Podcamp Boston feature – Version 1

August 29, 2008

This is the first version of the Podcamp Boston feature I prepared for a client earlier this summer. Sometime over the weekend I’ll share the second version of this article.

Podcamp Boston 3 – A Tech-Centric Event About Making Connections
by Jeff Cutler

Podcamp Boston is a blank canvas where tech professionals, bloggers, podcasters and anyone interested in new media can paint a masterpiece.

That’s how Podcamp co-founder Christopher Penn described the opportunities offered at this annual unconference, the third edition of which took place in Boston July 19-20 at Harvard Medical School’s Joseph Martin Conference Center.

Penn, Chief Technology Officer at the Student Loan Network, explained the unconference(cq) model as a “conference put on by its participants.” Podcamp is an event where people can meet, collaborate and learn about media and the technologies people are using to communicate.

Of the 466 paid registrants for this year’s event, many have their own blogs or podcasts (see sidebar).

In geek-speak, this material…be it videos on YouTube, blog posts online, or even downloadable audio…is all classified as content. The people at Podcamp are a self-described collection of content creators and media makers.

But Podcamp is more than a gathering of geeks, and an attendee need not have her own podcast or video blog to participate. Podcamp is part of a movement focused on the way people connect with others, how they entertain themselves and how they share information.

There have now been 41 editions of this unconference worldwide beginning with Podcamp Boston in September 2006.

Chris Brogan is the other Podcamp co-founder and he believes that an unconference is ideal for people to learn about technologies that allow them to connect with others. He contends that Podcamp offers something for everyone, especially people new to using technology.”

“Who we’re trying to reach are the people who we think need to know more about this media,” he said. “So we might reach into businesses, we might reach into educators, we might reach into healthcare, and places where you would not expect your attendee base to come from for an event about media.”

In the hallways at Podcamp, you can’t walk 30 feet without encountering technology. iPhones are commonplace and session updates are handled by sending out alerts via a group text-message service called Twitter.

Many have attended a Podcamp previously, but they come to Boston out of their desire to stay connected with the podcasting world.

Adam Weiss began listening to podcasts in 2003 and helped organize the first Boston Podcamp. This Boston resident attended Podcamp Boston 3 to stay on top of frequently changing methods and technologies in podcasting. For Weiss, this is more than a hobby, it’s his job.

Weiss used to create audio podcasts for the Museum of Science. It was a low-cost way to share science knowledge with a broad audience. It gave science fans a resource they could download and enjoy at their leisure. And it gave the Museum another way to connect with the community and add value to traditional exhibits.

Weiss now makes his living as a podcast consultant and his current projects include audio walking tours of different cities – http://www.audisseyguides.com – and a regular interview-based podcast called Boston Behind the Scenes, http://bostonbehindthescenes.com. This show has featured everyone from Duck Tour drivers to a homeless man Weiss saw regularly during his morning commute.

While these behind-the-scene interviews might attract a small audience, Weiss said that NPR and major broadcasting networks make their programs available in podcast form and their audiences measure in the thousands.

Weiss explained that podcasting is becoming more common, as is the sharing of information at an unconference model like Podcamp.

“It’s starting to become a lot more mainstream,” he said. “So you get a mixture of the people who really know what they’re doing and know what they’re talking about – the geeks again – but also you get a lot of people who want to learn about this. One of the exciting things about an unconference is that it’s either cheap or free, and everybody arrives as equals. So you can go, even if you don’t know anything, and just talk to these people who are experts in the field.”

One such expert is Steve Garfield, a video specialist who lives in Jamaica Plain. Apart from Garfield’s willingness to share video and photoblogging techniques, is his genuine interest in attendees.

“What I get out of these Podcamps is meeting new people and making new relationships with new people,” said Garfield. “And also making existing relationships I have with people stronger.”

Those types of connections are common at an event that has been built on the collaborative energy present in the Boston tech community. According to Brogan, “Boston has a really great tech scene.”

He mentioned the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, MIT’s media labs and a number of meet-ups (informal gatherings of like-minded people) as examples of how Boston nurtures advances in the adoption of technology.

“There’s a lot of technologists and a lot of media makers and a lot of forward-thinking people on the Boston scene,” said Brogan. “Adding in the newer wave of social media users like PR and marketing types, there’s quite a groundswell of people really passionate and interested in some aspect of making media, distributing media and using content to build relationships.”

That passion has spawned similar events all over the world. After attending an earlier Podcamp Boston, Phil Campbell, founder of http://www.me.dm, decided to establish an unconference for users on the other side of the Atlantic. He raised nearly £10,000 and Podcamp UK took place last September.

“The thing that happens at Podcamps,” said Campbell. “Is that the people who are looking for something tend to organically gravitate toward the people who can make those things happen.

Penn explained that through the use of Google, iChat, Twitter, email and other technologies, people are more knowledgeable and connected than they ever were before.

And it’s through the use of these utilities and the techniques learned at Podcamp, that people are communicating with others and painting their own technology masterpieces every day.


Jeff Cutler is also a podcaster and is halfway through a one-year writing sabbatical. His progress reports are available at www.jeffcutler.com. Jeff can be reached via email at jeff@jeffcutler.com.

If you have comments or questions about the event, please leave them here in the comments section. If you’d like to have me cover an event for your publication, send me an email.

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