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January 30, 2006

Monday Round-up

Wow, tomorrow's the last day of January already? This month has flown by...

1. We crossed the 2,000 member mark last weekend. It took us about 11 months to get our first thousand members...and only 45 days to get our next thousand. Fun to see the growth. Thanks to all of you who just recently signed on!

2. Saw some cool buzz over the weekend about our Free Audiobook of the Month club. Several people blogged about it and I wanted to say thanks to Wynn, Phil, BK and Gary for the mentions (as well as anyone else out there who's linked to us). We appreciate it!

3. Our 1st Anniversary promotion ends at the end of the day tomorrow. If you didn't catch it in this blog post, we're giving away $12 gift certificates to promote our first twelve months in business. So if you've been itching to buy an audio book or two there's no time like the present. :)

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January 28, 2006

My Goal? To Bring TED to You

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Twice a year there's an amazing conference called the that takes place. It's an astounding collection of people and speakers. In the past it has featured such speakers as Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Frank Gehry, Jane Goodall, Billy Graham. Here's a short introduction. And here's a list of just a few of the people who will be speaking this year:

Nicholas Negroponte - Founder and Director of MIT's Media Lab
Al Gore - Former Vice President
Tony Robbins - Motivational Speaker Extraordinaire
Rick Warren - Author of Mega-Best Seller The Purpose-Driven Life
Bill Joy - Co-Founder of Sun Microsystem

It's an amazing line-up. I love everything about it. And plan to attend one day.

But here's the problem with the TED Conference. They cap registrations for each conference at about 1,000 people and it costs $4,400 to attend. And while I totally understand why it's so expensive and exclusive the fact of the matter is that it leaves the other 6.5 billion of us out in the cold.

What do I propose?

Record the TED conference on digital audio and high-definition video and give it away for free.

Crazy you say? Yup, just crazy enough that it might work. It's one of those ridiculous goals that I think would get a lot of people fired up.

But wouldn't this destroy the market for TED tickets? Nope, it would work just the opposite. The Super Bowl is televised for free. Does that prevent people from paying a ton of money to go to the game? Hardly. Music from the most popular rock stars can be found for free on all the file sharing sites. What's happened to the demand for tickets to rock and roll shows?

Consistently throughout time it's been shown that when you give content that has a corresponding live event the demand for the live event almost always increases. My guess is that if you gave away the audio and video from TED you'd find that you could command $10,000 or more for a ticket due to the increased popularity and buzz that the conference would receive.

And imagine the difference it would make in the world.

Imagine firing up a speech from James Watson (you know, the guy who discovered the structure of DNA) or Craig Venter (the guy who mapped the human genome) on your way into work in the morning. Or sinking into your couch after a long day and watching a presentation from Jimmy Wales (The Founder of Wikipedia), Steven Levitt (Author of Freakonomics) or Bono (actually you can do that last one here). All past TED speakers. All with a mission to push the world forward.

Can you imagine a child in Africa being able to sit down in front of a computer and learning from all these people? Or a person in the midst of sorrow or depression being so inspired by these intellectual and philosphical giants that they decide to change their lives for the better? It's possible. More than that, it's necessary.

We need millions of people tuning into TED in the morning on the way to work instead of Howard Stern.

We need those same people replacing some of their daily diet of mind-numbing television programming with TED or something like it.

TED represents the best of what's out there when it comes to content.

And sadly only 1,000 people will experience that next month.

I want to change that. Help me in my goal to bring TED to the masses. Send an e-mail to tedfeedback@macromedia.com (the only e-mail that I have for them, if you've got a better one let me know!). Join in on a conversation about this over at or in our forums (link below). Or drop me an e-mail at jon@learnoutloud.com and tell me how you think we can do this.

The impact this could have is tremendous. The technology is ready and willing to make this a reality. The need for this type of infomration to be disseminated to the world is real.

Let's make this happen.

 

January 26, 2006

A Microsoft "iPod" in the works?

Business Week reports that Microsoft just might have its own version of the iPod in the works.

The Bug in Microsoft's Ear

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January 26, 2006

Our First Anniversary!

It's hard to believe that we launched LearnOutLoud.com only a year ago. We've been working our tails off here to try to find you the best in audio and video content that's both educational and inspirational and we're really excited about a lot of the things that we have in the works for 2006.

We've been working very hard on a new service called TeachOutLoud which is currently in private beta. You'll be hearing more about that soon. Our Free Audio and Video Directory is expanding rapidly (638 titles at last count). And traffic to our forums is starting to pick up.

