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?