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D3 Revisited: Suppressing the Blogosphere II

I am new to what the kids call Web logging, or “blogging,” so I suppose I can be forgiven for not anticipating the small tempest that blew up when I reported that Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg had banned…

I am new to what the kids call Web logging, or “blogging,” so I suppose I can be forgiven for not anticipating the small tempest that blew up when I reported that Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg had banned live-blogging from their conference D3. The show only ended last night–but while I was flying back to Boston this afternoon, readers were busy emailing me and posting comments. Also, posting their opinions on their own blogs (you can read some commentary from the blogosphere here). Walt (pictured) wrote a polite, if transparently annoyed, comment:

“It is untrue that Kara and I banned live blogging at D3, from the ballroom or anywhere else. We merely declined to provide wi-fi, to avoid the common phenomenon that has ruined too many tech conferences — near universal checking of email and surfing of the web during the program. The policy wasn’t aimed at blogging, and any staffer who said that was just plain wrong. We are fine with blogging. We deliberately invited bloggers.”

A couple of remarks suggest themselves.

First, my post was intended to be humorous. How could readers tell? Was my irony somehow too sly, too subtle, too… I don’t know, British? No, I could hardly have laid it on more heavily. I wrote:

“Attentive readers (and there may be one or two perhaps: hardened recidivists with nothing better to do, what with new filtering software installed on prison computers), may have noticed that I am posting less today. That’s because the Wi-Fi access I enjoyed in the Four Season’s ballroom yesterday was a “mistake.” An extraordinarily rude, if obviously harried, conference organizer told me that “Walt and Kara’s policy” is that no one should be blogging from the conference room–let alone surfing the Web or doing email. We are to pay attention. We are to listen. It wasn’t easy getting all these luminaries onstage, thank you, and they would be annoyed if they knew that thoughtless bloggers were posting off-the-cuff reports from the floor.”

Second, was the staffer really “dead wrong” about D3’s policy? Obviously, Walt has a point. Of course D3 wasn’t banning blogging altogether; clearly the policy was primarily aimed at suppressing Web surfing and email. But the staffer never told me that blogging from D3 was banned; rather, she said that Walt and Kara’s policy was that no one should be blogging from the conference floor. But consider: when a blogger takes notes over the course of a conference session, leaves the ballroom, attaches himself to a hotel broadband network, and then posts his entries, it’s not live-blogging. The discipline of taking notes imposes an entirely different style of blogging–one that is much less spontaneous. It may not have been Walt and Kara’s intention to suppress this essentially juvenile, off-the-cuff style of journalism–but the effect of the policy was to do just that.

Finally, it is worth asking whether banning Wi-Fi from conference meeting-rooms is good policy. I am not so sure. It’s certainly bad customer relations: I hosted conferences at Red Herring for nearly seven years, and I never found it particularly productive to insist on the attention of attendees. Technologists dislike being treated as recalcitrant children. Red Herring found that the best policy was to program sessions that attendees couldn’t ignore. Suppressing Wi-Fi connectivity is bad events programming, too: Wade Roush, Technology Review’s senior editor, points out that the back channel communication at events (it even has a name: “backchat”) is at least as interesting as the actual sessions. Very lastly, it’s also futile. At D3, I eventually hacked my way onto a private Wi-Fi network: my last post was written from the floor of the ballroom of the Four Seasons Hotel.

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