To kick off our second year right and celebrate the last 12 months we're running a promotion between now and the end of the month. If you place an order of $30 or more between now and the end of January we'll send you a $12 gift certificate for a future order. If you've never ordered from us before this is a great opportunity to give it a try. We have over 2,000 audio titles on CD and cassette and an ever-expanding number of titles available for download. To check out what we've got go to the following link:

http://www.learnoutloud.com/Sale-Section

We'll send out the gift certificates automatically so it's super easy. Thanks for helping celebrate our first anniversary with us! We look forward to what the rest of 2006 will hold!

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January 23, 2006

600+ Free Audio and Video Titles!

We crossed another century mark over the weekend as we now have 600+ titles up in our Free Audio and Video Directory. It's quickly becoming a really cool collection of content. One of the things that I like best about it is that it's hand-picked by the staff here at LearnOutLoud. We don't guarantee that there won't be any sub-standard content (after all it is a free directory) but we think we've done a pretty good job of filtering out the garbage.

Here are a few titles that we've added recently:

-A professionally narrated production of Siddhartha which is the first release in our new Free Audiobook of the Month club. More on that later...

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Visits Grace Cathedral and The New Negro, a couple of rare online videos of Martin Luther King, Jr. that we put up as part of our MLK Out Loud page.

-An audio version of The Declaration of Independence of the United States of America, one of many titles from Librivox that we recently added to the site. A note of caution: While some of the Librivox titles are good others are harder to listen to. Since this often varies on a per-chapter basis (different chapters often have different narrators) we've decided to include them for now.

We hope you enjoy and look forward to reaching the 700/800/900/1,000 mark soon!

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January 20, 2006

More Reasons for Being

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I recently returned from a three week stay in Ghana, West Africa, where I trained several non-profit organizations how to build websites. Over and over again I was reminded how much we in the West take our wealth for granted.

This is the start of an inspiring blog post from Rob who writes the Software By Rob. It's a highly interesting account of his stay and well worth reading. And while I wouldn't disagree with anything he has to say I would offer one addendum: I also think that we in the West take our education for granted.

Consider this story Rob relates about one of the gentlemen that he worked with and to whom he recommended a $15 computer training book.

15 bucks. The guy works 40 hours a week at an IT training facility and can't afford a $15 computer book. He's not starving. He's not living in a mud hut on the side of the road scraping to feed his family. But $15 is probably a week's salary for him, maybe more. At 83 times the minimum wage this book would cost $427 in the U.S., and the book was actually an old edition (from 2001), which as most of us know is almost worthless in the world of computer programming. If he wanted a current edition he would have to pay three times that if he could find it at all.

Rob then asks the question "Does this seem wrong to anyone else?"

Yup. It does to me. It should to most everybody.

He goes on to say:

For destitute poverty, providing food, clean water, shelter, and medical care are the most critical needs. There are many organizations that provide these services to the poor, and they help remedy a dire need in the world. But once these needs are met, the person's information poverty must be addressed.

The phrase "information poverty" has now been added to my vocabulary. At the end of the day I think it is information poverty that lies at the heart of Africa's problem. Until you attempt to solve that all of the money being spent on all of the other things won't have the impact they could have. I won't spoil much more of the article (go read it!) but Rob talks about Africans could help to climb out of poverty if they had the technology to sell their goods on the global market. He uses the example of Ghanian drum-makers selling their wares through eBay or Yahoo! Not that far-fetched in today's age of technology...and a lot more fulfilling than buying some crap trinket from some faceless department store.

At the end of the day the twin potential powers of education and technology offer an incredible opportunity to make a real and lasting difference in the world. As I blogged about before, Technology + Education = Productivity = Progress. And I tip my hat to everyone else who sees the potential here for technology and education to empower people.

To Doug Kaye for his tireless work on the which will Change the World by bringing cutting-edge, innovative conversations to your headphones.

To Jimmy Wales for his vision and dedication to , the online encyclopedia and services that Change the World by providing increased access to information. (Note: In his personal appeal for donations to the Wikimedia Foundation, he lists he reason for being as "the child in Africa who is going to use free textbooks and reference works produced by our community and find a solution to the crushing poverty that surrounds him.")

To Wynn at the Stingy Scholar blog and Tyler at Textbook Revolution for their passion for Changing the World through increased access to educational materials (join our conversation on that very subject here).

To Brian Johnson and the rest of the gang at who are creating social networking tools that will connect people serious about Changing the World and empower them with the technology to actually do it.

