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April 06, 2005

Innovation Journalism Conference recap

By Charlene Li

MarkbungerI was talking with my colleague, Mark Dixon Bünger, this morning about the Innovation Journalism Conference he attended yesterday and asked him to write up some of his impressions. What I found most interesting is his first encounter with real-time blogging and that moment of epiphany. Read on: Mark is one of the smartest and most entertaining writers I know.

I spent the last two days at David Nordfors’s excellent Innovation Journalism Conference at Tressider Union at Stanford. In one session, I vaguely remembered having met one of the panelists, Ross Mayfield (founder of Socialtext) so as he was walking up to the stage I googled him and the top link was to his blog. Clicking on it, I was overcome with this weird feeling of deja-vu because he had just posted his comments on the presentation we’d just witnessed seconds before; in fact he closed the post “Now I have to get up to join the panel, alongside David from BoingBoing and others...”

The blog amazed me: his summary made the presentation clearer for me; his opinions gave me new things to think about; his notes from the prior year gave me more data; his sidebar links were a treasure-trove of interesting new ideas. I confirmed that we had indeed met once before, and I learned all kinds of new things about him that brought this stranger to life. All this in the space of just a minute or so.

This wasn’t just good stuff -- it was a third-eye-opening experience for me. You know: curtain parting, sky rent asunder, light streaming in from all around...that stuff. Because all of a sudden I got it -- I instantly understood why blogging (which I honestly thought was nonsense) is such an addictive, important phenomenon. Ross’s blog was not merely interesting; it was like getting the teacher’s edition of the textbook that is your memory. Augmented reality without VR goggles or a neurochip. Annotated, hyperlinked life. If you’re one of those people who like the footnotes as much as the book itself, blogs are those footnotes. If you’re still hoping to experience information overload someday, tap into the blogosphere in real-time at your next conference.

So at this point you’re probably thinking I need to get a life. Mystic revelation induced by a digerati’s blog? Let me explain. It wasn’t that Ross’s writing was some kind of mind-blowing, exceptional, sacred, monumental text (although it is certainly very good). In fact it’s the opposite: blog texts are as easy, cheap, accessible, pervasive, real-time, simple as spoken words or thoughts... yet useful, connected, semipermanent, global, and potentially infinitely interlinked. Blogs are to webpages what webpages are to books. I realized that what I had dismissed as a yet another pointless activity I’m too old for, is actually something much more important, and it is EVERYWHERE. That was what cracked open the shell of the Matrix for me yesterday.

Blogs weave tiny spiderthread tendrils connecting minutes and seconds and people and ideas, and they highlight the ones that already exist. We forget in the day-to-day world that we are little more than a web of friends and colleagues and ideas and places, but some days we’re fortunate enough that life reminds us and gives us a peek at the wiring. Here are some more of the connections that lit up for me at the Innovation Journalism conference:

  • On the panel, Ross had nice things to say about Charlene Li -- owner of this blog. Ross didn’t know that Charlene sits literally 15 feet away from me at the office.
  • I met an SU student named Martin. He asked for my card and sent me an email last night, recommending I go to SAP Developer Forum-meister Mark Finnern’s Future Salon on April 15. I know Mark from a SACC panel discussion a few months ago, and it reminded me that I wanted to get Mark’s feedback on a report I’m working on about biochemical computing. I was inspired to write the report by a speech Neil Gershenfeld gave at the Forrester Executive Strategy Forum in 2003, where Neil talked about some MIT colleagues of his who are splicing antennas into proteins. It turns out Neil is the speaker at Mark’s upcoming Future Salon.
  • One of the other speakers was eminent Swedish journalist Anders Pers, via webcam from Sweden. Anders’s wife Mona started the program at Mälardalen Polytechnic where I met my wife Kristina fifteen years ago. If it weren’t for Mona and Anders, I would never have met Kristina, and our children simply wouldn’t exist. Little connections have big impacts!
  • The fellow-panelist David who Ross mentioned is David Pescovitz from Wired and BoingBoing. BoingBoing is a crack-cocaine-addictive blog that takes far, far too much of my time and so I was thrilled to meet my pusher in person. When I got home and had dispatched the day’s email pile, I clicked on BoingBoing for a little pre-bedtime reading. The top post was a talk with astrobiologist and Yuri’s Night founder Loretta Hidalgo, who borrowed 2001: A Space Odyssey from me when we met at the Mars Society conference three years ago... at the very place the Innovation Journalism conference was held, Tressider Union at Stanford.

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