Crazy Ideas for Webcasting

Matthew Arnison maffew .a.t. purplebark .d.o.t. net
(volunteer for,, and
March 2000
Revised March 2001 to use the term "open publishing"

Some ideas I've collected from various sources from being involved in several web sites covering live events.

Crazy idea number 1: open publishing - everyone is creative, and who are we to stop them?

Old media technology creates a natural heirachy between the story tellers and the audience. The story teller has access to some piece of technology, such as a TV transmitter or a printing press. The audience don't, but they get to see and hear the product.

Somewhere along the way, this has been justified by assuming that most people aren't that creative, that having only a handful of people being able to tell stories in a city of millions is a natural way of doing things.

But is it? Surely people told each other stories before these new-fangled gadgets like printing presses and transmitters came along?

Now we have the internet. Everybody on the internet can not only choose what they want to see but also choose to tell other people things as well. It's the perfect opportunity to find out if there's actually a lot more creativity out there.

What this actually means is automation. Writing software behind the scenes that makes it dead simple for anyone who knows how to read a website, to write for it as well.

And it also means resisting the tempatation to filter what is said. If you leave the gates fully open, you will get the most fantastic diverse range of stuff, because people writing for the site know they are not being judged editorially, they will write in a more open style. When they hit publish, their story goes on the web site immediately. Only after that in the rare case that there is a glaring problem is something done to amend things.

And the experiment seems to work. Most of the dodgy articles in open submission sites I've been involved in are due to technical problems (which we can fix), and only about 1% are actually truly inappropriate. With rising audience sizes, this may become more of a problem, but there are ways to deal with this using smart software and audience participation, without going back to the old assumption that everything must be vetted by some special people before being seen.

The other thing to remember, is that in new media land, the audience is used to evaluating what they read, and deciding whether they trust it. People who post the wrong thing to an open publishing web site will stand out like a sore thumb to the readers, and are therefore easily skipped over, or voted down if you provide the tools. In this way, it's not nearly so much of a problem as all the inappropriate stuff thrown at us on broadcast media, where the audience has little choice but to sit thorugh it or turn it completely off. The fact that most people increasingly distrust the mainstream media is just one more reason why people are turning off the telly and getting creative on the internet.

Gathering a bunch of hot diverse stories like this means your website will attract sister sites, who will skim off the stories they think are best for their audience.

Crazy idea number 2: the art of frozen media nuggets

Webcasts are about helping people who can't be at an event physically to join in anyway. To help shift time and space, the best webcast will snap freeze the juiciest parts of a live event in manageable pieces. Text and images are the most immediate and accessible for the widest audience. Audio and video have only 1% of the audience, but a much bigger impact for those who have the technology. Good software will help you do all of these.

Crazy idea number 3: to do this well you have to use free software

You never know where the next brilliant programming idea is going to come from. If we are into a more democratic media, then we should be using democratic media tools. The internet is built on free software (otherwise known as open source). The specialised software used to automate webcast sites needs to continue that tradition.

Free software lets all kinds of people collaborate on programming. It elliminates bottlenecks in terms of who has access to the software, and who can improve it. It can take advantage of a heritage of decentralised software development, with tools designed for global collaboration. Free software made it possible for me to be heavily involved in the Seattle USA November 30 webcast ( even though I've never been to Seattle.

Free software is accessible, and changable, for use in developing countries as well as rich countries (see Development, Ethical Trading, and Free Software). Free software supports open standards so that as many people as possible can be both audience and story teller.