Regional compatriot Ed Cone has an interesting post from a few days ago, republishing his column from the Greensboro News and Record. In it, he ponders blogging a decade in. It’s too late to be the avant garde and too early to be the new mainstream. The interesting thing is that the restless malaise he describes is very much how I feel about podcasting and my role in it. I continue to struggle to identify where my place is and how I feel about it as time goes on. This is very much worth a read.
Last weekend I power drove to Greensboro NC to attend Converge South. I’ve been to three of the four they have put on and always had a good time. I was also a co-organizer of the Saturday event to fill the space when BlogHer cancelled, which was a tad stressful but also fun. Things really started Thursday with the photowalks and then dinners Thursday night but I didn’t arrive until lunch Friday so in a lot of ways things were winding down by the time I showed up. I chatted with friends, was introduced to a few people like Chris Rabb that I had not previously met and went in to sessions.
When the sessions started back up I attended Ruby Sinreich’s on hyperlocal blogging, hoping to get some mojo to bring to the Grand Strand Bloggers site. It was valuable and I did learn some things I needed to know. After that I went to Tom Lassiter’s web video session. Since I have a proper video camera now I was hoping to get some wisdom on how to use the damn thing. It was OK but Tom has a laid back low energy approach that didn’t match what I needed at that moment. I got up at 5 AM to get ready, I needed a boost.
After that was the unified session in the auditorium that Ed Cone led on “People-powered Media in the Election” with Robert Scoble, Anil Dash, Mathew Gross, and Pam Spaulding. This is the kind of thing Converge can be heavy on, and while I wouldn’t say it is useless to me at this point I don’t know what more that subject can bring to my table. And with that, the day was wrapped up.
After catching a ride with Don Lewis back to the hotel, I met up with my wife and hung out for a little bit before driving over to the Hoggards for the BBQ. In many ways, I think this event is in fact the conference and all the sessions are a formality to get us here. I talked to lots of people and had a great time as always. I met back up with Wayne Sutton, who I met last year when we were both shlepping our stuff to the same parking lot at the same time. In that year he has really stepped up his game and is doing a huge amount of interesting work. I passed out CREATE South fliers and just generally had me a big ol’ time.
After I went back to the hotel and went to bed. At 3:30 AM I woke up from a dream in which I was organizing something and everything about it was turning out to be a disaster. I felt like I was having a panic attack and couldn’t get back to sleep for a solid hour after that. After getting up and ready and checking out from the hotel I dropped my wife at Guilford College and went back to NC A&T. I got there just in time to catch the beginning of the opening session of IBC08. I sat in the front row with Wayne who was also doing a live stream of the session. Somewhere on Twitter I saw someone note with some irony that of all the various sessions and PodCamps and BarCamps happening around on Saturday, we were the only one with any sort of live stream. That settles it, Wayne does indeed rock.
I ended up skipping much of the morning to set up lunch. My original plan was to let everyone do it on their own but there just weren’t that many places around that area. I didn’t want people to have to scatter to the winds at all kinds of different schedules. Mur Lafferty was coming to give a talk at 1 PM and she didn’t have a long time she could stay past that so I made the executive decision to bring food in. I called the Hoggards about leftover food and they were willing to let us have whatever there was, but it wasn’t enough to feed the crew so I ended up order from Elizabeth’s Pizza. It was really good, and I thought everything had gone perfectly until I found out that the Hoggards never got their stuff back as the person deputized to take it and who said they would just flaked. Looks like I have to make this right.
In the afternoon, Mur gave her talk about specifics of creating community and how she does it for her podcasts and books. There was a lot of detail, which is what I was looking for. My goal was to have lots of specifics, lots of detail and as much ability to do it hands on as possible. After that, we had Jared Smith give a really detailed explanation of how he does his Charleston inclement weather casts. In fact, there is video recorded of that session. The audience loved it, and we came up with slogans for his cast. My entry was “Devastation was never so much fun” but the winner was “Jared Smith – Your Disaster Advantage!” After that Robert Scoble did a presentation on how he does his live streaming. Again, there was a focus on detail and specifics and here is the demonstration video Robert shot. It includes me being filmed for a really uncomfortably long time, but on the upside that’s a lot of face time for both me and J. R. “Bob” Dobbs.
