective, they need the site to be as
self-sustaining as possible. They don’t need substantially more
functionality from the site than the webcasters, but they need to
make sure the keys to the car are in the hands of those who are doing
the driving. For this group, it’s not necessary to reach out and try
to help them along the way in a mentor/mentee sort of way. In a lot
of cases, these are the people doing the reaching out.
So the web site has two states – the anonymous site and the
logged in site. The anonymous site needs to focus on the listeners
and the participants. If we can find a way to highlight the
participate features on the main page when we’re webcasting, and
highlight archived shows when we’re not, we could go a long way
toward meeting these needs.
The logged in site – the site people see once they’ve logged in
– is for the webcasters and community builders. This side still
shows the live tools and the archived audio, but also has a lot of
other stuff. It is perhaps less friendly to the newbie, but more
efficient for the veteran.
It should be also noted somewhere that we also need to address the
non-listeners. The people landing on the site who have no idea what
we’re about need a bit of orientation. We’ve already talked about
that, and we’re sure to have further discussions about it in the near
Here are some things we should consider:
- Different chat room. The logging in thing is confusing to a lot of
people. Plus, it’s the one piece of software we have to pay a
subscription for. I know others have looked for better alternatives
without success. There has to be something out there.
- Live tools on the home page. But it has to be done in a way that
is inviting and not overwhelming. We need to talk a lot about this.
- Introductory media. Who are we and what is this all about? We need
promos for the various shows (maybe one minute of audio per show). We
need help for the new listeners and new participants. The idea of an
occasional “welcome to edtechtalk” show is a good one.
- Inviting others. Actively invite people to participate. Get new
teachers to listen. Invite listeners (they’re already listening) to
participate live. Help keep the vibrant community by continuing to
grow at a reasonable pace.
I’ve rambled on enough here. It’s time for someone else (you?) to
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