Seven big ideas (and one pet peeve) from BlogNashville

Robert Cox was frustrated. The blogger and former currency trader for Citibank attended the last BloggerCon gathering at Stanford University, announcing the formation of the Media Bloggers Association. But all around Cox were liberal bloggers, liberal academics and people who did not share his conservative worldview.

His idea? Launch a similar blogger convention but place it in a red state in the heart of America, with the hope that the sessions would mix conservative and liberal bloggers. Thus, BlogNashville was born.

Last weekend, I attended this melting pot of a convention, and discovered a new game among attendees: Guess the Political Orientation. The game starts when you meet a new person, and a conversation ensues. Without asking the person, you try to infer whether he or she is a liberal or conservative blogger by their conversation, their accent, their hometown, whatever. You might even try to draw a conclusion based on whom they are following around — Dave Winer (liberal) or Glenn Reynolds (conservative).

For the most part, this game didn’t hinder the relatively loose and congenial attitude of the wide array of bloggers who came to Nashville — many of whom are apolitical and blog about music, sports, podcasting, or spreading blogging to other countries. Ironically, the only major red-faced moments came during the “Respectful Disagreement” session led by Winer. And even then, Winer seemed to have kind words for some of the conservatives he met.

These types of conferences are usually great places for me to actually meet people face to face whom I’ve only known via the phone or e-mail. That was again the case, but it also worked in reverse. After I got home, I read for the first time some of the blogs of people that I’d met and learned more about their writing style, their interests, and how they viewed the conference.

Though I still don’t have a Weblog, I’m going to use this space to share some great ideas and projects I learned about at BlogNashville — and to spout off on one of my pet peeves at these types of conferences.

Great Ideas

1. Milblogging session includes people from afar. It was hard to attend all the sessions, as there were three sessions going at once. One that I missed but wished I had seen was the session on military bloggers. Former Pentagon programmer and Winds of Change blogger Robin Burk led the session, and had military bloggers and even a military wife on hand. Plus, she had the Veterans of Foreign Wars of North Carolina run a webcast of the session, and had a few military bloggers on video and audio links to Nashville — plus a live chat room.

“We got Blackhawk and then Mustang23 on video,” Burk told me later. “Mustang23 is a company commander in Iraq right now, so it must have been the middle of the night for him. Greyhawk joined us by audio only from Germany, while in the chat room Barcepundit joined in from Spain.”

Burk explains more about the global hookup for the session here, with some of the chat here.

2. Nashville has the first full-time local TV station blogger. Brittney Gilbert was recently hired by Nashville’s WKRN-TV Channel 2 to write a blog called Nashville Is Talking. Of course she’s not the first local TV station employee to start a blog by any means, but she’s probably the first one whose only job at the station is to sit at a computer and blog. Gilbert told me she goes into the station, and blogs from 9 to 5 each weekday. She did recently appear on-air in a story about the Tennesee governor starting to blog, but so far, that’s been an anomoly. While her blog has a live aggregator of various Nashville-based blogs, it doesn’t necessarily live up to its moniker at the top of the page: “Operated and maintained by News2 as part of our commitment to listen.” The problem is that I couldn’t find a link to the blog from anywhere on the station’s main Web site.

3. Spirit of America plans to offer an anonymous blog service. The non-profit Spirit of America is developing an anonymous blogging service that would help bring free speech to people in countries where governments are clamping down on Internet freedom. The group has already started testing an Arabic blogging tool, but Spirit of America contractor Adam Shostack attended BlogNashville to network with others and learn more about the technology required to keep bloggers anonymous in countries such as Iran and China. He’s already set up a wiki to explore requirements for such a system, but most people attending a special Anoniblogging Roundtable at BlogNashville said there’s always a way to track people hiding behind almost any type of anonymizing system.

4. “Open Source” radio show coming from PRI. Public Radio International is planning to launch a new show with Christopher Lydon that will attempt to bring “the sound of the Web” to public radio. One of the show’s producers, Brendan Greeley, ran a session at BlogNashville on podcasting, and told me that the new show wouldn’t really be about blogging, but rather would treat bloggers as “fixers” in a foreign country. In other words, the bloggers who have deep knowledge on a subject would come on the show and share their knowledge with listeners. Already, the show has a blog up, which includes audio of their test show and thoughts on how they might create theme music via Creative Commons-licensed tunes.

