Search Engine and Spark: A Tale of Two CBC Technology Shows

Last September, CBC Radio launched two new technology shows: Search Engine and Spark. I forget how I first heard about them, but I subscribed to both podcasts from their first episode.

Search Engine is a show about the cultural and politics of the web (they need a copyable blurb on their home page and in iTunes). The most recent episode featured stories on the hacker convention Defcon, gaming the CIA’s website and a rapping Hungarian YouTube star.

Here’s the spiel on Spark:

Spark is a weekly audio blog of smart and unexpected trendwatching. It’s not just technology for gearheads, it’s about the way technology affects our lives, and the world around us.

What’s a Spark story? Wikis in the workplace, Guitar Hero in your living room, or why the new trend in design is the trailer park.

So they cover similar territory, but Spark is less concerned with the Web than Search Engine. Spark has a stickier tag line, because I can remember it: “Tech trends and fresh ideas”.

It’s been educational to watch both shows’ evolution over the past year or so. My impressions:

  • They’ve taken somewhat different approaches in story development and presentation. Spark seems much more crowd-sourced, while Search Engine has a more traditional structure. I don’t know how successful it’s been (I’d be curious to hear about their objectives and measures of success) Spark has a wiki for developing show ideas. Additionally, host Nora Young regularly cites comments from the show’s blog. They’re usually insightful enough to merit inclusion (I tend to loathe traditional man-on-the-street commentary).
  • Both hosts seem very well-informed, and (while I’m layman in this) are excellent presenters. Search Engine host Jesse Brown has a more informal style–he seems to be palling around with a lot of his guests. This mostly works, and reflects the DIY culture he documents. I do get a bit tired of the geeky indignation Brown seems to have for a lot of his tech stories. I get that every day in the blogosphere (including this site) and at tech conferences, so I don’t want to hear it from the CBC. Because of this, Search Engine sometimes feels more like commentary than reportage.
  • I like both shows, but given the choice, I listen to Spark first. Why? Because the topics are fresher (see the tagline) to me. 80% of Spark stories are new to me. I’ve already heard about 80% of Search Engine’s stories. That’s not a criticism of Search Engine–it’s a reflection of the kind of information I consume.

Clearly the CBC made emerging technology and the web a priority last year, and I applaud the results. Keep up the good work.

This is barely related, but I note that these CBC sites have a wacky URL structure. For example, the about page for Spark is Maybe it’s a symptom of an older CMS?


  1. I will say that the CBC websites do work pretty well, regardless of how they’re built. And generally, if you like a show and guess at the URL or email address, you’ll be right.

    Regardless of the content, I’d way rather listen to Nora Young than Jesse Brown, and “Spark” had me on the show, so it tends to be my favourite.

  2. Totally agree with the general sentiment – I too prefer Spark. Search Engine really does focus on politics, both Web politics and the Web as a political tool – counterculture, activism, hacking, vigilante justice. “Extremist” web practices vs. Spark’s “early adopter” focus, if you will. Both are great, serve their functions and are well deserving of air time. though.

  3. I may be in the minority, but I prefer Search Engine. More topics I’m interested in, and I like Brown’s style more than Young’s slightly condescending and cutesy bits where she breaks the fourth wall. That, to me, is more of the same from the CBC, who try to be edgy and mostly fail at it. Plus Young was the original host of Definitely Not the Opera, and I’ll never forgive DNTO for taking Jack Farr off the air lo those many years ago. 🙂

  4. I am writing on behalf of a young man who I met at the seniors building in Oakville when Daren and his girfriend did a very enjoyable concert for the seniors here.
    Many Canadians are concerned about our environment and the young people are coming up with ideas and solutions but no one seems to be listening or paying attention to them. Daren wrote to David Susuki with his idea which in my mind is a solution. David’s reply is attached to Daren’s enquiry to David Susuki.Just so you have it from the horse’s mouth, here is the entire email thread between Lisa and David Susuki’s assistant, Elois Yaxley.
    Lisa is Daren’s girlfriend and singing partner.

    Dear Ms Nicole:
    I think I replied to you already but for some reason, I found your fax again. I am afraid I receive dozens of proposals every month with suggested ways to “save the planet”.I have no way of assessing them all.I’m very sorry, but I think having an idea is a long way from having something that actually works.So I don’t have any suggestions other than going to his professors and trying to interest one of them to help out. Good luck, David Suzuki.
    Daren Swanson B.S.C the young man’s full name that I spoke and speak of here can turn the carbon in co2 into Diamond dust.. example;Daren can turn the carbon in co2 into Diamond dust 1 Ton of co2 can be converted into #300,000 of Diamond dust this is used extensively in the abrasives industry.
    Being retired and having more time on my hands than Daren and Lisa as they have a successful music carreer and I myself concerned about our environment and our children’s future as much as they are I decided I would voluntarily help this young man whom I hardly know to see if anyone could help the young people with their ideas and solutions and why are the likes of David Susuki or the government not willing to help some of the young people let alone listen to their ideas and solutions and at the very least give them some direction as to where they can go. David did suggest going to a proffessors at a University other than that every one I have written to thus far has shown no interest either.
    I have written to the opposition leader Stemphan’Dion I did get a reply which I consider a fudge letter. I was wondering if you can give me directions who to approach futher to advocate for young people who have ideas and solutions as no idea or solution should be shuffled to one side by those who can help them as who knows they could have more excellent solutions than either the government or scientist.
    David Susuki in my mind is a bit of a hypocrite he says he does not work with solutions yet he has a Ad on T.V. advising us to turn our air condioners thermostat to 23 as so much energy could be saved. It seems in our world people are in it for the monitory gain only.
    Any help on directions would be deeply appreciated indeed.
    Heather Barnard

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