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August 14, 2009

Netroots Nation 2009

I'm attending Netroots Nation 2009, formerly YearlyKos. Although the tagline for the event is "Changing the Face of Progressive Politics", I'm not sure I'd qualify as a Progressive. (To be clear: Progressives are an honorable bunch).

NetRoots Nation is, however, the nexus of politics and the web, which deconstructs into democracy, change, and the future, and I just have a hard time passing up on a chance to watch and listen to people who are very good at what they do, especially when it may affect - well, the world. The web is the new forum of political discourse and manipulation, and so I think this 'bloggers convention' might be educational.

The convention center presented well, the event was well coordinated, all the technology worked, there was always cool water available. Pittsburgh is doing well at Netroots Nation. They all seem keen on the notion of having the french fries and the cole slaw in their sandwiches.

Lots of cool schwag, tshirts and buttons. They gave out a stress squeeze-ball labelled "use when watching Fox News". The geek-scrounge in me was hoping for a NetRoots Nation thumb drive, but there were none in evidence.

There was an open area that I'd have to call the PlayRoom for lack of a better name, it struck me it was very WestCoast Startup 2.0. Maybe I should call it the Playa in homage to BurningMan. I've always heard about these flexible spaces, never found myself in one before. Bean bag chairs, lots of small tables, floor mats and blankets (two people were taking a nap).

Clearly the order of the day for non-nappers was an electrical outlet for the laptop/netbook. There was an abundance of electricity and the WiFi network carried the strain well, and I imagine that Netroots Nation strains the WiFi a lot more than the average event.

The Exhibition Hall was a gaggle of Liberal interests, including Drinking Liberally, which I thought had a refreshing sense of humor about themselves. I thought the most on-message takeaway was from, who distributed a pamphlet made out of recycled paper embedded with wildflower seeds, so you can Read it, Think About it, Plant it, and Remember it. That's good marketing. The only group that seemed out of place was the Poker Players Alliance, but I guess they're playing to the party in power.

I did score some great looking sweets from the people, but after I took a look through their materials I decided that maybe there was no such thing as a free meal, and I decided not to eat their candy. You never know the extent of advocacy. With all the controversy about Death Panels you'd think they'd keep these folks in the closet, but that's the thing about Netroots Nation: absolutely nobody is in the closet. But I bet Arlen Specter wishes he could be, he was the butt of every straight line I heard.

The seminars were effective, very web 2.0. Usually at a conference, the seats up front get a few takers, and the seats in the middle-to-back fill up. At Netroots Nation, the room populates in a U-shaped pattern as people with laptops seek to sit near electrical power outlets.

And everybody had laptops (in which we include Netbooks, because NN09 is all about inclusiveness). This place was a tribute to multitasking - the audience was surfing the web and liveblogging, the podium folks were checking things on the web while other speakers were talking, the whole place was multitasking. (Average age on the podiums: about 28). People had their heads down, and the audience submitted questions both in the legacy manner - raising hands and actually speaking, but also in the web2.0 manner, by Tweeting with a hashtag specific to that meeting.

The best graphic I saw was a "union 2.0" image by the United Steelworkers, combining an orange hardhat with an RSS 2.0 icon. I'll have to scan it in.

Blogging Local Government and Events

The best presentation I saw was one of local blogging, and if Bram R. had been there, his blog would have won the "that's what we're talking about" award.

Five local, grassroots bloggers talked about Blogging Locally (as opposed to Nationally or Topically). They all said that if you'd don't blog the local story, then nobody else will - local media is too stressed to cover the stories, and they'll only come to light if local bloggers push them into the public view. For instance, the recent Infinonynous post about the URA giving Brookline Beer $50K for "inventory" (in other words, buying beer with my money which they subsequently resell to me at a higher price. Wow. I never knew government did that. Great post, Infinonymous!

They all felt that successful blogs focus on change rather than the status quo, which kind of hurt my feelings - sometimes I want to be an advocate for the Status Quo. I may reposition it as "StatusQuo 2.0" .

A Philadelphia blogger pointed out that local blogs have both low barriers to entry and low barriers to effectiveness - if nobody is working an issue, then any attention is monumental. In the absence of local political criticism, a local blogger filling a void can actually have undue influence if they get readers.

The panel identified that the problem of local blogs is sustainability in terms of time and effort. Curiously, 2 of the 5 panelist blogs has acquired full sponsorship - one by a newspaper, another by a local union.

Another panelist made the point that the death of Old Media is not good for Bloggers. He felt that local media covered meetings, documented some facts, and generally get their phone calls returned; he said the role of local bloggers was to shift the initial Old Media coverage into meta mode.

Throughout this discussion I was reminded of how well Bram Reichbaum's Comet stood up in light of their recommendations. So here's to you, Bram: SALUTE.


illyrias said...

Thanks for your run-down here. There probably weren't enough of us Pittsburghers representing.

Bram Reichbaum said...

Thanks, Vannevar. Unfortunately I had a family situation coincide with a sudden onset of work, and I only caught NRN extremely sporadically. Would like to have checked this out, et cetera. Thanks for the rundown.

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