Our History


This page is archived for historical purposes. The Conversations Network ceased operation of its websites as of the end of 2012.


After nearly ten years, The Conversations Network ceased day-to-day operations at the end of 2012. Here's a timeline of our history.

  • The Early Interviews. In June 2003 Doug Kaye was researching his second book, Loosely Coupled--The Missing Pieces of Web Services. As part of his research, he conducted telephone interviews with many of the burgeoning field's experts. Doug recorded those interviews instead of taking written notes, but he soon realized the interviews themselves were quite interesting and valuable. He asked these experts for permission and then published the interviews as MP3 files on his blog, available for download by anyone for free. Doug's very first interview was with Phil Windley, who would later take over the reins as Executive Producer of IT Conversations.
  • Podcasting. In September 2003, Dave Winer added MP3 files to Christopher Lydon's blog and distributed them using the RSS (Really Simple Syndication) format. Although the word podcast had yet to be coined, Dave and Chris' collaboration is considered to be the very first podcast.
  • IT Conversations. On September 24, 2003, Doug Kaye attached his first ten interview MP3 files to his blog's RSS feed, and hence was born the IT Conversations podcast -- the second podcast ever, and as of the end of 2012, the longest-running podcast of all time. As they say, a high tide raises all ships, and IT Conversations was on the leading edge of the podcasting wave in 2003. Listener feedback during that first year led Doug to realize he had stumbled onto an opportunity to build something that met a need for many people.
  • Live Events. Being a former software developer and tech executive, Doug approached O'Reilly Media and asked for permission to record and publish sessions from their Emerging Technology (ETech) and Digital Democracy conferences in February 2004. Interested in this new phenomenon of podcasting, the executives at O'Reilly said Yes. But Doug went one step further. He got O'Reilly's okay to stream live audio from the conferences over the Internet. As far as we know, this was the first time a tech conference was available for free, live online. Doug went on to live stream Kevin Werbach's Supernova conference in June, and Chris Pirillo's Gnomedex in September of 2004. Doug began to notice an interesting and repeatable phenomenon: Whatever the size of the in-person audience for an event, 100x as many people would listen to recordings of the event over the subsequent six months. Some event producers saw this as cannibalizing their in-person paid registrations. But others such as O'Reilly Media realized it was helping to grow their in-person registrations for subsequent events.
  • The Tip Jar. Pressured by listeners who wanted to support IT Conversations, Doug added a Tip Jar to the website to accept contributions, and small donations began to stream in.
  • Tech Nation. Dr. Moira Gunn, the creator of the popular U.S. public-radio program Tech Nation, was looking for a partner to produce and distribute a podcast edition of her shows. At the end of December 2004 IT Conversations began the exclusive online distribution of Tech Nation. Over the next eight years, Dr. Gunn and The Conversations Network collaborated on 748 episodes of Tech Nation.
  • Help Wanted. A number of IT Conversations listeners wanted to contribute their time and talents to the podcast, so in April 2005, Doug created TeamITC, the volunteers whose ranks would swell to over 215 volunteers from all corners of the planet over the following eight years. Doug began distributing 100% of the Tip Jar revenues to the volunteers as beer money. It was an afirmation of the appreciation of our listeners, but hardly enough for anyone to live on.
  • Kudos. In 2005 BusinessWeek Online called IT Conversations the Most-Liked Podcast. Doug Kaye was named Person of the Year in Podcasting and a trendsetter in the Always On/Technorati Open Media 100.
  • New Business Model. Also in 2005 we adopted a business model similar to that of public radio in the U.S. We solicited and received donations from non- and for-profit organizations and ackowledged those gifts with brief audio segments inserted into our programs. We later added paid membership, for which our members were allowed to download and stream audio programs devoid of the acknowledgment messages.
  • Podcast Academy. In November 2005 we launched the Podcast Academy at the Portable Media Expo and Podcasting Conference. For the next two years we ran training sessions for podcasters in multiple locations throughout the U.S.
  • A New Vision. As we began to work with more and more conference producers and universities, we discovered the true potential of a non-profit publishing service. Every day there are hundreds of excellent speeches and lectures delivered by the greatest minds of our times. But because no one records, preserves and publishes them, they simply evaporate. They're lost forever. (Doug Kaye remembers first hearing the word "evaporate" applied to this problem in a conversation with Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive.) Because so many of these important presentations were produced by universities and other non-profit organizations, and since those producers were more likely to collaborate with other non-profits, Doug decided to incorporate The Conversations Network as a U.S. non-profit and apply for 501(c)(3) status. Our founding Board of Directors included Brewster Kahle, Jake Shapiro, John Smart, David Weinberger and Doug Kaye. Others who later served on our Board were Jon Udell, Zephyr Teachout, Hugh McGuire, Rashmi Singh and Brian Gruber.
