Interview: A Very Spatial Podcast Hosts Jesse Rouse and Susan Bergeron

By Adena Schutzberg

_Per the website, "A Very Spatial Podcast is your weekly source for information on Geography and geospatial technologies.Geography touches most things we do everyday, but we rarely even think of it.This podcast seeks to point out how it is filtering into our digital lives and daily lives." It's a half hour of news, opinion and discussion that's been running weekly for just over two months.Directions Magazine's Executive Editor, Adena Schutzberg (ABS) interviewed hosts Jesse Rouse and Susan Bergeron (J & S).

ABS: You are both geography PhD students at the University of West Virginia.Why take on this extra task?

J & S:
While we are both PhD students, we also have professional responsibilities; Sue as a project manager for a research lab in the Department of Geology and Geography; and Jesse as the geospatial technology coordinator for a collaborative GIS research center on campus.These positions create the need to stay on top of geospatial technologies while our mutual goal of teaching pushes us to maintain a broad perspective of Geography.Preparing and recording the podcast helps us to look more broadly and even discuss some topics that we wouldn't look at very often, such as our show on global warming.

Part of the reason that we started the podcast was that we felt we had something to say and a desire to be a part of this growing medium.At the recent symposium at Duke University, a presenter suggested that there are already about 15,000 podcasts out there, after barely a year.

Finally, we do it because we really enjoy it, and knowing that there are people all over the world downloading and listening to your podcast every week is a really great feeling!

ABS: Why a weekly podcast on things geographic vs.just a blog, or website or video?

J & S:
A weekly podcast allows us to have fresh content, and keep up with news and events.Also, one of the advantages of podcasts is that the listener can subscribe to the podcast feed via iTunes, Odeo or other sites and have it automatically downloaded through the RSS feed.A podcast allows subscribers to listen wherever they like, in the car, walking the dog, or just sitting at their desk.We do also have a blog and website associated with the podcast, so listeners and visitors to the site can get information in a number of ways, from interesting daily news to events and links to interesting websites and even a few columns where we are a little more verbose than in the blog entries.

ABS: What do you know about your listening audience? Are they geo-geeks or more mainstream listeners? Students or professionals? Geographically dispersed?

J & S:
Although we don't have specific demographics on our audience, we think it is safe to say that is largely comprised of more tech-savvy listeners, many of whom are probably professionals who are already familiar with blogging and podcasting in general.So, yes, probably the current audience could largely be characterized as 'geo-geeks.' We are hoping to expand to a more mainstream audience, and try to include a broad range of content, from geospatial technology topics to more general geography topics.

One thing that we are pleasantly surprised by is the global reach of the podcast and website.On our website, we have a map-based tracker that shows us where recent visitors to the website are from and, in addition to lots of people from the US and Canada, we have had regular listeners and visitors from countries as diverse as Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Scandinavia and the UK.We've had at least one or two visits or downloads from every continent, with the obvious exception of Antarctica.So, that is exciting, and also presents unique challenges to broaden our news and events coverage to be of interest to all kinds of users, which is something we really anticipated at the beginning.

ABS: Have you run into challenges talking about what are essentially visual disciplines and technologies?

J & S:
That's an interesting question.We didn't really look at the issue of geography and geospatial technologies as visually oriented, largely because we are often presenting news items, events and discussing topics like Web mapping in general terms.When discussing websites, we often include links to the sites in our show notes or as entries in the blog, so that listeners can check them out on their own.In addition, incorporating visual elements (essentially creating a videocast) would take away both the portability and the advantage of being able to listen to the podcast in the background while you're doing something else.One of our listeners even mentioned in his blog that he first listened to our podcast while on a road trip. Overall, we think we have actually avoided this issue to date as we have discussed the new technologies, by not focusing on their cartographic symbolism, but instead on their usefulness as geospatial tools.

ABS: Where might podcasting fit into geographic education? I note a vision for a Very Spatial Classroom initiative.

J & S:
We think that podcasting could definitely become a powerful tool in geographic education, and we're hoping to contribute to that movement with the Very Spatial classroom initiative that we have in mind.In late September, we attended the 1st Podcasting Symposium, at Duke University, where panelists demonstrated several projects that utilized podcasts as a companion to other educational tools, with good results.Again, the fact that the podcast is a downloadable file makes it a convenient tool for teachers to download and then play at an appropriate time in their lesson plans, allowing them to incorporate material from all kinds of sources into their own teaching schedule or for students to download and revisit topics from classroom lectures.However, one of the more innovative ways we saw it used at the symposium was for students to create their own podcasts, using it as an enabling tool and giving the student a sense of ownership and pride in a distributed product.

As podcasting expands, the types of information that can be accessed will probably continue to expand.There is already at least one initiative to prepare podcasts of professional and educational conferences, and make these available for download at IT Conversions. This included the recording and dissemination of O'Reilly's Where 2.0 conference over the summer.Beyond podcasting you already have people videocasting or videoblogging which will probably get a push as IPTV [Internet protocol TV, a method of delivering TV and on-demand rich-media content using an IP network] forces its way into the mainstream.

ABS: Is podcasting "easier" than blogging or writing? Is it a complement to it? Should vendors and professional organizations be exploring this technology?

J & S:
Logistically, podcasting can be a little tougher than blogging, because there is some work in recording and editing the audio file and providing a mechanism for downloading it.We have to have listeners in mind when we try to get as high-quality audio as possible, and we spend a surprising amount of time preparing the content for each week's episode.While we enjoy creating the podcast, it's probably not for everyone in that sense.

Creatively, podcasting and blogging are complementary, since they both are spontaneous and give real-time, unfiltered opinion and commentary, and links to news stories or websites.The strength of the podcast is that the audio discussion can be more stimulating because it's like being able to listen to a (hopefully) lively conversation about different topics that are coming up in relation to geospatial technologies and geography.For example, the release of Google Maps, Google Earth and MSN Virtual Earth has generated a lot of debate, and we can tap into that to discuss other issues and bring them back to a technology that everyone is excited about right now.

If they haven't already, vendors and professional organizations should definitely be exploring this technology.There are a number of groups, media organizations and companies that already support blogs, and other cases where employees are blogging.For example, there was a blog from the ESRI User Conference, but ESRI has not yet embraced a daily news blog that can be linked from its website.On the other hand, there are quite a few blogs maintained by employees from companies such as ESRI that should be embraced and built upon.

Published Monday, October 17th, 2005

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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