Politics and audioblogging

I'm reading Sarah Vowell's The Partly Cloudy Patriot today. One of her stories, about media misrepresentation of an Al Gore talk to a Concord, NH, high school, suggests to me again that the mix of technologies I've been writing about lately -- including weblogs and searchable audio -- is transformative.

According to Vowell, Gore gave a really inspiring speech at Concord High in 1999. Asked how to motivate students to become politically involved, he talked about how a high-schooler in Tennessee had written to him, twenty years earlier, about illnesses in her family and strange-tasting water. Gore called for a congressional investigation and a hearing. And then he said the following, which I believe was transcribed from the video shot by the students at Concord High:

I looked around the country for other sites like that. I found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal. I had the first hearing on that issue and Toone, Tennessee -- that was the one you didn't hear of. But that was the one that started it all.

According to Vowell, the students took this the way Gore meant it -- as encouragement that they, too, could make a difference. But the New York Times quoted Gore as saying:

I was the one that started it all.

Then everybody piled on. Chris Matthews, David Letterman, and others made the incident into another "I invented the Internet" gaffe. The students who knew differently were amazed and dismayed to see how it played on the national stage. Vowell asks one of the girls who was there how she would have responded.

I would say "You're wrong. You're focusing on one little itty-bitty microscopic thing that when misquoted can mean something completely different but when quoted correctly it means a great thing for democracy and things like that."

Let's think about how this might have played in 2003. There's a really good chance those students would have blogged the incident, with accompanying audio if not video. Having done so, there's a really good chance the blog community would have noticed and amplified the students' blog.

How will things change once that kind of thing becomes routine, as it will? I don't know, but I'm eager to find out. Technically some of the infrastructure is in place, but there are still missing ingredients. Searchable audio is a huge one. Think about how the incident would have played out had people who Googled for "Gore, the one that started it all" found audio clips with the correct quote on the first page of results.

Speaking of quotes, I have a question. Although we often create or follow links to streaming audio, these usually refer to entire streams. I rarely see parameterized URLs that pinpoint specific quotes, analogous to the way we use fragment identifers in HTML pages to isolate paragraphs. Why not? For example, I've been listening to a lot of NPR's This American Life lately. One of their favorites is an episode called Superheroes. Note how the website uses a fragment identifier to jump to the writeup on that episode. Then, the audio is presented as this link, to a .ram file containing:

rtsp:\//a129.r.akareal.net/ondemand/7/129/1854/ 7d2416a19/www.wbez.org/ta/178.rm

But there are no links to the individual segments, for example to the (extraordinary) Wonder Woman segment. Maybe there's a chicken-and-egg situation here. That link works on MSIE/Win, for example, but not in Safari, Mozilla, or MSIE on the Mac. Is the parameterized audio URL not well supported because it is rarely used, or is it rarely used because not well supported? 1. Either way, I'm just noticing for the first time that we don't seem to have the kind of granular control over audio, in ordinary discourse on the Web, that we have over text. My guess is that will change dramatically pretty soon.

1 Hmm. Doesn't seem to want to launch .rm links into RealPlayer at all, only QuickTime, no matter how I set up QuickTime's and RealPlayer's MIME types. Presumably this can be done, somehow, but if I'm not getting it right off the bat, then a lot of users won't, which underscores the point: jumping into the middle of streams is not part of normal discourse on the web, the way jumping into the middle of texts is.

Former URL: http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2003/01/18.html#a577