Netroots Nation 2009

Overall thoughts from last weekend at Netroots

  • Bloggers are in their teenage years — Blogs and bloggers have come of age, compared to the 2004 cycle when their relevance and potential impact beyond enthusiasts and the uber-engaged was unclear at best. With major ‘wins’ in 2006 and 2008, they’re treated with respect, albeit somewhat reluctantly, by everyone from mainstream media to politicians, businesses, and organizations. That was clear from the vibe this year at NN09, and last year — this was no longer a reunion of people who consider themselves a marginalized population. This was a collaboration opportunity for those who know their power.
    But the blogosphere is still far from a mature space — it’s still a hodgepodge of pros and amateurs, and those unaffiliated with a high-traffic site or sponsored blog still struggle to find the time or money model that would enable them to produce good citizen journalism. And other forms of social media (twitter, online social networks, youtube) have eclipsed blogs at being powerful word-of-mouth engines. They can help to move a high-quality post or piece of citizen journalism, but blogs are no longer the only game in town for moving information.
  • This year was much lower energy than last year. This would make sense, since last year’s event was in the frenzied run-up to the November election. And Austin has a beat that few other cities can compete with. But now that the election glow has worn off, the focus for the NN community was on how to actually get climate, energy, and healthcare legislation through. Seemingly much more challenging and circuitous and complicated than electing a man president.
  • Netroots Nation has evolved. It’s really for any kind of progressive online activist, and related organizations in the space — not just bloggers anymore. That’s a probably a good shift. And as i said above, since this is no longer just a validation event for a marginalized community (some of that still happens), it makes sense that the tent is widening to include all online activists and campaigners.
  • But the mix of attendees creates a motley and somewhat awkward effect. With a variety of organizations, candidates, industries, and consultancies identifying this as an influential audience to attract, there’s an obvious danger in straying from the grassroots and self-organized origins of this event. Sponsors are good, but they need to be handled delicately — yes, the money is needed, and there are worthwhile organizations for attendees to engage with, but placing exhibitors in a dark room in the corner doesn’t send much of a welcome message. Managing the industrialization and professionalizing of this event will be tough. The union presence this year was nearly overwhelming. Yes, we support the steelworks and the rest, but must you keep shoving take-away hardhats in our face?

That’s all for now. See you in Vegas, NN10.

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