Greeley was also responsible for one of the more interesting interactive experiments at BlogNashville, called “Speak, Nashville, Speak.” Basically, anyone attending the conference could call a special number, leave a message describing what they were thinking, and then the audio would be posted automatically onto a blog for everyone else to hear. It ended up being kinda quirky, but a nice idea nonetheless.

5. BlogNashville site aggregates blog posts and photos from conference. OK, it’s the ultimate self-referential move, but that doesn’t mean it’s not helpful. The conference’s Web site includes a page called “Discussion,” that’s not really a discussion but actually an aggregation of all the BlogNashville blog posts via Technorati, photos via Flickr and Web links via Not only is it a great running tally of the post-convention commentary, but you can also subscribe to RSS feeds to get the latest in your newsreader. This is the type of page that should be a requirement for all conventions in the future.

6. Glenn Reynolds gives a videoblogging demo. Ever wish that some of blogging’s biggest proponents actually rolled up their sleeves and got dirty with the technology? That’s what InstaPundit blogger and University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds did at the conference. Reynolds basically interviewed a bunch of attendees using his pocket digital camera’s movie feature, and showed how easy it was to create a video report from the event with passable sound and image quality.

7. Blogging classes coming to Poynter’s NewsU. Robert Cox, president of the Media Bloggers Association, announced that he was working with the Poynter Institute to offer up online classes for journalists and bloggers explaining blogging basics. The classes would be included in Poynter’s NewsU, and might help journalists learn how to set up blogs, or could help bloggers get basic legal tips to protect themselves. During one session, Cox mentioned that his impetus for starting the MBA was when he was legally threatened by The New York Times for doing a satire of its corrections page.

Pet Peeve

1. Put down the blog. There were times at the conference where it seemed like everyone in the room was on a laptop blogging, or taking pictures or video of each other. That’s understandable, as this was a conference for bloggers. But c’mon. Here you are in a room with people and you have a chance to engage and listen and talk — to actually participate interactively face to face in real time. So why not put down the laptop, turn off the cell phone, put away the digital camera for some time and really be there? Maybe there’s a way to set some ground rules: Turn off the portable electronic devices for the first 55 minutes, then blog and photograph for 5 minutes. Sure, you want to do other work, IM with friends, etc. But why travel so far to a conference just to stick your head in a laptop for most of the time you’re there?

About Robert Niles

Robert Niles is the former editor of OJR, and no longer associated with the site. You may find him now at


  1. Regarding your peeve which needs petting:

    I was mostly laptop-free at the Berkman conferences over the winter– I took notes on my palm pilot. But, as this stuff gets repetitive, it’s sometimes helpful to have a laptop for the back-channel. I’d love to see statistics posted of the quantity of network chatter while certain individuals are speaking… On that point, since I wasn’t given the opportunity to have a “respectful disagreement” with Winer during the Berkman’s open session at BloJoCred, I had the luxury of using one of the Berkfolk’s laptops to participate in IRC. Which was much more fun.

    I’m glad for Bob to have put this together, though, I’ve always asked him to bring the conversations we have on his National Debate blog over to the MBA community.

  2. So why not put down the laptop…for some time and really be there?

    Your point is well taken, Mark. I noticed that about myself the first time I blogged around other bloggers. A few months ago I attended the Conservative Political Action Conference, and I was assigned to blog the conference on “Bloggers Row.” As soon as I arrived, I couldn’t wait to blog, take pictures, upload them and blog some more. We were all doing it. Every now and then we stopped and talked. Why travel so far to meet other bloggers and talk about blogging if you’re just going to blog the whole time?

    Because we’re bloggers. 🙂

    La Shawn Barber, Faith-Based Blogging Session Leader

  3. Mark, I was impressed with the congeniality among the bloggers Left and Right. The Winer session was the glaring exception. During the two-day Computer-Assisted Research and Reporting Boot Camp at the Freedom Forum’s Diversity Institute, we had a dozen participants who seemed about evenly split ideologically, plus an instructor corps that included folks from Heritage on the Right and the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities on the Left. We covered a lot of topics but there were no tense moments. In fact, I think folks enjoyed the range of opinion and the fact we were united by a desire to learn skills to enhance the quality and depth of our blogging. Bottomline: I think those who flame folks with different views are the exception, not the rule in the Blogosphere. Thanks for a great column on an important event. It was great getting to meet you and talk with you in person, too!

