Is This Thing On?

Last October, several dozen audiophiles gathered in a basement auditorium for an all-day conference about “the future of radio in a digital age.” Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian finished a talk he’s been giving to college campuses about the Internet and the transformative power it can unleash when it mobilizes a mass of people around an idea, a video, a website, a tweet. When he took questions, I asked: Why does the Internet so rarely mobilize around audio? What would it take to put audio on the Reddit front page?

Ohanian leaned back, contemplating the question, apparently for the first time. “That’s interesting,” he said. “I’m thinking of a lot of the viral content.” You could practically see the memes and GIFs pass across his brain. He started to point out that most viral videos are under three minutes, while the best audio storytelling was usually longer, but interrupted himself with a story about Upworthy.

When the founders pitched him on their plan — to make “socially good content” “go viral” — Ohanian invested “out of passion,” not because he thought it would work. Now Upworthy is one of the fastest growing media properties on the Internet. Sure, sound may not go viral today, but Ohanian is optimistic. “Probably someone here in the audience is going to show us all wrong,” he said, “and a year from now we’re going to look at the Upworthy for audio."

“So go make it.”

Easier said than done.

Cat Video Vs. The Cat’s Meow

Bianca Giaever has always been obsessed with radio. As a child, while she biked her newspaper delivery route, she listened to an iPod loaded exclusively with episodes of WBEZ’s “This American Life.” At Middlebury College, she stalked her classmates, dragging them to her dorm room to record interviews she edited into stories for the college station and smaller audiences online. “I was fully planning on working in radio,” she says. “My whole life.” That is until, the day after graduation, she became a viral video star.

When she painstakingly crafted moving audio narratives, her parents and brother listened. When she added video to her final college project, “The Scared is Scared” — a 6-year-old’s dream movie brought to life — “It just. Blew. Up.”

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