And to the many others out there who want to leave a brighter, more hopeful and more educated world to the generation to follow.

Have a fantastic weekend everyone and if you feel the urge please take a few minutes this weekend to appreciate the access you have to technology and education. It's an incredible blessing but one that most of us (myself included) rarely acknowledge.

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January 19, 2006

The end of boredom

Was cleaning out the ol' Bloglines tonight and remembered that I wanted to blog a Cuban post from last week. Here it is:

The end of boredom

A snippet:

Portable media devices, whether Ipods, portable gaming devices, phones with all their features, or whatever have solved what has been a generations old nuisance for all of us, boredom.

We have our little devices and now we are never bored. We dont find ourselves staring off into space unoccupied, wondering what to do. We dont find ourselves muttering about how bored we are sitting on the train, or on a plane, trying to do anything to make the time go by more quickly.

Our little mobile devices are so popular because they are the ultimate, continuous distraction. They are the easiest cure for boredom.

Interesting ramifications for portable audio and video no doubt. I think the shift of content away from big devices (TVs, PCs, etc.) and towards little devices (iPods, PSPs, mobile phones, etc.) will be one of the most sigificant, or perhaps the most significant development this decade. By the year 2010 I think we'll have the equivalent of VOD and AOD (audio-on-demand) on our mobile phone/PDA devcies.

That will change the game entirely.

The end of boredom is near. :)

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January 19, 2006

Teaching English via Podcasting

Hmmm...three billion new capitalists...many of them hungry to learn English or improve their English skills.

Can anybody say "huge potential?" :)

Can podcasters teach English?

 

January 16, 2006

The Dirty Dozen: 12 Predictions for Digital Audio and Video

With 2006 upon everyone is offering their predictions for the year so I figured I would throw my hat in the ring, especially as it comes to the future digital audio and video. Paul Colligan and Alex Mandossian over at got me thinking about this yesterday during one of their podcasts and 24 hours later I've got a list of what I think will transpire in the next 12 months. Enjoy!

1. Device convergence will happen more quickly than anyone realizes. When you're walking down the street carrying both a cell phone and iPod (or other mobile player) and you bump into your friend who has a killer cell phone will all the same mobile media functionality as your iPod you're going to want to switch...soon. The number of people who carry a combination cell phone/media player will grow significantly through 2006 and explode in 2007. Here's a recent quote from Sun CEO Scott McNealy, "It's going to be hard to sell a lot of iPods five years from now when every cell phone is going to be able to automatically access your library wherever you are." I don't think that's going to take five years. Verizon has a phone with a 4 Gig chip on the horizon. The convergence trend will happen quickly. And when it does it's likely going to mean...

2. The iPod could become the next TiVo. TiVo is a superior product to any other DVR on the market. It has a great interface and does pretty much everything very well. Yet the general consensus is that unless something changes soon the TiVo will go the way of the dodo bird. The problem? Distribution. Requiring a consumer to buy an extra box and an extra service means asking them to jump through two more hoops than they have to when they get a DVR from their cable company. Apple will face the same challenge with the iPod. As device convergence emerges people will begin to wonder why they need to purchase a separate device and load content on it when they can just do everything through their cell phone. So unless Apple makes significant strides in the mobile phone space their domainance in the mobile media market will quickly fade.

3. will be bigger than anyone realizes. Google Video appears to be able on the cusp of doing something that no one has really done to date: Allowing individuals a significant opportunity for monetization of video content. Their current video store leaves a lot to be desired but I trust that they will figure this out...after all, they are Google. And when they give people an incentive to produce quality video content and get paid 70 cents on the dollar for their efforts the game changes significantly. They'll be empowering the little guy to sell video content much the same way that a certain little company called eBay empowered the little guy to sell products a decade ago. And we all know how well that worked out for eBay...

4. Satellite video will arrive...courtesy of the satellite radio guys. Two themes seem to be emerging in video: The ability of companies like Google Video and Netflix to meet the demand for long-tail content and the ability of Apple and others to provide space-shifted content (see Prediction #12). Space-shifting allows people to view video content whereever they are. I can watch content on the train on the way to work, when I'm at the gym, at home on my new HD TV (I wish...), etc. Who is best positioned to provide this? It just might be XM and Sirius, the satellite radio companies. Their mobile players offer a ton of potential and Sirius already has announced plans for video in 2006. It's very likely the day will soon come when people consider ditching their cable or DirecTV subs for an XM or Sirius-powered satellite video service.

