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Davos leaders face education challenge

Can audio blogging change the world?

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Analysis One of the themes at this year's World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, was social media. Business types and politicians struggle to get a handle on whether they should employ another special advisor to get to the mission critical task of Twittering their activities into the ether.

In a session today entitled "The Shifting Power Equation", Gordon Brown uncorked an internet analogy, vintage 1996, "we are shaping the agenda in a new way...but I don't think politicians have caught up with this. We're operating in the slow lane of the information super highway".

Anyone familiar with the farce of Number 10's recent petition website is well aware of that.

There's even a Davos session on Second Life, in which Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports of Singapore, bizarrely claimed virtual worlds would make it "harder for politicians to lie".

The suits at Davos are being given an opportunity to back up their lip-service to the "flattening" effect on the "power equation" of social media, with action, though.

The British Council has dispatched an international team of six who will propose a new global education initiative, modelled on the GAVI immunistation programme, to an audience including Brown and Jordan's Queen Rania. The plan was bashed out at a meeting in Greenwich last week by 60 students and young entrepreneurs from 49 countries.

The group will use a new social media platform to raise awareness, facilitate participation, and maintain pressure after the Davos scrum.

New York-headquartered BlogTalkRadio launched last year and is still in beta. Its pitch is that anybody with a phone can host their own talk radio show, including taking calls from listeners. Chilling, some might say, but the Davos group broadcast to their peers last night, and will report again today after the presentation.

The nearest technological equivalent to the platform at the moment is Skype's SkypeCast feature, which is more of a conference calling application, which doesn't archive conversations for download or stream live to the web.

BlogTalkRadio CEO Alan Levy was in London last week to liaise with the British Council on the plan. A US telecoms industry veteran, Levy sees BlogTalkRadio as the next step in the renaissance of radio, particularly in America, where stagnant media conglomerates were shocked by the entry of XM and Sirius satellite broadcast. Sirius' record signing Howard Stern saw subscriptions shoot up, and Levy knows he will need a star to make a similar impact via the web. He told El Reg: "I think we will have a Howard Stern sooner or later".

Or maybe a Perez Hilton. Or more likely right now, given the profluence of marketeers and general media navel-gazers on BlogTalkRadio to date, a Lonelygirl15.

There's already much worthwhile and interesting content on BlogTalkRadio, including reports from Kandahar in Afganistan. Likewise, high-profile Northern Ireland politics blog Slugger O'Toole has begun audio, which can be embedded, YouTube-style, into a standard Blogger entry or similar.

Predictably, the BlogTalkRadio business model is ad-supported. Display space on the site will be sold, but more innovatively, radio advertising targeted to the audience of each show will be inserted into broadcasts, which of course is where Chris Anderson rears his ugly long tail. Levy said: "On one level I don't care how many people are listening to a show; it can be 10 or it can be 10,000, there's still money."

The plan is for a 50/50 split with show hosts once the ad engine kicks in later this year. Levy say he expects to turn a profit this year, and will add new cash-generating features like click-to-call ads.

It'll be impressive if he pulls it off, but for us BlogTalkRadio's biggest success could be the results of that education meeting in Davos. We'll let you know. ®

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