Thursday, May 23, 2002 by Dave Winer.
Something new is happening, thanks to the development of 802.11b networks at conferences, and easy to use weblog software.
Here's the scenario. A traditional conference, with a stage, a speaker, panelists, and a moderator. People in the audience, with laptops, checking email, sending and receiving instant messages, and lately, posting publicly to their weblogs.
Once we reached the last stage, where publishing could be instantaneous and easy, the whole notion of an audience changes. We no longer have to line up at the microphones, nor are we limited to asking questions. Instead we can relate what's happening on stage to the whole world, or at least that part of the world that cares, and they can help us develop the story. News travels much more quickly. And when a wired person is on stage, they can see what the former audience is saying about them, and respond.
The old slow loop, and the old frustrations of being in the audience melts away. So many new ways of flowing ideas become possible when the audience members have voices. They cease to be an audience in any recognizable sense.
Last week I attended the O'Reilly Emerging Technology conference where there were dozens of bloggers, and many of the sessions were about doing weblogs, the future of the medium, and standards for making the products work more powerfully for users.
A couple of months ago at Esther Dyson's PC Forum conference, Dan Gillmor, Cory Doctorow and Doc Searls, all experienced webloggers, with the help of Buzz Bruggeman, a person who viewed the conference only through the Web, raised the awareness of this art to a much broader group of people. The epiphanies were very exciting. If you don't believe me, ask Esther, Kevin Werbach, Dan, Cory, Doc and Buzz.
In July, I will participate in the O'Reilly Open Source conference in San Diego. This may be the first conference in history to premeditate support for real-time publishing, doing simple things like providing power strips and good desks for people reporting the sessions on the Web. I'm anxious to help them any way I can. This is exciting new technology, very relevant for the art of conferences.
PopTech, a conference in Maine in October is going even further, according to Robert Scoble, who is participating in the planning of the conference. Sounds like I should plan to be there.
In no more than a couple of years, probably a lot less, conferences will seek out people who write weblogs to broaden the reach of their conferences. The logic is simple. If I give a speech at a conference, in the old model, I can speak to a few hundred people for a few minutes, and convey a small bit of what I know, and influence them for a short time, until the next speaker takes the stage. However, if a discussion starts with my presentation, and a record is created on the public Web, and linked to by weblogs, and indexed by the major search engines, all of a sudden I have a chance to create news when I give a speech. This increases the value of the conference for everyone who participates.
For the next couple of years, the news coming out of conferences will be the new technology. We have a lot of catching up to do. People generally don't know that there are new tools, as fundamental and empowering as word processors were in the early 80s. And aggregation software that can merge many flows into one, so you never have to go looking for what's new. That point came home last week. The market is just waking up. The tools vendors, including my company, are way ahead of most users.
I've said this many times before, but it bears repeating in this context. Press conferences should include users to report to other users, without middlemen. We've seen a bit of this in Macromedia's adoption of weblog technology to create flow directly from internal Macromedia developers to users, but the flow must also work in the reverse direction. Include users in your idea of what the press is, listen, and tune your message, and your marketing automatically gets more efficient. There's not much time to waste, professional journalists are learning about and adopting the new technology. Any technology vendor that isn't also using these techniques to market is going to wake up in a very strange world in a couple of quarters.
We have a lot more work to do before we're finished. Here's a brief list.
1. We have to protect free communication on the Internet. Hollywood and its allies in the US Congress are taking really deep shots at the Internet. This is not good. Emphatically, it's not a medium just like TV, music or film. I'd rather see other creative media become more like the Internet, rather than the other way around.
2. Return to our roots in the software business. Developers need support from users. The investment community has steered us away from this, let's go back there.
3. Let's ask Microsoft to settle their lawsuit, and create more room for growth by creating separation between Microsoft's goals and the Web's. I strongly believe that if we can return to growth in user-oriented software, Microsoft will be the largest participant in this growth. Like the venture capital community, Microsoft is sitting on billions of uninvested dollars. Let's find ways for them to put this money to work.
4. These are extrordinary times. Never before has the money of the technology business been so interested in new ideas. We have them. The trick is to use the technology to entice the investors, as users, to experience the excitement of the network, for what it's really good at, not tethered to the empty missions of the dotcom period. That's why having a conference in Silicon Valley, soon, interests me so much.
5. Let's restore a healthy respect for competition. Don't go into markets with the idea that it's going to be all yours. Patents destroy the competitive spirit as much as monopolies do.
6. More voices. I'm encouraging people who have positive ideas to write guest DaveNets. The experience with Adam Curry's piece two weeks ago was a reminder that monoculture is not my mission. I want to enable more voices. So if you have something to say, don't hide -- this channel is open to lots of new ideas, from all kinds of places.
Let's get started with #6 right now. ;->
One of my colleagues at UserLand, Jake Savin, said on his weblog: "If we're too lazy, numb, frightened, or self-censored to ask the important questions and share what we learn with each other, we might as well sign over what's left of our civil rights right now. It will be a lot easier to lose them, than it will be to get them back."
Amen to that. Properly invested, the money and minds of Silicon Valley are perfectly aligned with the freedom the Internet offers. The idealistic story of the mid-90s was the correct one; the dotcom model, a detour. In the tech industry we make tools for artists, thinkers, journalists, academics, marketers, engineers, lawyers, to create and communicate.
That's all we do. When we try to do more, we get lost. Let's find our way home.
Viewed another way, in the nineties we built a great global network. Our next challenge is to use it.
PS: Alan Reiter has an excellent weblog devoted to wireless weblogs at conferences.