Sunday, November 07, 2004

BloggerCon III redux

BloggerCon III was yesterday in Palo Alto. Photos here and links here. Here are my hazy memories / notes from the sessions I went to:

Newbies - Rebecca MacKinnon
The title was maybe a little misleading / vague - the primary focus here was on people who want to get other people to blog and how / why you might want to do this. Rebecca has set up a Blog Introduction Wiki as a clearing house of tips for people new to it. Given the rate at which things change in the blogging world, a wiki is probably the best way to start with this (putting it on Wikipedia might be an improvement). Getting started seemed to hinge on two specific problems - technology problems and having something to say. There was a general consensus that the current tools (while vastly improved) are not easy enough for general consumption even in a hosted environment and that when you run into trouble there is little direct vendor support. It was pointed out that most of the hosted solutions (Blogger, Typepad) have user groups where help is available. People don't seem to get Trackbacks partly because of lack of support (Blogger), general flakiness of the way they work and social problems with other people not understanding how they work. What to write seems to be a constant problem - particularily when there is low readership or with people who have nothing to say. A common suggestion was that people should focus on something specific to give it a purpose (hey, I should take that advice!). It was pointed out that Blogs are public so there are ramifications: slander / job-related blowback and security issues. People sited examples where blogs had been used (as examples of the sorts of things people could write about):
  • Someone set up a tech support issue database. Resistance to getting people to write things down - eventually it was replaced by a dedicated system.
  • An unspecified US Intelligence Agency used a blog as a replacement for the usual intranet home page - allowed people to comment on it.
  • Julie Adair from BBC Scotland talked about a program to give blogging technology to people who lived on remote islands to talk about their daily lives.
  • Examples of Photoblogging to document travels and as a photo diary.
  • People who live in rural areas are organizing together using blogs to bitch to the phone company about crappy service. Good luck! Ed Cone talked about forming a local blogging comunity in Greensboro, North Carolina¬†¬†to route around the local newspapers. I might take a stab at this in my neigbourhood.


Journalism - Scott Rosenber of Salon.com
In retrospect, I wish I'd gone to the overloaded session (apparently there were fireworks of some sort). Nevertheless - endless amounts of "is blogging journalism or not" back and forth (despite Scott's best efforts to the contrary) - this was probably the most adversarial sessions I went to. There was some talk about what blogs can learn from journalism (it's hard work! Editing is a good thing!) and vice versa (fact checking is good!). Someone asked about "Astroturfing" - companies using blogs and feedback to create a faux grass roots movement. Using blogs for PR == bad. Using blogs for customer feedback == good. Paul Boutin from Slate mentioned that the San Francisco Chronicle has ignore crime in his neighbourhood (despite the fact that he lives right behind the Chronicle building). As it happens, one of his neighbours is photoblogging it. Several people talked about a distinction between Journalists and Blogger in terms of access (to the Pentagon, Whitehouse). Scott mentioned that Salon doesn't have anyone working the Whitehouse. Someone from AP mentioned that journalism required training and experience to maintain objectivity. Dave Winer (conference organizer) took exception to this and claimed that we'd all be better off if people were more up front at what there biases are rather than attempt to suppress them. Around this point I developed a splitting headache...

Lunch
I had lunch with a bunch of developers (Alan Xing, Jeff Cheney, Chip Vanek). Talked about blogging in China (and blogging restriction problems), Blogging Tools, ATOM, etc.

Mobile Blogging - Craig Cline
I went to this mostly out of interest rather than experience with moblogging. One very clear point was that other people seemed a lot more willing to give money to serice providers than I am. Having to pay to get your photos off your phone strikes me as a throwback to the days of film photography. If my camera is going to integrate with my phone, then I expect to be able to use it in the same way I use my phone. I suspect this magical day is a long way off. Apparently phones are starting to have > 2 megapixel cameras in them. That's great but it won't have a flash or decent optics for a long long time - see the conferance photos here. People seem to tolerate (and apparently appreciate) low quality. And if you think USB is slow, wait till you see how long it takes / how much it costs to get a 5 megapixel image off a cameraphone. There was a comment that phones should be clients for published photos - someone who had experience working with doing cellphone services pointed out (and I would agree) that cellphone services are historically a very closed and provider specific world. Whatever happens, it will cost you $x every time you use it.

Legal - Lawrence Lessig
By far the best session at the conference and consequently the one I have no notes for. Lessig talked about how restrictive copyright really is and claimed that (based on his own experience arguing in front of the supreme court) it was unlikely that the current laws would be changed in the short term. Instead, he sugested how we could work in the current system by using Creative Commons licenses to grant copyrights that are less restrictive than the default given by copyright law. There are some better notes here.

Closing Remarks - Dave Winer
Evidently there was some problem in the Overload session with a vendor (Pubsub) alegedly trying to plug his product (or not - more details here). Several people claimed they wanted to have vendors talk to them, provide support. Dave is strenously against it, based on bad experiences in the past - I think the vendors should be welcome but their job there is to listen to the users, rather than sell to them. Nobody wants to sit through product demos but there was apparently some ambiguity over the rules and people evidently felt they could not mention any products (for the record, the rule was vendors cannot mention there own products). I understand what Dave is trying to do but it seems to have been misinterpreted and applied. Oh well.
This was the first conference I've been too that encouraged people typing away in the sessions. WiFi worked reasonably well (it crapped out maybe 2-3 times during the conference for me), nobody seemed to be using SubEthaEdit for collaborative note taking (but then neither did I). Posting photos to Flickr with a common tag and links to del.icio.us worked really well although not many people seemed to know about it. There was IRC running but I didn't use it.

Thanks to Dave Winer for organizing all of this and the various session organizers and conference organizers. Thanks to Stanford Law School for providing the facilities which were excellent (despite the fact that finding buildings at Stanford is pathologically difficult).

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