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I had an enjoyable day at Bloggercon, held at the Stanford Law School Saturday last, despite the conference itself.
Dave Winer claims that the format of the conference is designed so that the good conversations are in the sessions and not in the hallways, but the best conversations for me were in the hallways and out on the lawn, as is generally the case at any conference.
The format is problematic in reality. A lone session moderator begins with a presentation of various ideas on the topic, and then a free-for-all ensues, where the 50 to 250 people in the group raise their hands, ask a question, elaborate on some issue, or whatever. Often, you might have to wait 10 minutes or more to actually get to speak on some topic now 10 minutes cold.
However, Winer and the other conference insiders reserve the right to break into the flow of the sessions, and so Scoble, Searls, Steve Gillmor, and the like seem often to be having their conversation in the session and not the halls, but not everybody else.
Personally, I am not opposed to the seemingly undemocratic nature of this outcome. I believe that the quality of the conversation between these A-Listers is actually more illuminating than the "gee whiz, I'm just glad to be here" statements coming from the newbies. My recommendation would be to, however, salt the mix with more powerful dissenters and structure the latent debates inherent in the sessions so that the various points of view can come to light, and just drop the pretense that all utterances are equally worthy.
For example, I love Doc Searls, but starting a session on "Making Money" at Bloggercon by questioning the validity of that intent is off message. As a result, the session about making mony turned out to be another philosophical discussion about the core values of the Internet, or stated more negatively, a session where the strong subliminal message was "Don't Make Money Blogging, Please."
This was best typified by a interchange between Dave Winer and Chris Nolan (Politics From Left To Right), a political blogger who simply wants to get to the point where she can live on her blogging. Winer's position was that this is basically wrong-headed; she should use the blogosphere to mix and mingle, and other opportunities to make money would appear. For example, she could get paid for writing elsewhere, presumably by more traditional media, or books. Nolan's response was she didn't want to write elsewhere, where she would have to deal with editorial supervision or controls. Then Winer spun into A-Lister fantasy land, arguing that the purpose of blogging is to have people come together and invent new businesses, not to get paid to blog; and that anything short of that grander purpose was somehow counter to the spirit of blogging, and perhaps both dangerous and immoral. Nolan pointed out that she hasn't landed a book deal, although she would like one, but independent of that she is still selling ads.
A great quip from Brendon Wilson (brendonwilson.com) underscored the elephant in the room: there is a world outside the blogospheric core of idealistic early adopters who cling to some sort of money-free purity, and that's where true economic value will be determined. Wilson pointed out that he is an author, and for each $35 sale of his book at Amazon, he receives like $1.50 in royalties. However, as an Amazon affiliate he receives $3.50 per sale coming through his website.
In a world where information is increasingly low cost, people's attention is increasingly valuable. If you can snare that attention -- because your blog is high quality, and through the inexorable powerlaws it grows more and more eyeballs -- the extra-blogosphere economy will value you and your blog highly. But the value has to be extracted by something, and if you don't charge people to read it, you have to charge someone for eyeball capture.
Winer and Searls suggest that the way to capitalize on that value should not be direct, but indirect: start businesses (like Winer), get higher paying jobs (like Searls and Scoble), or become media personalities (like Curry). Nolan and others (like me) believe that it is fair game to simply convert relevance to a community of interest into cash flow. Here at Corante, we plan to invent some innovative ways of doing it, over and above renting rectangles to sponsors, but nonetheless we believe that is legitimate and doesn't break some Covenant of Bloggerdom.
Essentially, the conference founders are perfectly transparent and open about their perspectives, so I have only admiration for them in that regard. But I suggest that they consider a point/counterpoint approach where the dynamics would be more interesting. At a nuts-and-bolts level, the format doesn't work, despite all the self-congratulatory back patting at the end of the conference. In particular, Winer's insistence that this is a "user" conference where vendors really cannot speak -- he nearly ejected Bob Wyman of PubSub, who was in mid sentence about something I thought was fairly innocuous -- is an increasingly difficult stance to keep, especially when his goal is to foster collaboration between the participants to create new businesses and products.