After Robert’s session, I did a mini-tutorial on the side of the auditorium about how I do two channel recording of Skype interviews. Rather than do a big presentation, I stood with 6 or 8 people and demonstrated with my mixer, laptop and Marantz how I make this happen. Janet Edens did a session on tying together bits of social media that was a great thematic wrapup for all the things that had lead into it. I would like to say I arranged it that way, but it was more dumb luck than anything. After that, we finished with Don Lewis’ green screen session. He talked about the issues involved in setting up and lighting for such work. Vera Hannaford volunteered to take some video in front of the screen of her talking and dancing, which Don then composited over some footage of NC A&T campus that Dan Conover had previously shot. While Don did that, several of us took footage of ourselves in front of the green screen for future fiddling. I myself did a spontaneous mini-rant for the Church of the Subgenius as my alter-ego “The Wrong Reverend Stig Mathers.”
After that, it was break down time. I had to go back to Guilford College and get my wife so I had to delegate a lot of the break down and clean up of the space. I found a ride back to the hotel for Scoble, volunteers to help Don break down all his stuff, and one to return the stuff to the Hoggards. Sadly, the last part that didn’t happen. Meatloaf song “Two out of Three Ain’t Bad,” but I’m not so sure. From there, it was driving back to Conway. Driving through Rockingham and Bennetsville in the dark is kind of barren and a boring, but we made it back just fine.
Thanks to everyone who showed up at IBC 08, to Kelby Carr for organizing her half of it, to Sue Polinsky for acting as liaison with NC A&T to get the space, to A&T and particularly the facilities guys for letting us have the space and sitting there all day. Thanks to all the presenters and the supporters from a distance, to Wayne for streaming. I’d like to say “let’s do it again” but I don’t really mean that. The next conference that chooses to cancel on short notice is on its own. However, if you like anything about what we did here, then you are in the market for the next CREATE South. It will be April 2009, so come to Myrtle Beach and pass a good time with us.
Now that it’s a few days in the past I can look back on the weekend with a little more perspective. While you are there and a part of the excitement everything seems so powerful and profound. Sometimes a dispassionate reflection confirms that, and sometimes you realize you were just caught up in a moment.
Things that went right:
- NC A&T was an inspired choice for a host. I enjoyed both the facilities and the people quite a bit.
- Almost all the sessions I attended were great and there was a lot of energy in all the rooms. You could feel them buzzing, and I loved that.
- The structured nightlife was a great democratizing force. Often in these things, the cool kids know where to go and most people don’t. If you are a weasel like me, you tend to find these things out but it is a great disparity in information. By having the BBQ and distinct clubs that people convened at, the pockets of cool were not there and it makes the whole thing better.
- On top of that, all the music I saw rocked my world. Way to go, Jay Ovittore.
- The food was great, and at least the breakout dinner I was at was fantastic.
- The mix of people at most places from beginning to end was great. I had a good time talking to everyone, those I knew or knew of and those I was just meeting and just finding out about.
- The BBQ was great, and I actually enjoyed the rain. I had an umbrella with me, I just never used it. I treated it like a Woodstock situation where getting our asses rained on together was a bonding experience.
- Even though my thing is egalitarian and I think we are all in this together, I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t get a big kick out of hanging out with Amanda and Mario from Rocketboom.
- The guy driving the shuttle van was a trip!
Things that went wrong:
- The podcasting session. Now we know this has to be split up into sub-sessions. I like the idea of making a main session about the higher level stuff of interest to the listeners, and then maybe smaller hands-on sessions for the gear heads (like me).
