In the podcasting session at BloggerCon 3, Steve Gillmor said, “We’re never going to do any transcripts on the Gillmor Gang.” (And got applause.) He went on to say that it’s about the metadata and people’s natural voices and this and that.
By now, regular readers should see where I’m going with this. It seems that just as much of the Web has endeavored to include blind and low-vision users, it’s started building new barriers to deaf and hard of hearing users.
So, since we’re about to reach the same impasse, it seems the same plea is in order. To paraphrase Karsten Self (emphasis mine):
Google is, for all intents, a deaf user. A billionaire deaf user with tens of millions of friends, all of whom hang on his every word. I suspect Google will have a stronger impact than [laws] in building accessible podcasts.
The podcasting phenomenon has burst out very recently, and whether it fizzles out or goes supernova remains to be seen. But what it will leave in its wake, aside from a whole lot of new microphones cluttering a whole lot of computer desks, is a rush of new audio and video content coming from users — the same kind of users we now call “bloggers”. Most of these new podcasts, like audioblogs, will be either of low enough quality (the cat blogs of the audio world) or fun, but of such transient value (Dawn and Drew, Evil Genius Chronicles) that transcriptions are, perhaps understandably, not a top priority.
But the Gillmor Gang isn’t one of those shows. Gillmor went on to say that he tried to keep the shows running time long, essentially to prevent them from being digestible in short form. However, this group of people is not just sitting there filibustering just to flood the pipe. There’s real value in the topics they’re discussing, and the whole of their discourse is greater than the sum of their individual weblogs. If anybody should be seriously considering regular transcripts, it’s the Gillmor Gang.
What if a deaf user sees a topic that interests him or her, and wants to know what these subject-matter experts have to say about it? Should he or she go without simply because the moderator thinks it would disrupt the natural feel found in the panel’s voices?
Or, closer to home, what of the people who are searching for this kind of content? Should they take it on faith that a given show will talk about what they’re interested in? Or would it be better to offer them a good idea of what to expect, thereby opening up more users to the very idea of podcasting that Gillmor is so protective of? Transcripts are Google’s friend, and they’re richer in information than any metadata — and stronger than Google juice.
Why publish free transcripts when those big radio shows don’t bother, or charge out the nose for them? Because you can, and they should. There’s no better reason to one-up the pros than when there’s a need going unmet. They’d rather control how their information flows than reach a broader audience. Few podcasters have that interest.
Certainly, Steve’s right that there are bits of the discussion that are inexpressible in text. Readers of transcripts know that. I would imagine that relatively few people would be interested in a transcript, were there not other considerations in play, to wit: hearing impairment, no sound card, low bandwidth, or hostile environment. (When podcast fights pod farm, pod farm wins.) More options for consuming this kind of content is better than fewer. The solution to casting a wider net for podcasting is not the strategy of closing down alternatives. The solution is to open them up.