Weblogs in Meatspace
Wednesday, December 11, 2002 by Dave Winer.
It's not a huge pronouncement, just an idea that's been circulating, maybe its time has come. A weblog conference, for bloggers, about weblogs, itself a weblog, for learning, exploring, promoting and developing ideas about technology for the humanities.
Not technology as a business process, but as a liberal art. A very different view.
I think I finally figured out how the Weblog conference, version 1.0, would work. It came from conversations with Kevin Werbach, Doc Searls, Dave Sifry, Halley Suitt, Glenn Fleishman, JD Lasica, Scott Rosenberg, Robert Scoble and Joi Ito in the last few days, from reading a post by Aaron Swartz on his weblog, and from many years of conference going.
I talked with Joi about Davos, where he is a GLOT, or Global Leader Of Tomorrow. I attended Davos in Y2K, and made lots of notes about how they do it. A lot of what I propose for the Weblogs in Meatspace conference, below, is a straight ripoff of the way Davos works. Aaron talks about the Hackers Conference, which I have been invited to many times, but have never attended. The way Aaron explains it makes me think I should go. The person who designed that conference would have a lot to talk about with the person who designed Davos.
The key is to decentralize so that every attendee has a good chance of meeting and talking with all the people they want to talk with, and so that stars can rise, so if the planners don't know who has the most interesting things to say, the users can still find them. There's got to be an element of adhocracy to it.
Meals in Davos are a very important part of the conference. There are about a dozen restaurants in the town of Davos. Breakfasts are for organizations that spun out of Davos or are somehow related. My breakfasts were with editors and publishers of magazines and newspapers, and listening to people, like the President of Argentina, who wanted us to write about them. That was because I attended as a Media Leader. Had I been attending as a Global Technology Entrepreneur, presumably the breakfasts would have worked differently. If I were Bill Gates, everyone would want to come to my breakfast and listen to my schpeil about whatever it is he was talking about in Y2K. In other words if you're big enough, you can have your own breakfast and lots of people will come.
Lunches and dinners are a different sort of affair. They get a huge table that can seat between 40-60 people, and there are four or five panelists, and everyone sits around the table; the panelists speak, but there is no audience, you're allowed to talk back to them, asking questions, challenging assumptions, calling them American pigs who know nothing (a favorite of French and German attendees). This is the innovation I want to copy.
You have to sign up in advance, using a computer program, basically a Web application, that does it on a first come first serve basis. There's no telling which sessions are going to be best. The ones with the biggest names fill up fast. But there's room for everyone. And unlike most conferences in the computer industry, no one eats alone, and everyone has fantastic dinner conversation, even if you, like me, had never been there before.
At the Weblogs In Meatspace conference you will be able to sign up for dinner with Doc Searls, or with Glenn Fleishman or Reynolds, and when you do, it'll be like reading their blog and posting comments, but much higher bandwidth.
There must be 802.11b in the hotel. Everyone must have a room. The conference runs 24 hours a day for two or three days. The opening session (an idea stolen from MacHack, thanks) is at midnight the first night, to stress that this is a weird conference, leave your expectations at the airport. It also levels the playing field for European bloggers, everyone is jetlagged. There are two ballrooms, one for speaking and one for blogging. There are twenty PCs (or Macs) in the blogging room, which is basically our press room. This is a noisy room. If you want quiet space, go write in your bedroom.
Your schedule is on the Web. You implement policies. Can anyone make an appointment with you? Block out times you don't want to meet with anyone, or where you have set up meetings with other bloggers. Make sure to leave some time for sleeping. Sign up for dinners and lunches. In year one this app would be pretty primitive. But in year two and beyond it becomes, as with Davos, the desktop of the conference. People who master this app have a much richer experience than ones who don't. Believe me it's like that at Davos.
Everyone who attends or speaks must have a weblog. No exceptions. So if Jimmy Carter wants to come and tell us what it's like to win the Nobel Peace Prize, he must first tell us on the Web. Same for George W Bush, Steve Jobs or Jack Valenti. But the conference has "normal" sessions, howtos for bloggers, panels for big issues, keynotes from megabloggers, and A-teamers. Awards. A technology track for developers. Perhaps even a session for people with products they want to promote through our blogs (a chance to pick up some cool new toys for free).
The conference would be cheap. Bloggers don't have much money. No sponsorship, at least not in year one. Sponsorship always influences what's said and done. In general, the goal is to mirror the Web in meatspace. The vast majority of weblogs are unsponsored. People disagree about this, but I'm a hardass. No sponsorship means no subsidies. So it's gotta be a no frills show, and that's okay, because it's the ideas and energy I want. I don't care if you have a lot of money.
Anyway, I would love to go to this conference. Lots more ideas. I'm going to talk some more with Scoble. Maybe start a mail list. Let's see what happens.
PS: I call it "Davos" -- but the real name of the event is the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting.
PPS: Someone said (I forget who) that I can pull this off because I have the gravitas. That led me to call this WebGravitas in earlier versions of this piece. I decided that was too ballsy, so I went with WIM instead.