5. Real Rhapsody for the spoken word will surface. I love . And their new Rhapsody-To-Go service is killer and would be a huge hit if only Apple would take down the walled garden and let Real license its DRM. But enough about music...let's talk about the spoken word. It seems to me like a huge opportunity exists to do for the spoken word what Real/Yahoo!/Napster have done for music. Don't limit someone to just a couple of audio books a month (a la ). Instead give someone the ability to listen to whatever they want, whenever they want. If you're an hour into an audio book and it sucks, fine, just jump to something better. There are a few companies right now vying for the non-Apple/Audible/iPod spoken word throne: , and . A tremendous opportunity exists for one of them to attempt to create a Rhapsody-like service for audio books. I'd be one of their first subscribers.

6. Audible will hit an unexpected snag with . Audible recently launched WordCast, their podcasting service to enable advertising and/or premium content. There's just one slight problem. If I'm an author and want to get an audio book up on Audible's website I'm looking at a royalty somewhere in the neighborhood of 15%. But if I take that same audio book and sell it through WordCast (complete with DRM if I wish) my take jumps to 80%. Does something seem strange here? I think at some point there has to be an acknowledgement that all of the "services" that traditional publishers and companies like Audible provide lose a lot of their luster in a world in which it's increasingly easy to go directly to the consumer with your products. Somehow the gap between 15% and 80% will have to close and that could be a bit painful for Audible.

7. will focus on music and will focus on personalized communication. The two podcast-related companies that received major chunks of funding in 2005 will find themselves in a bit of a tough spot in 2006. The big boys like iTunes and Yahoo! have the directory game pretty well sown up and the market for podcast production software is becoming increasingly commoditized. But all hope is certainly not lost for these companies. The most sensible thing appears to be for Podshow to focus on the music side of podcasting, the area in which Adam Curry and Ron Bloom have the most knowledge. Becoming anything and everything to musicians looking to market themselves via podcasts seems to offer an incredible opportunity for the company and I hope that's what their focus becomes. As for Odeo, Evan Williams has expressed a desire to be closely involved with facilitating personal communication via RSS. He's a visionary in that regard and to the best of my knowledge, one of the few people talking about it. To the extent that Odeo makes it incredibly easy for people to send and receive podcasts to and from friends and family I think they have a tremendous business. Like Podshow, they'll fail only to the extent that they try to dominate podcasting as a whole rather than focusing on a specific niche of what is rapidly becoming a huge industry.

8. matching will arrive on the scene. This prediction strikes me as somewhat obvious but suprisingly absent from the current dialogue. If you and I each subscribe to 20 podcasts and it just so happens that 17 of them are the same then I want to know the three you've subscribed to that I haven't and you would likely want to know the same thing. I'm not certain but this doesn't seem like rocket science. To the extent that someone launches a service that allows for this and it reaches critical mass you'll have an amazing discovery service for podcasts, something that will become even more important as tens of thousands of new podcasts come online this year. I'm not sure exactly what AmigoFish and are doing with their recommendation services but if they haven't incorporated OPML matching yet it would be a great idea. And get Netflix to do this for movie queues while you're at it... :)

9. Many "mini" multimedia portals will be launched. Music artists have fans. Many fans will buy whatever the artist is selling (hence, $40 concert T-shirts). Artists set up fan clubs. Fan pay annual fees for "goodies." Everyone is happy. Now why not do this for authors, gurus, etc. Why shouldn't a Tony Robbins or Tom Peters have their own multimedia portal? You could pay $20 a month and have access to exclusive audio and video content, RSS feeds and other stuff that fans of these individuals would eat up. A lot of big names could literally bring on thousands or tens of thousands of subscribers overnight. Do the math and consider that almost all of this revenue falls directly to the bottom line and you can see that we're talking about a huge opportunity here. Companies like , , , and many others are already doing something of this nature for collections of content. Multimedia portals around individuals are next.

10. Podcast prioritzation will become a reality. I want to be able to communicate to my media player that I have a 45 minute drive ahead of me and have the media player automatically figure out the best content to deliver to me based on the amount of time I have, the latest content that's been loaded to my player and the preferences that I've given it ahead of time. Sound farfetched? It's not. In fact, is offering something very close to this right now. The only problem with their system is that they haven't incorporated prioritization into podcast feeds yet, just for the news feeds they offer. If they (or someone else) offers the ability to give me a "custom commute" I'll sign up in a heartbeat. When that happens manually locating which podcasts you've recently put on your iPod, which you've listened to, calculating how much time you have to listen and how long each episode is...all that will seem so 2005.