- The network access at both the Biltmore and the school was hit or miss. The Biltmore was operational for me, but just barely. It was usable at the school, but a huge pain in the ass and required a big hurdle to connect the first time. I understand what the guy was saying about being compelled to protect the network by state law. Frankly, it might have been easier to bring in a temporary connection like you do for conventions than try to use what was already there, if that meant we could just connect to the damn thing.
- Maps to the clubs would be helpful in the conference literature. I got lost, I saw other people wandering 2 blocks from where they wanted to be. I walked to the Flatiron in about the longest path you could take without turning your back to the joint. Thank you, random strangers that pointed me in the right direction.
- I came home from Bloggercon full of the holy fire, and wanting to do a conference in Myrtle Beach. However, this was much better than anything I could have slapped together and in reasonable driving distance as well. Instead, I think the better thing to do is to organize smaller meetups with an emphasis on “how do I get going on this?” Maybe a group that meets once a month at locations that move throughout the state – Myrtle Beach, Florence, Charleston, Columbia, etc. If we meet at a place with free wifi, those who know can help those who are learning. Bring your laptops and whatever audio equipment you have and we’ll make something work if you want to podcast. Bring your videocamera and teach me what you know. That sort of thing – rather than talk let’s do. Meeting in a big group with like minded people was fun, but I think taking this on the road will rise the tide better in the larger world.
- For most of my youth and young adulthood, I was a self-proclaimed misanthrope. If pressed I’d say that I generally hated people, with just a few exceptions. I can’t claim that anymore, I have to admit that I love people. I felt verklempt most of the weekend with the power of people giving up a beautiful day to spend it talking to each other and me. Multiple times I teared up while talking to people about the power of empowering the audience. There was an energy that I don’t think anyone could deny and I’m extremely grateful that I was allowed to be part of it.
- I’ve been hearing about how great Greensboro is for years, and I never quite bought it. I was slap wrong, it is indeed a great town!
- To demonstrate the power of citizen media, I give the example of my meeting Jinni Hoggard for the first time. Even though I didn’t talk to her nearly enough, I felt like I knew her the second I shook her hand, following her struggles from a distance as I had. I hear a lot of academic blah blah blah on the subject, but knowing her story and that I could have missed her presence on the planet just brought out the power of citizen media and why it is important. All this talk of “bloggers in pajamas” vs reporters is pure horseshit. It’s about people and connection and thank God I got a chance to connect to her. Next time I’m going to monopolize some of her time.
- More than anything similar I’ve ever attended, the end of the conference felt like a beginning of something much bigger.
That’s the end. Come talk to me, y’all.
Wow, this is taking a long time. I need to wrap this up before I forget all the details.
After the last session, I went back to the hotel. I had intended to take a nap but I ended up in IM conversations and phone calls and then eventually I had missed the nap window. I went down and hung out with Dan and Janet in the hotel lobby consuming the free wine and cheese for a while, and then everyone went to their respective hosted dinners. I went to the one hosted by Amanda and Mario of Rocketboom at the Minj Grill. My new buddy Mark was there, as were a number of cool folks. Jimmy Wales and his wife and daughter were also at this one. The conversation was good, as was the food. Before leaving the hotel, Ed said if he wasn’t hosting a dinner he’d be going just for the food there and that I should get the wings. I never get wings but I did and they were indeed fantastic. The only downside is that in a situation like this where you are talking to lots of folks and sitting across the table from people of whom you are a fan, wings may not be the best logistical choice. Still, it was pulled off, I think without disgusting anyone. The liberal application of wet naps mitigated against the faux pas.
