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Where’s the public in public broadcasting online?

Ok, so I’m blogging this a day late, but the one who keeps coming up a dollar short online is public broadcasting because neither NPR or PBS are enfranchising their audiences to build communities. How did MySpace get positioned to become the biggest clearinghouse of unsigned musical acts online? How did YouTube become a billion-dollar video powerhouse in less than a year? Because they gave the PUBLIC a platform and the people not only got in the game, they changed the rules. The Internet is the platform that can truly deliver the promise of what public broacasting SHOULD be. So why am I still tuning out annoying pledge breaks as I hit the paypal donate button on the grassroots podcaster sites?

NPR has a legit claim to be the podcasting giant, but they got there by shovelling all things broadasted to mp3. Ask newspapers how well the shovelware is working. With their legacy, brand and affiliate structure, public radio should own all things audio online by providing a web 2.0 service-oriented podcasting and community site to allow “members like you” to sound off, rock out, jam on, and get your groove on. Thank you. You know your niche, it’s sound, now own it.

But at least NPR has a strategy and has carved a very nice niche for itself in the newsscape. I miss audio theater, variety and music, but I stand on my seat and applaud them for bringing another alternative to the increasing homogenous information diet. I have no idea what PBS is doing online except for producing the most confusing jumble of microsites and out-of-date program guide I have ever seen. Some of the problems are due to the decentralized structure: Most nationally televised content is produced by a handful of PBS stations who naturally are responsible for digital presence. Still, content sharing, nodal structures and collaboration are the earmarks of the Web, and if PBS stations can’t play together, that’s just not right. The very concept of public broadcasting should be a natural fit with the open source philosophy.

So where is the content collective? Why is former MTV VJ Adam Curry better at building community than radio and television stations that depend on the community for their very existence? Public broadcasting online should be the ultimate long tail of user-contributed content, with a natural geographical cross matrix linking the affinity groups. Web startups kill themselves to create communities and carve space in niches, and here are organizations that have them built-in and are squandering the potential and promise by not giving the public any space to share.

It is almost as annoying as being begged to call now for fifteen minutes straight. Maybe public broadcasting is only interested in our pledges, and not our contributions.

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