First off, I am a huge advocate for spoken word audio. I often joke that in my car, I don’t have a radio, but rather an “NPR Box” with an on/off switch, because the station never changes. When I’m not listening to talk radio, I’m listening to talk podcasts. In college, I actually managed to turn my podcast addiction into a senior thesis, exploring the “anthropology of podcasts.” I’m constantly lamenting the relative lack of attention that spoken word receives in our culture, so when I read an article about a new website offering crowdsourced storytelling, I was excited.
Broadcastr is currently in an invite-only beta release. Apparently they are actually being restrictive with invites, as I requested one almost a month ago and just received one this week. But now, after a week of fooling around and exploring the beta site, I’m able to offer my two cents.
Here is the basic premise of the site: Users can record stories directly from the website, or upload existing stories. Stories can then be pinned to a map, based on where the story took place. You can name your story and choose a picture to go with it, but other than that, it is a pretty bare-bones interface, and uploading is very simple. As a listener, you can zoom into any location on a map and view stories posted in that area, or you can do a keyword search. If you find a user that you particularly enjoy, you can subscribe to their future postings, and you can create personalized playlists. It’s extremely simple, and the map makes it a lot of fun to explore areas that you might be familiar with.
My first impression upon entering the site was, “Wow! How did they already get so much content?” Obviously, a lot of the stories posted have been culled from existing archives. (In my area in Milwaukee, there are a lot of great stories produced by the fantastic local radio station, 88Nine Radio Milwaukee.) I assumed that cultural epicenters like New York would already be populated with content, but I was pleasantly surprised to see stories in my neck of the woods too. In the second story I listened to, I even heard the voice of someone I knew being interviewed for an 88Nine story. Most of the stories are short (in the 2-5 minute range), which makes it less intimidating to listen to a story on a whim, knowing that you won’t be roped in for half an hour. (Currently, however, you cannot see how long a story is before playing it. That is something they will want to add in future updates.)
The site is remarkably fast and smooth, and very responsive. I had some minor critiques (lack of keyboard shortcuts, and the ease of accidently starting a new story while you were in the middle of listening to one), but all-in-all the UI is top notch. The site indicates that it is working on iPhone and Android mobile applications, which I feel will be essential to encouraging contributions, as it will enable users to upload stories as they happen on the go.
Obviously, the site is in limited release, and it will only continue to become more interesting as more people join and post content. It remains to be seen whether users will primarily post formalized, more produced stories, or whether instead it will be used as a sort of audio Twitter, posting short snippets on the go. This is a new territory for the social web, and I predict its future will be largely influenced by mobile applications. I’m certainly excited to follow the site’s progress, and see what develops. Request an invite here, but don’t expect a response right away. If you’ve tried it out, leave a comment and let me know what you think.