We talked a lot about (obviously) new media, videoblogging and IP TV, podcasting, Wikipedia and the new power structures of information. Don Moore at the table has worked a lot in television so we got a lot of stories about how things work inside the building and I got the sense from him that as someone in the know about the present day of big media, he has a lot of faith and anticipation from where the new media are heading. It was a good mix of people and the knowledge coverage was really good – we all had enough in common to have subjects to talk about but we also all had different areas of expertise such that a lot of knowledge came out. I enjoyed it a lot and would be glad to eat at Minj again.
After this, everyone broke up and went their respective ways. Amanda and Mario and I went back to the hotel and did the interview in the lobby sitting around a table. I don’t remember why I felt so confident but I did it zero note style. Usually I have at least a scrap of paper to keep me on track but this was as free as it wheels. I think having talked to them earlier in the day when they agreed to do the interview and having seen the presentation, I just felt it would all take care of itself once the conversation got rolling. Lo and behold it did. The mobile rig did splendidly in its first trip out of the house except for being too noisy when moving the mike from person to person. We talked for about 15 minutes on the mike, a few minutes afterwards, a few more minutes when Ed stepped out of his dinner he was hosting in the Biltmore dining room to talk to us, and then we broke up to get ready for the evening.
I ditched my stuff, made a phone call home, and headed out to Solaris. Amanda and Mario had left first, but by the time a group of us including the usual suspects as well as Antonella Napolitano got down the street, we caught back up with them as they weren’t quite sure where they were heading. We walked there and then a few members of the party realized they didn’t have the ID to get in (and look really young, so there was no wiggle room.) We trekked back and back again, and then we were inside. Even after all that, the show hadn’t yet started. During the walk, I got to talk a lot with Mario who blew my mind with some of the stuff he wants to do. Since some of that includes making independent film, I told him my idea that formed from my talks with John Rogers about forming collectives or cooperatives around the production and how to make your crew working for free actually participants in the process.
The musician was Alana Davis, a performer lots of people seemed hyped about but with whom I was unfamiliar. I really enjoyed the show, even though I moved to the bar area for a while to converse with people. I liked the music but I couldn’t pass up the chance to talk to all these people while I was in the same room with them. I ended up showing several people the CVS camera and talking about the cable hack several more times. Eventually, I ended up having a long and emotional conversation with Mario and Amanda about the fun and opportunities and pressures of what is happening right now with media, new and old. We all sort of mutually agreed that we feel that something special is on the cusp of happening, that there is a window to create a new world with new access to more people, more engagement and less passivity and that a smarter public could emerge from it. Obviously, this includes getting tech out to more people and connectivity out to more people who are presently unconnected, which is a big issue. We also know that if it gets screwed up now, the existing media and power structures will build up antibodies to this and perhaps entrench deeper in a way that immunizes them against changing. That’s the responsibility part. Can a few minutes of dada video daily change the world? I think so, but don’t take my word for it. You can watch it happen.
Unlike the previous night, I took it a little easy on the brews so I was coherent enough for conversation all the way through the evening. In another of the many surreal moments, I found myself in a cluster of folks including Mark, Chris Daniel and Duncan “Atrios” Black in a conversation that ultimately turned to the technology of how GWAR does what they do and the democratizing power of Monty Python. I got my Alana Davis CD signed, got her permission in person to use her music in the podcasts and as the soundtrack to the video of the conference. She really seemed tickled when I told here that at first I got the permissions in order not to get sued, and eventually I realized that anyone that would sue me is someone whose music I don’t give a shit about. It was a good time all around, but eventually I ran out of steam and left. I said my goodbyes and hugged everyone and back to the hotel.
On the way, I got into a conversation about Greensboro nightlife with some random guy and pointed him to various options. Bad luck for him that I was his tour guide, hope he found something fun. I saw a spot right in front of the hotel so I went to move my rental car closer. The band unloading at the pub I was parked in front of had me almost blocked in, but they and the taxi driver behind me guided me out. Now parked right by the front door, all set up for loading up the car and heading out, I went to bed and slept the sleep of the spiritually satisfied but physically exhausted.
To be concluded