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 webcasts.
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 impossible.
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 more involved.
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 future.
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 say something.