11. Live event content will start to tap its true potential. Every day, around the U.S. and around the world many thousands of people say things worth listening to in classrooms, seminars, conferences and other forums. A very small percentage of that content is recorded. An even smaller percentage is distributed to a wide audience via the Internet. Why? You tell me. I haven't been able to figure it out yet. If this content wasn't worth listening to or watching people wouldn't pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to attend these events. And while there are some benefits of attending a live event there are also some significant drawbacks. I think the market for the recording and distribution of live events is an incredibly huge one and hope that 2006 is the year when many people wake up to this. We're hoping that efforts like Doug Kaye's and our soon-to-be launched LearnDirect service will help provide the match that starts the fire.

12. New words will be coined and gain widespread adoption. This list of predictions wouldn't be complete without a prediction for a few new words that will enter the lexicon in 2006. Here are some that I think will enter the dialogue this year as well as a couple that I'm definitely hoping will. :)

Space-shifting - As previously mentioned, this is the ability of content to be with you whereever you are. To the extent that content can be consumed anywhere it's value increases tremendously. That's incredibly important for those providing content and distribution channels to understand.

Dead-time Learning - Thanks to Paul and Alex who've used this term on their show for a while. Dead-time learning refers to turning time that is normally thought of as intellectually unproductive (e.g., commuting, exercising, etc.) into prime learning time. It's taking your hour commute and using it to learn a new foreign language, study for a certification exam or stay on top of trends in your industry. By doing so you'll free up more time to spend with your friends and family, devote to your hobbies and do the things that you previously thought you didn't have time for.

DRM-free - People already use the term "DRM-free" but I'm hoping/predicting that it will become thought of as more of a feature in 2006. People will start to actively seek out DRM-free sources of content and show an increasing willingness to pay more for content that hasn't had DRM applied to it. It won't be because they're looking to illegally share such content but rather because they want to have the versatility to share content they legally purchased across the increasing number of devices they own.

Learning Out Loud - My wish for 2006 is that people increasingly talk about their desire to "learn out loud" which I define as using audio or video content for personal and professional development. Part of this is a selfish desire as the CEO of LearnOutLoud.com and part of this is (hopefully) a very altruistic desire to see everyone become more educated this year. I truly feel that education represents the rising tide with the potential to lift all boats. And I also feel that in an era of globalization and increasing competition "lifelong learning" becomes less of an option and more of a requirement if you want to stay ahead of the curve and possibly even keep your job.

So we'll see how this all shakes out. At the end of the day I'm more excited than 2006 than I've ever been excited about an upcoming year and many of the people I've talked to lately have expressed the same sense of hope and optimism. There are so many cool technologies coming down the pipe and the opportunity to effect positive and lasting change in the world is more real than it's ever been.

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January 13, 2006

MLK Out Loud

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When people ask me "Why audiobooks?" there are a few common responses that I'll give. It's a great alternative or supplement to reading. You can listen while you're driving or at the gym. Sometimes it's easier to remember what you hear than what you read. But there's one another one that's really powerful:

Some listening experiences just can't be duplicated in print.

Probably the best example I can give of this is listening to A Knock at Midnight, an outstanding collection of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s sermons. I mean I guess you could read these but I doubt that it would move you the way listening to King himself preach would. When I flip this on my iPod (something I find myself increasingly doing) I almost immediately get goosebumps. I'm not sure quite what it is about King's preaching that does that to me.

As most of you here in the United States know, Monday is Martin Luther King Day. For many people it's just another freebie holiday that they probably won't think twice about. And that's a shame. Because it's an awesome opportunity to learn more about an amazing man who has done so much in the struggle for justice and equality here in the U.S. and around the world.

Today David put the finishing touches on MLK Out Loud, an attempt on our part to bring together all of the audio and video content from or about King that we could find. There is a ton of great stuff linked from the page including biographies, documentaries, collections of sermons and of course King's stirring "I Have a Dream" speech. We've tried to find as many free audio and video resources as we could too knowing that there are a lot of teachers who would love to use them to relay the power of King's message to their classes.

I wanted to say a special thank you to American Rhetoric which hosts several of King's speeches for free. If you have a minute, drop Michael Eidenmuller who runs the site a quick line and tell him thanks.

In the "I Have a Dream" speech King talks about a faith that he has. In his words:

With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

It's a faith we need more of in this day and age when King's message of brotherhood is as relevant as it has ever been.

Take some time this long holiday weekend to listen to one of his King's speeches or order one of his audio books. It's a great way to celebrate his legacy and a powerful way to learn more about the man who has touched so many lives.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone.

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