Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Secret Blogger Clubs

Among my stash of blogger weapons, at least two would rather not be secret. They share another trait I like — each is totally free.

Blog Talk Radio is the podcasting platform that we use at Left Ahead! for our weekly show. LeftyBlogs is an aggregater that compiles, sorts and tracks leftist blogs by states and overall.

I use a variety of blogging and hosting platforms. I can and would kick around advantages of the free and the fee ones. That discussion is for Boston Media Makers or dinner somewhere. Today, I'd like to talk up my helpers.





I'm alpha geek in many ways, but at Media Makers I am in awe of the video sorts. Steve Garfield, video blogging diety, runs the show. Among his tools is a cell phone that takes a couple of hours of HD vid with great sound. Others in the group have kick-ass cameras that cost more than laptops.

They are super about it though and as we circle the table to talk about what we're doing or a problem we have, the are rapt. They appreciate what the others are doing and everybody seems to learn something. I remember at PodCamp when Steve interrupted a session to have me explain what BlogTalkRadio is and what I do with it.

There were numerous questions then and after the session. BTR seems to be be pretty neat, to other as well as to me.

A major part of why it's keen is that they have centralized many of the technologies and processes for podcasting. You have to pick up their procedures and pay attention to the few limits. From then on it's free to record, stream, broadcast and archive podcasts.

I know the difference. I have a fancy mic, and podcast recording editing and distribution software. I've lugged them around with my laptop, recorded sessions, returned to edit them, embed labels, store them on my ISPs' servers or a free service, and configured and reconfigured the players.

This is easier. It is also far less flexible. Its limit include:
  • You can only do one show a day.
  • The shows are limited to 120 minutes each.
  • Once recorded, you can't edit them on BTR or offline and upload. What you say is what you get.
  • Hosts and guests from our area call into a NYC number, so it takes cell-phone minutes.
  • Host, guests and call-in speakers cannot exceed six total. Someone must hang up or be disconnected to bring in a new speaker.
Practically as well, you need a blog or access to someone's to promote your shows. BTR appears to have a few thousand shows, many of them weekly like ours and some daily. Finding stuff is like surfing cable TV in a new city.

We have pretty good readership on Left Ahead! We tell people what's coming up and particularly who's coming on when we have guests. We can also promote on our individual blogs, this one, Left in Lowell and Ryan's Take. I don't promote LA shows on Harrumph or my other sites.

To understand BTR, let's walk through a show.
  1. We set up an account, in our case with an obvious name (lefties).
  2. We try to have guests and doing so means picking a subject and guest, and getting the guest to call in at our date and time.
  3. One of us signs onto BTR, goes to the Add a new segment area, and fills in the particulars of the show — guest with details, length, date, time, keywords and so forth. (I'm puerilely fond of adding a little sound clip to start a show. That choice is on the same screen.)
  4. We copy the URL of the resulting show. This is the address for anyone wanting to listen to the show live. We make sure the guest gets this by email.
  5. Come show day, the main host connects to BTR, and loads the switchboard window. Then a few minutes before show time, the host calls into the hosting number.
  6. In our case, the co-hosts call in the guest number.
  7. On the switchboard, the callers' numbers appear. The host clicks the mic icon beside a number to connect the call. (Anytime, the host can click a call mute or disconnect one; I've only had to do that a couple of times.)
  8. We talk and when the show is over, we hang up.
  9. Within a half hour, the show is available on BTR at our lefties area.
Poof. There's a podcast. You need do nothing more. If you feel you can't or don't want to bother with the underlying technology, BTR is a fine answer.

You can direct people to a show in a blog post or email. BTR stores your shows, allegedly forever, and has no storage size limit. (Being the anal type I am, I save off each podcast and have our 19 months of them in hand.)

We do go through extra steps though, assuming the LA readers are more likely to come to our site than click through BTR later. Our stats back that up. On our site, we have an archive from the beginning.

This joint blog/podcast thingummy uses WordPress and PodPress as well. That comes with a player. So, the short post describing a podcast has icons at the bottom to play or download that show inside your browser. The archives have links to show files, which will let you download the file or play it on your default MP3 application.

I hand code the archives entries, and copy and paste the URL of the MP3 into the PodPress box on the blog. It takes very little time or energy, but does require a modest comfort with HTML.

We find this well worth the small effort each week on LA to get the huge time and effort savings in the rest of the process. Most guests seem glad that they don't have to go anywhere for the show or let people come in and take over their offices.

The whole process, including sign up, is revealed to your marveling eyes here.






BTR appears to have many right-wing shows, more than neutral or left. My other not-intentionally-secret club doesn't play that. You have to be a left-wing blogger to get into the LeftyBlogs game.

It does two great things for me:
  1. Exposes my writing and thinking to many people.
  2. Lets me see what pinkos elsewhere in the nation are writing and which posts are getting the most hits.
You don't need to be a blogger to use LB as a reader. It's particular fun if you are though.

BTR reports that Alan Levy and Bob Charish founded it in 2006. That makes me an early adopter, but I haven't had contact with either of them. On the other hand, the pair who run Mandate Media in Portland, Oregon, Kari Chisholm and Carrie Wynkoop, are self-identified lefties. They go through the trouble and expense of LB because they know it's the good thing to do.

LB takes the feeds of left-wing blog members, aggregates them by state (with sub-aggregation for local-only content), and presents a head and a few lines on a page per state. You can go to the combined Massachusetts page to scan for new stuff and pick what intrigues you.

After an hour or two of listing, posts that have gotten hits display how many. This in turn feeds into the Top 50 of the Day and of the Week. These nationwide rankings are a great place to see what's hot. This is a bit skewed, as the really populous states like California tend to have lots of hits on some blogs, even for mediocre insights or writing. However, some of those can be really good too and you surely would never have cruised for them without LB.

Visiting LB is like shopping a great food store (I think Balducci's in the Village), except its goods are ideas and analysis.

For generating readership, there's nothing like getting a link on UniversalHub, but LB still generated a lot of hits for me. If you are progressive or otherwise left-leaning, consider applying here.

This is where the secret club aspect comes in for LB. On the application page, Kari and Carrie tell you what you have to be and do to qualify. It's really just to publish lefty commentary or news regularly. It has to be your own work, not just pointing to another blog. You have to show a history and not be new to the biz. You can mingle food talk or a post about your wonderful boyfriend, but those can't be what you do entirely.

So far, they haven't offered me a decoder ring or shown me an LB handshake. They are a good road to readership, often by thoughtful folk who comment on posts. If you read only and don't blog, I recommend checking LB's top-50 lists regularly.

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