  4. I understand how important it is to blog an event live. But maybe there’s a way to just take notes on a notepad, and then write it up later? I’m sure the same thing must go on in college classes these days, but when you know people are connected online, you just figure they’re probably not really in the room, mentally. Hopefully someone can come up with a way to balance the need to blog with the need for some honest eye contact…

    Mark, great to hear the training sessions went well. I agree that the convention had a very congenial feel to it, and people across the political spectrum got along well. I’m sure that was the real idea behind the “Respectful Disagreement” session, and maybe the problems there just highlight that not everyone will get along…

  5. There are always going to be a certain number of people who are beholden to ideology over evidence — folks who define truth via ideology rather than experience. If their ideologies differ, those folks will never, ever get along.

    The trick is for the rest of us to gather and start talking about how we can work together to build public attention for our work — so that the public learns that it is has better alternative than the ideologues for its news and information.

  6. I dunno, I rather liked the soft chitter of keyboards in the background while I was talking, because it meant there were more people listening than just the ones I could see.

    Seriously, I do take notes (on a notepad) at conference sessions, because it helps me to listen attentively, and I don’t see why typing about what you’re hearing, whether for your own purposes or for your blog, is any more distracting.

    At times when people were not actually in sessions, and free to talk, that seemed to be what most of them were doing.

    — Linda Seebach, Rocky Mountain News

  7. Mark, one thing I liked about the interactive video, audio and chat simultaneous with the videocasting of the milblog session was that it meant the session belonged to all the participants, not just me at the front of the room. I also put out the word ahead of time through the milbloggers and on Winds of Change inviting comments and dialogue from milbloggers, those interested in milblogging and those skeptical about milbloggers, at Random Probabilities during the week ahead of the conference.

    Whether I look at the blogosphere as an academic or as a participant, it’s the network of conversations that I find most intriguing and, ultimately, at the core of its attraction and value.

  8. The WKRN home page now has a bannered link to Nashville is Talking. Thanks for the mention.

    Also, that cover story came out today, with a couple of quotes from you included:

    Thanks for the interview!

  9. At just about any other conference, the laptops, digital cameras, and other gadgetry would have seemed an intrusive breach of etiquette. At BlogNashville, the technology parade was just part of the atmosphere

  10. As someone who wasn’t there, it is interesting to see the 7 ‘big ideas’ get ignored by the follow up comments. All the attention goes to the ‘pet peeve’. And, most seem to defend the value of blogging whenever awake, even if it peeves others.

  11. Don’t assume that laptop users aren’t paying attention. If we didn’t want to listen to your talk, we wouldn’t be in the room. Laptops enable people to augment your talk with other information.

    I used to attend NANOG on a regular basis. Its a conference for engineers who operate internet backbone networks. Everyone always has their laptops out. They are all on IRC. At least one speaker will comment on it every time. Its sort of a litmus test there. If you are a speaker and you comment on the laptops you are probably a bit out of place at that conference.

    Speakers tend to be annoyed that laptop users aren’t paying attention to them, but they are. Having a laptop allows me to dig into deeper information about your talk. I can look up websites you mention, back check facts you reference, and get more details, and I can do it now and not after the conference is over when I might forget something that I wanted to investigate. I can IM other people in the room and share observations about what is being discussed and plan good questions. I can take an urgent IM message so I don’t have to walk out of the room and take a cellphone call. All of this improves the utility of your talk rather then distracting me from it.

    When Dave Winer talked about his Archos Pocket Media Assistant during the podcasting session I was able to pull up it’s webpage and learn about it directly while he was discussing it. To me, thats powerful.

    Rather then fighting this, I suggest working with it. Although Blogger cons are more discussions then talks, most conferences involve prepared notes. Make them available on the web in a web friendly format (not ppt) with hyperlinks that allow people to dig more deeply into the subject matter. Don’t be so bothered if you hear people feverishly typing away. You probably inspired them to go do something.

  12. I met many people from the media on the left and right who made me think. I especially liked meeting the people at the Faith Based Dinner like LaShaun and Mark Tapscott. As a political scientist who has had panels on blogs I would have liked more content based panels like the one on local governments. I was somewhat troubled by the emphasis on making money since I think advertising is a growing problem on the web. I think that the bloggers are a very serious group. I hope the future of blogs is with the group I met at BlogNashville since I think they will always take new media seriously.

  13. Tom,
    I get your point, and understand that people like to use their laptop to augment what’s being said. Maybe you could call me old-fashioned, but I’d rather talk to people and discuss things to *their face* rather than to the back of their laptop. I like the idea of discussing things face to face and seeing expressions, going back and forth, and not the sneaking feeling that everyone is IM’ing their friends back home about something else.
    But that’s just me…