At SXSW thinking about weblogs

I turned this web site into a blog one year ago today. More on that in a few paragraphs.

This afternoon I was sitting in the hall at SXSW trying to organize some notes, and charge up my PowerBook battery. A convention center employee told me and others that we can’t use the wall outlets. He forwarded us to Regina at the utility services booth in the trade show hall, who confirmed that she “owns all the power outlets” in the convention center. Apparently she’d loose money if a few laptop batteries were charged on her watch. She kindly told me about the iMacs in the corner where I could check email. (No thanks.)

I’ve been taking notes and writing up a few thoughts to post later. It’s been a good show so far. David Weinberger gave a great talk yesterday afternoon — well-timed after his and Doc Searls’ “World of Ends” essay. It started the conference on the right foot, and I found myself making connections between his view of the web and other sessions.

In the “Doing Good Online” panel, Chris Mandra from NPR Online said: “If you do the best thing you can do, and satisfy yourself, you will satisfy other people.” The web allows communities to form across existing boundaries (nothing new here, but worth repeating). Being on the web is fine, but by itself has little meaning; it’s about adding to the value of the web. Something as simple as posting about your washing machine in a site’s discussion forum, or writing a weblog on wireless networking, or politics, or whatever — all these things add value, if they can be linked (and indexed) into the whole. Do something as well as you can and put it out there.

Maybe the most valuable weblogs, then, are the ones that can focus on a set of topics. Where individual posts or groups of posts can stand by their own when read a year from now. In response to a question from the audience, Weinberger said he didn’t believe that most bloggers include personal information in their writing, as they would in a private journal. A few trips to LiveJournal or a random Blog*Spot site might lead to a different conclusion. But somewhere in all that rambling there will be some great stories, and they have the potential to connect on some level with someone, somewhere.

I wrote most of the above paragraphs during the conference today. When I got home I went to re-read Meg’s “What We’re Doing When We Blog”, only to find out that I had never actually read it. Probably just skimmed. There’s good stuff in it, and the best parts of the “Journalism: Old vs. New” panel today echoed some of it: about weblogs enabling conversations, involving the reader. Dan Gillmor: “My readers know more than I do, and that’s not a threat, it’s an opportunity.”

One year ago I wrote: “Seems an appropriate time to start a weblog, as if there weren’t enough in the world already.” Since then, thousands more have surely been added to the web, and there are still not enough blogs. The challenge for the next year will be finding readers for those new voices — building software to help discover new sites and connect people.