Webcast? No, thanks.

I had a call today inviting me to “attend” a Webcast.  The vendor makes security products.  I work in security.  I won’t be attending.

I never watch Webcasts.  In the early days I watched a couple.  I even presented on a couple of Webcasts, at the request of different parties.  I’ve subsequently made it a policy that I never do attend.

Webcasts are a waste of time.

Back before Webcasts we had podcasts.  I could partially see a reason for podcasts.  After all, as the name implies, you were supposed to download them and play them on your iPod or other MP3 player.  You could do this on your commute, or while out jogging, or any other time that you would spend plugged into your device.  So, on what would normally be mental downtime, you could be learning something.

For me, personally, there were a couple of problems with this.  The first was that I never bothered to get an MP3 player.  The second was that I always had books to read (and review) on my commute.

Yes, I know I could download the podcasts to my computer, and listen to them that way.  But a) when I’m at the computer, that’s not downtime, and b) I can read faster than you can talk.  So listening to a podcast is still a waste of time.  Sorry to my friends who do podcasts, and I know you are sincerely trying to help (and probably do), but even if you are podcasting on an interesting topic, somebody else has written about it.  And I can search and read faster than you can talk.

The same goes, in spades, for Webcasts.  In addition, whereas podcasts are generally done by people who have something to say, but no money or major resources to say it with, Webcasts are done by vendors.  And trade rags (who are, these days, desperately trying to find something to make themselves relevant again).  And erstwhile conference and event promoters, who see it as a cheaper way to get the (advertising) message out.

And that’s part of the trouble.  It is cheaper.  A Webcast, no matter how many frills you add (sometimes turning it into a “virtual trade show” or “virtual conference”) is going to be cheaper than renting a hotel facility, flying actual people in, laying on coffee (at hotel catering prices), and advertising your event to get people to come.  If a vendor or promoter has to do all that, they figure they might as well make sure someone is going to listen to the pitch.  So they are much more likely to make sure that a) the speaker knows how to speak, b) the speaker has something to say, and c) there is some actual useful content in addition to the straight sales pitch.

But a Webcast is cheap.  No rooms to rent, no people to move, no coffee to buy.  Even if you have to rent Webcast time, it’s a pittance compared to all of that.

And, hey! you can get people to attend more easily!  From the comfort of their own desk or computer!  Wherever they are (as long as they can get to a hotspot)!  All they have to do is register and log in!

(I’ll come back to that.)

So, if a Webcast is cheap and easy, why take any trouble with it?  Drag in anyone as a speaker.  There are probably any number of people who think they could make it big on the lecture circuit if only they got a little “exposure.”  Sorry, but I’ve run into too many people who thought I should be glad to write or speak for them just for the “exposure.”  They only people who are going to fall for that are those who don’t get asked because a) they have nothing to say, and b) they can’t say it anyway.  Even if you do find someone with something to say, why give them time (and possibly money) to research or prepare anything?  As a matter of fact, if you are a trade rag you’ve probably got lots of people who are willing to be expert on anything, with a moment’s notice.

Like I said, I attended a few.  It very quickly became apparent not only that I can read faster than Webcasters can speak, but that almost none of them had anything worth saying anyway.

(I’ll make an exception for TED.  Not even all of TED.  But definitely Cliff Stoll.)

So, I made it a policy never to attend Webcasts.  We are all busy.  My time is finite.  Webcasts are a waste of time.

I said I’d come back to this business of it being easy to get people to come.  Recently I’ve noticed that the Webcasts aren’t just being advertised.  Now there are bribes and come-ons.  You can win an iPod, or an IPad, if you register and attend.  You can get a USB drive if you attend.  You can get a Starbucks card or an Amazon giftcard.  (I am somewhat reminded of the studies where they offered people chocolate bars or Starbucks cards if the people would tell their passwords.)  And not only am I getting multiple invites to the event, but now telemarketers are calling to “invite” me to attend.  They are starting to sound desperate.

Do you think it just vaguely possible that other people are starting  to think Webcasts are a waste of time?  Maybe a large number of other people?