Just got a call from WCHL (1360 AM) asking me about a supposedly unique webcast scheduled to come from the University of Pittsburgh in September. The pitch here is that the producers of the event say that the webcast lecture will be have the largest audience of any academic lecture in history. Sounds like high-hopes promotion and wishful thinking. The talk is the Cutler lecture on public health for 2005, “The Public Health Consequences of Disasters: Challenges for Public Health Action” by Eric Noji.

I’m dropping my Gameboy and tuning right in!

Seriously, why is this news? We’ve been doing webcasts for years and years. SunSITE did a live webcast of Bill Clinton’s visit to Chapel Hill for the 200th anniversary of the founding of UNC back in October 1993. Live webcasts without interaction are most interesting if they are of a historic event like today’s space shuttle launch or the Victoria’s Secret annual show. Just check out Technorati for recent listings of webcasts, not to mention Google; there are no shortage of webcasts of every variety.

Stored webcast that can be played at leisure (via timeshifting) make more sense when you don’t want or need to provide real-time interactivity. We do that with the ibiblio speakers series for talks by Larry Lessig, Cory Doctorow, Dan Gillmor and even the Triangle Bloggers Conference. Heck, we even make the talks available through BitTorrent using Osprey.

If the talk were to allow some kind of intense and interesting and innovative interactivity, then we’d have a story. “We’ll have a million people listening to an academic talk on bioterrorism” is an amusing claim. A stunt really. And without added value to the lecture or its contents.

BTW Pittsburgh says “This year we plan to offer a live webcast of the John C. Cutler memorial lecture. The lecture will also be made available on the Pitt Media Site archive after the event.”