So, from my perspective, Bloggercon is more of a fan conference, where the followers of the conference insiders -- great minds all, admittedly -- can come and bask in the philosophical musings of these titans. Its Dave and the Friends of Dave having a love-in. Its fun in a way, because the conversations at the party are high quality, but its not a conference about the business of blogging or even one about where it is all headed. Its really a chatauqua, a revival tent meeting, where the faithful can all sing together and encourage the uncertain. But its fun to listen, even if you don't agree with the message in the psalms, because they sing so well.
It reminded me more of a trade show, despite all the show of insisting it was a "users' conference" so Stanford wouldn't deem it commercial. I lost count of the times I heard the phrase "the blogging industry" coming out of people's mouths, often embedded in the phrase "we in the blogging industry."
The general level of discourse struck my jaded ear as distinctly tinged with marketese, that dialect of English whose implicit message is, "This is all too complex to understand by yourself, you need to pay my consulting fee." The session on "core values," for example. Classic. That analogy in the "fat man sings" session about "the millionaire next door." I heard very little of what I hoped to hear: stories about user experiences by people who blog about something other than blogging itself and aren't blogging their comment about blogging about blogging, and having it blogged by other bloggers about blogging, when the Webcast microphone finally gets around to them so they can audioblog with instant IRC log-threading.
As a guy I work with says, "What's the difference between blogging and Usenet or Listserv, really, except that nobody who shares your interests can find what you write without going to a lot of trouble? It's all just database with a UI, right?"
A lot of Brazilian bloggers I know say they are now into Multiply for that reason: it combines blogging with some of the community features of Orkut (which Brazilians snuck-attacked with carnaval attiude and thoroughly colonized, as you'll remember). The Islamists on the Web all use Nuke and Postnuke: does that make them bloggers? It certainly makes them avid users of open-source CMS in support of foreign-language communities of interest, enabled by the enlightened investment of the open-source community in internationalization and Unicode. Maybe that's the level of analysis we ought to be building conferences around.
Sorry to rant. I owe you some bandwidth.Permalink to Comment
I agree with your comments. I went to the conf for an engaging discussion. I got that easily. What I missed was the interaction and energy to build an industry. A feeling that most of the people are users and developers and vendors.
This is very early and I enjoyed the discussion when it turned into what is being developed and innovative in order to build a growing industry where a rising tide floats all boats.
I did get some great feedback on my idea of BlogPubs.com although at the break and in the hallways.
Brilliant analysis! Absolutely confirms my (remote) impression.Permalink to Comment
A friend sent me your review to consider in our final planning for a conference we're working on that is about the business of blogging. Thanks for the insights.Permalink to Comment
Interesting observations...I had a great time, and it was great to see you. I suggested one simple thing, i.e. have a third microphone in the room. Would have made it a lot easier, and allowed quicker and more interactive conversation.
I also suggested to someone that maybe a session about products might have been great. Let the vendors speak for 6 minutes each, answer a couple of questions, talk about what they think is important, and maybe let them ask for help, users, testers, who knows! It's tough to have smart people who build excellent products in the room, and then expect them to not want to talk about their products and passion!Permalink to Comment
Buzz - Good to see you too. I agree that some simple things (extra mike) would've helped, but strcutural change -- like planning an actual debate, instead of forcing one out at the last second, extemporaneously, -- is really needed.Permalink to Comment
Thanks for shedding some light on this conference. I found your post with a google search after I listened to an MP3 of the "Overload" session, which was brought to my attention by IT Conversations and I had no idea why Dave Winer was yelling at this guy from PubSub, who had yet to mention anything except the name of his product and said he would respect the desires of the conference and not talk about it. Was Winer was pre-emptively striking down what he thought was an inevitable sales-pitch, since PubSub is a tool that addresses the exact concerns of the session? I'm not sure that's fair, both because the end-result was that vendors weren't allowed to talk about ANYTHING, and that perhaps the rest of the conference-goers might at least want to hear a 10-second description of a relevant tool. After reading your post, I realized that I didn't get much out of the session because of the "free-form" nature of the session, at least not on the subject it was supposed to cover.Permalink to Comment
I moved to the Bay Area recently and was excitedly joining Winer's deal so that I could register for the free conference. I got really annoyed because it was full and the waiting list was closed, but i was only informed after I joined something I wouldn't have joined otherwise. (hope that makes sense)
But your comments reminded me that I got over my disappointment after hearing quotes from Dave Winer and reading about the Doc Searles session. Supposedly Winer had Searles chair it because he knew he was against making money on blogs. I have to say those guys are a pain in the ass. They don't seem to have anything useful to say, at least these days, and Winer's related comments on RSS are just silly.
