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October 06, 2003

Observations on Bloggercon

I haven't really composed a solid final opinion about the impact of BloggerCon yet, that will probably take a few more days, but one of my observations is that the meeting had a very self-serving feel to it. Seth Finkelstein compared it to Silicon Valley speak at the height of the boom. I can find myself  in that sentiment, and I agree with Seth that Lis Riba's comments on those first sessions are really, really spot on. Just like Lis, I was rather surprised by unwillingness of the discussion leaders to address criticism directed to the elitism of the particular weblog community in the room, which appeared to represent a very limited social and racial demographic class with a narrow geographic point of view.  Basically white middle class Americans discussing how their technology will change the world. As an academic I felt lost for a while in what appeared to be a talk show hosted by Dave.

I think these thoughts are mainly valid for the panels on Journalism and Presidential weblogs. The people on the panel for education, were extremely motivated people (librarians) committed to make a difference in the lives of young people and of those people who have normally access to no or limited resources. Their enthusiasm for weblogs did not seem to be driven by narcissism and brought an electric optimism to the room, something that the other panels failed to achieve. I think the panel on the Second Superpower fizzled because there wasn't a more outrageous person such as Chris Locke leading the discussion. Chris Lydon did a good job, but failed to bring the Rageboy's critical view to the podium. When Adam twice presented a less popular view point; first on how the discussion was way too American centric and secondly on how his weblog used is different from what appears to be the mainstream, there wasn't much attention given to his arguments, while there was sufficient material for a solid discussion of global issues or 'truth' & reputation matters.

For me most of the value was to observe those who use or would like to use the medium & tools for non-narcissistic purposes. In an important sense this was a users conference, with little or no focus on technology. This became most apparent during day 2 when at the session that I thought had the most technical promise, the aggregators session led by Jon Udell. The person sitting behind me declared that he really didn't get this 'rss' thing, and why as a user he needed to know about it, and why is was so difficult to subscribe to feeds. Quite a few others chimed in. These were not computer illiterate or otherwise less-intelligent people. These were writers that had been using computers (although the pervasive presence of mac's running MacOs 9 says something) for ten or twenty years already.

I feel I did achieved some goals that I had set for my self: to discuss how the medium can be used to change the way academic research results are reported and distributed, and to inject some solid science into some discussions. I think managed to plants some seeds to think about scalability, survivability, reputation, UI metaphors on several occasions.

In contrast to Clemens I do not feel that the conference 'thanked'.  He is right in that an important part was human networking, and meeting the people behind some of your favorite weblogs.  But I am sure I will use this networking in the future to more effective spread some of my ideas about reliable information dissemination or scalable distributed technologies into the weblogging world. Bloggercon was just one way of doing a weblog conference, driven in this case by Dave Winer's views. There will be other weblog conferences, organized very differently, maybe even of the style Clemens suggests.

Posted by Werner Vogels at October 6, 2003 09:08 PM

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