I decided to trek to Greensboro for this conference. Mainly since my parents live there anyway so its an easily combined and low-cost trip (frequent flyer ticket, no hotel, no car -- cheaper than being home).
Day 1 was interesting. NC A&T University has come a long, long way in the last 15 years. Apparently they've doubled in size, and there are lots of nice, new buildings to prove it.
The first session I attended was "Voices of Iraq" which had a local reporter who had done a semi-independent trip to Iraq to seek out local troops while visiting her husband in the Middle East. The other panelist was a young lady who ran a joint weblog with her husband in Iraq. I found it interesting that use of "alternate" email providers is widespread in Iraq. Probably because an army email address attached to a unit would have severe delivery problems as units trek from area to area. Contrast with the Navy which has blocked all the big webmail providers from their network and many of the smaller ones. They still believe that censorship is a possibility.
The other thing of note is where are the active duty webloggers not in Iraq? On the staffs and at training commands? My theory is that people are smart enough not to identify themselves as such -- either they're nonpolitical or they don't advertise where they work. At root, being in Iraq is a fascinating thing to share with your family in friends. Wearing unusual clothes to work in a government office building isn't.
The second session I attended was "Katrina & the Internet". Definitely some interesting stuff -- but not a lot of new ideas. Here are mine: After power is lost for a day or two, how do you keep grassroots information flow intact? What if each shelter had their own weblog -- people would add an entry tagged "Evacuee" with their current information -- existing search engines would handle the rest. One installation of movable type could have solved a big problem. Clearly, FEMA's problems with distributing trailers and contacting evacuees could be greatly mitigated with technology.
The final session was about business models. Chris Nolan of <a href="http://www.spot-on.com/">Spot-On</a> just went live with an interesting niche -- syndicating proven, talented news and sports writers to newspapers. Certainly some potential there -- a local paper could "rent" their own Iraq reporter, be exclusive for 500 miles, and have them go track down some local stories. You don't need a traditional syndication service for that. Spot-On could offer newspapers a bundle of content to pick and choose from -- giving each a unique feel (newspapers might always go with certain topics or columnists) at a low price. Some of the "alternative news" services do this well. As for newspapers (Phil Meyer) -- bye, bye. There are no good solutions at the profit margins they are accustomed to. I'm suspecting the end result is free papers published 2-3 times/week with much less news content. There has got to be an opportunity to combine citizen journalism, classifieds, advertising, and moderated discussion into an online environemnt to fill the niche.