  • The Conversations Network. The network was officially launched with a new website in January of 2006. At that time we closed the tip jar and replaced it with the optional paid memberships. We also appointed a tier of managers to help grow our team. Those first managers were Darusha Wehm (Senior Editor), Paul Figgiani (Senior Audio Engineer) and Tim McNerney (Senior Software Engineer). At the same time we announced our formal Apprenticeship program to streamline the process of training new editors and audio engineers in our workflow processes.
  • ITC Handoff. A year after creating Team ITC we had a part-time all-volunteer staff of 45 editors and audio engineers. Managing the organization and writing and maintaining our content-management system software became a full-time job for Doug Kaye, so he handed the reins of our flagship channel, IT Conversations to Phil Windley. Phil went on to serve as the Executive Producer of IT Conversations for more than six years.
  • The Levelator®. An important part of our content-management system (CMS) was the ability to assemble our programs from small audio components. To make this work we developed technology to make all of the components be the same loudness. In 2006 we released this software as The Levelator® and made it available for free to all podcasters, broadcaster and others. As of the end of 2012, The Levelator® had been downloaded more than a half-million times.
  • Social Innovation Conversations. In March 2006 we collaborated with the Center for Social Innovation at Stanford's Graduate School of Business to create a series of podcasts on topics such as social innovation, philanthropy, sustainability and the environment. One year later we created the Social Innovations Conversations channel on The Conversations Network. By May 2009, the channel exceeded one million downloads. At the end of 2012 the channel, including all previously produced episodes, was taken over by the Center for Social Innovation.
  • Non-Profit Status. In February 2007, The Conversations Network was granted 501(c)(3) non-profit status, which meant that all donations from individuals, universities and for- and non-profit corporations in the U.S. were tax deductible.
  • PodCorps.org. By 2007 we recognized that podcasting had gone mainstream. Organizations of all types were producing and distributing interviews, lectures or their events. The remaining challenge for many was to capture the original recording, particularly when an event or interview was at a remote location. In April of that year we launched PodCorps.org to serve as a matchmaking service, teaming podcast producers with stringers who were available to record audio and video in locations throughout the world. While it was quite popular among those who used it, there were not enough of those users to justify continuing it. PodCorps.org was closed after a little more than three years of operation.
  • Board of Advisors. In May of 2007 we created a formal Board of Advisors made up of Internet and media visionaries. Over the following five years, these experts generously gave us the benefit of their knowledge and experience as we continued to expand and improve The Conversations Network.
  • Media Conversations. In October 2007 we launched our third channel, Media Conversations with an 11-part series of video programs produced in-house entitled Future Talks.
  • '08 Conversations. In partnership with the Public Radio Exchange we launched our fourth channel, '08 Conversations, to cover the November 2008 U.S. elections in ways that went beyond what traditional media were doing so. Together with PRX we produced 25 unique programs before the November election.
  • SpokenWord.org. Also in 2008, we again re-evaluated the needs of podcasters and the value of what we were delivering to that community. Podcasting had become a mainstream media activity and podcasts were everywhere. The problems had shifted from "How do I produce a podcast?" to "How do I find good podcasts?" With this in mind, we created a new service called SpokenWord.org. Its mission was to help people find and share the best podcasts. SpokenWord.org was a metadata database and search engine populated entirely by member recommendations and RSS feeds. The site went live (alpha test) in October 2008, launched publicly in February 2009 and grew rapidly. One month later we had already cataloged 100,000 audio and video podcast episodes. Three months after that we passed a quarter million. By the time the site was shut down in late 2012, the database contained more than 1.5 million episodes. (You can download an OPML file of the more than 8,000+ RSS/Atom feeds submitted.)
  • CHI Conversations. In the summer of 2009, we partered with the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of ACM SIGCHI, the Association of Computing Machinery's Special-Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction, to produce our fifth podcast channel, CHI Conversations. Over the next 2.5 years we published more than 40 of BayCHI's superb monthly meetings featuring some of the greatest minds in Silicon Valley.
  • Shutdown. In September 2012, Doug Kaye announced on his blog that The Conversations Network would cease operation at the end of that year. In December we published our final program, an interview with Doug.

And one last note of special thanks...

  • Limelight Networks. In the early days of IT Conversations it became clear that Internet bandwidth would be a significant percentage of the cost of running a podcasting network. Recognizing the value of what we were doing, visionary executives at Limelight Networks offered us content-delivery services at no charge. This relationship continued until we ceased operations in late 2012. In all those years, we never suffered a single CDN outage (except for expected local issues) nor encountered any other problems. Without the support of the team at Limelight Networks, The Conversations Network would never have survived.