I attended “America’s largest, multi-media, popular arts convention,” Dragon*Con, this weekend. I went a few years back, so it was a privilege for me to go again this year. There are all sorts of tracks and panels focusing on a wide variety of topics. My favorites include the TrekTrak and the Tolkien Track hosted by TheOneRing.net. However, I noticed a track by the name of Electronic Frontiers Forums, hosted by the (now defunct?) Electronic Frontiers Georgia group, which is associated with the EFF. While they offered a wide variety of panels covering such topics as “Web Cam Girls” and the “FCC Broadcast Flag,” they didn’t offer much discussion on more technical topics for the hard core programmer. Still, their discussions on Web culture did intrigue me, and since sociology and Web culture are among my interests, I managed to make it to the “My So-Called LiveJournal (.com)” panel.
Now, I knew from the title that this discussion would probably be more of a get-together for journalers to chat and compare experiences using LiveJournal. So, for starters, I didn’t exactly fit the LiveJournal mold. I’m more of a “blogger” than a “journaler,” and what I mean by that is this distinction: I don’t talk about my day-to-day life on this blog, nor am I part of a community of other bloggers. I have a blog roll, which is similar to the LiveJournal friends listings, but there seems to be more of a widespread community phenomenon going on with LiveJournal and other journaling services. So, I didn’t fit in with the group.
Secondly, my interest in the discussion was purely sociological. I wanted to hear about the culture of blogging, probably from too much of an academic standpoint. But the discussion seemed bent on the usage of emoticons and factors in choosing friends. Still, while a trained sociologist would’ve undoubtedly found these topics interesting from a mere bystander’s point of view, I did not. I wanted to dig deeper to find out how these people felt about some real blogging issues, so I decided to ask a few questions.
My first question was fairly simple: “How did you first encounter blogging? What was your first experience with blogging?” The answers were also simple, if not trite. Someone told me about it, was the basic consensus. While I didn’t expect rocket science, I had hoped to hear something more anecdotal about the panelists’ experiences. This also would’ve been an excellent opportunity for the panel to open the floor for blogging stories from the audience, but it was quickly tabled for more questions.
I next asked for their feelings about corporations, such as Microsoft, using the blogging model as a way to promote and publicize key positions and products of the company and, at the same time, giving consumers a false sense of closeness to the corporation. The panelists, as well as most people in the room (and it was a standing-room-only crowd), didn’t seem familiar with this at all. I have seen countless blogs across the Internet that discuss this topic, and I have read articles about how this movement by corporations has angered bloggers for taking the blog from them and turning it into something corporate. Yet these bloggers—LiveJournalers, rather—did not seem to have any knowledge of this, nor did they seem too concerned. The attitude was more of a “f*ck ‘em” and let’s move on to the next question.
I had several other comments throughout the discussion, but my final question was about Joyce Park’s termination from Friendster for blogging and how they felt about that. Again, they were as uninformed about this as about the corporate blogging—and this is a topic that reverberated across the entire Web in a matter of hours.
I left the panel asking myself how the Electronic Frontier Forums, who had held a well-thought-out panel on the FCC broadcast flag hosted by the knowledgeable Paul Scheele, could host a panel that provided no real insight into a blogger’s feelings about major issues in blogging. Yes, there were some good moments and a few interesting lines of discussion, but overall, I felt the panel was merely an excuse for users of LiveJournal to meet each other, and perhaps that was its sole purpose. If so, it succeeded, but if it could’ve aspired to be more about social issues faced by bloggers, then it failed because these bloggers were uninformed and out-of-touch with the rest of the on-line blogging community.