Hope this isn't too off topic but, in terms of making money with blogs, RSS feeds need ads. People use RSS feeds so they can read the blog without going to it, often enough. If you make it headlines only or force them to go to the blog, you end up undermining the reason most folks get into RSS.
And why is making money off blogs worse than constantly self promoting with a blog?
I have to say I have no regrets now about missing BloggerCon. Which doesn't make me particularly happy. I'd rather it have been a fantastic experience that I could learn from via others' stories. But, the reports to date just make it sound like it was a big waste of time.
Its the same scaling problem that exists in most information systems like forums, link analysis algorithms, or the blog world in general.
How do you make an interactive system which rewards quality that prevents the group output from primarily being driven by just a few people?Permalink to Comment
Tracked on November 8, 2004 01:10 PMDejacon III from rexblog Dejacon III: I did not attend Bloggercon III, but Stowe Boyd, who I leaned against a wall with during Jeff Jarvis' over-flow session at Bloggercon II, describes it as I imagined it would be. [Read More]
Tracked on November 8, 2004 08:22 PMWhat's Wrong With Bloggercon from PaidContent.org : Brilliant, pithy analysis... In case you want some more rants, see my obliteration of BlogOn earlier...... [Read More]
Tracked on November 8, 2004 09:45 PMBloggerCon improvement? from erik's blog. During lunch, I was talking to three gentlemen about the format of the discussions at BloggerCon. One of them mentioned a panel discussion they were at previously, which had small remotes for the audience to rate the meaningfulness of a topic. I think ... [Read More]
Tracked on November 8, 2004 10:32 PMBloggerCon improvement? from erik's blog. During lunch, I was talking to three gentlemen about the format of the discussions at BloggerCon. One of them mentioned a panel discussion they were at previously, which had small remotes for the audience to rate the meaningfulness of a topic. I think ... [Read More]
Tracked on November 8, 2004 10:32 PMWhat's Wrong With Bloggercon from The Blog Herald: more blog news more often Stowe Boyd at Corante discusses issues with the Bloggercon format. [Read More]
Tracked on November 8, 2004 10:38 PMGettin' Paid: A Future for Content Creators? from Read/Write Web
In all this ballyhoo about monetizing weblogs, the one thing that it comes down to for me is this: CONTENT IS FINALLY GETTING VALUED! I shout that in capita...[Read More]
Tracked on November 9, 2004 10:59 PMlinks for 2004-11-12 from Kevin Wen's Web Books for MacOS X An open-source personal library management tool for MacOS X (categories: Apple) 2SIMPLE - Datou (categories: ChineseBlog) Halloween 2004 - iPod Costume (categories: Fun Oddly) 10x10 / 100 Words and Pictures that Define the Time /... [Read More]
Tracked on November 12, 2004 09:17 AMRandom Bits from the Buffer Zone from American Digest The first casualty of war isn't truth, notes a soldier, but innocence. That's why the Ma-Deuce .50 caliber machine gun is a man's best friend: Heavy Weapons & The First Casualty Faced with declining web revenues in the wake of the election, the execrab... [Read More]
Tracked on November 12, 2004 12:24 PMDe libros y disqueras from ALT1040 No me quedaba claro que la economía de los libros y la manera en que se paga a los autores fuera parecida a las disqueras, en que los músicos reciben aproximadamente el 1% del total de ventas de sus discos. En esta crítica sobre el BloggerCon no me ... [Read More]
Tracked on November 12, 2004 01:21 PMBloggerCon is not a desser topping or a vendor's conference from house of warwick Still catching up with BloggerCon stuff. [Read More]
Tracked on November 13, 2004 12:49 PMWhat's Wrong With Bloggercon? from Threadwatch.org
A threadwar with Dave Winer over Bloggercon[Read More]
Tracked on November 17, 2004 11:07 AM