BloggerCon writeup

Quick update. I went to the Accelerating Change conference this weekend. I also went to BloggerCon on Saturday. I’d been waitlisted at BloggerCon, but got in last week, and since the two conferences were a 5 minute walk apart at Stanford, I decided to try to cherry-pick the best of both worlds. I think I did okay, with some judicious running around.

I’ll try to do a full writeup of Accelerating Change at some point, with all of my notes and quotes and everything. But I’m pretty busy this week (couple deadlines at work), so it may not be until next weekend. My notes from BloggerCon were pretty brief, though, so I’ll put them up now.

I attended the first and last sessions, the journalism session and the election session. The journalism session was the most interesting from my perspective, even though it eventually degraded into a “Are bloggers journalists or not?” debate, especially when the folks from the AP and CBS chimed in.

Some thoughts I took away from it:

  • Scott Rosenberg made a comment in the introduction to the journalism session about the possibility of journalists learning from bloggers about how to bring their personal voice into their work. My only thought was, what, like Hunter S. Thompson and gonzo journalism? I like the image of bloggers in a hot rod convertible on the way to Vegas seeing giant bats descending from the sky…
  • Somebody referred to a quote by Dan Gillmor, “The people formerly known as readers”. In a DFW moment, I made the connection to the concept of authorship in postmodernism (one of the essays in that book covered this topic), where the reader is an integral part of the meaning of a work, by providing the context in which the work is read. Way too eggheaded. I know. But it entertains me.
  • I thought it was interesting that one distinction that people made was the difference between journalists and bloggers was that journalists have access to inside sources. I think that’s probably true, but having recently read Six Degrees, I was pondering who one might know that would be an inside source that a standard journalist would never know about. Given the sheer numbers of people blogging, we probably have inside sources that the mass media outlets couldn’t dream of. For instance, on many tech stories, I could call a friend from MIT and have an inside view of the situation.
  • I liked a quote, from I think Jay Rosen, saying that standard journalistic objectivity could also be called the “view from nowhere”.
  • One thought that occurred to me during the “are bloggers journalists” debate. Given the recent meme of the long tail, might blogging be the long tail of journalism? The idea of the long tail is that in a world of mass markets, only things which appeal to the lowest common denominator are worth producing. Nowadays, between Amazon, eBay and iTunes, we can reach the “long tail” of the other 80% of stuff which isn’t necessarily of mass appeal, but of specific appeal. The same argument might be made of mass media journalism, that only stories of mass appeal are used. Rebecca MacKinnon shared her frustration with being unable to file several international stories when she was a correspondent because her editors said that Americans just don’t care. But in a blogging world, it’s okay if there’s a small audience. Ed Cone shared the story of a friend of his who interviewed the fire chief of his town about some controlled burns they were doing near his farm and put it up on his blog. Ed pointed out that maybe only 6 people were interested, but, hey, that was okay. Blogs can be targeted in a way that mass media can’t be. So I thought it might be a way past the “is blogging journalism” hangup to think of blogs as the long tail of journalism. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to share that idea during the session, but Scott Rosenberg liked it when I proposed it to him afterward, and I figured I’d share it here.

The election session was a bit of a disappointment. Although Ed Cone, the discussion leader, tried to keep it from turning into a shared disappointment-fest, he wasn’t entirely successful. It was also interesting how few suggestions I heard that I thought would make a difference in increasing the usefulness of blogging. The main point people made was that e-mail was, by far, the most useful networking tool of this election (and my experiences in Ohio bear that out). So what do blogs have to offer? Somebody made the point that we should be using blogs as a chance to engage people different from us, rather than sitting in the liberal echo chamber. Jay Rosen suggested that candidates should be blogging themselves to get their personal voice out there (although I think that might be difficult to reconcile with keeping a consistent message). Lots to think about. I especially want to spend some more time thinking about the use of blogs as a tool for inviting dialogue with people we don’t agree with. Not sure where to even begin with that.

The first and last sessions were pretty uneventful, so that’s pretty much my report. I stopped by the Larry Lessig discussion on law and blogging because I think he’s cool, but it didn’t really do much for me, and there was another presentation at Accelerating Change that I really wanted to see.

General thoughts. The “unconference” format was a little bit odd. Because the discussion leader had a microphone and everybody else had to wait in line for one, the power dynamic didn’t lend itself to a real sharing of ideas I felt. In a couple sessions I attended, the dialogue got off into a thread that I thought was pretty uninteresting, but there wasn’t really a mechanism for shutting it down and starting a new thread. I almost felt that it’d be better if the first part of each session were a brainstorming of topics and then the room could be split up into people that wanted to follow each topic, with people being free to float from one topic to another. But, then again, I’m a generalist and prefer skimming.

Neat idea overall, though. I’m glad I stopped by. It was kind of neat to see some of the powerhouse bloggers in person (I think two or three of the bloggers who blogged the national conventions were there – Dave Winer and Doc Searls for sure). And interesting to hear some of the different perspectives on blogging from people who are a lot more into it than I am.