Sunday, March 19, 2006

Blog Hui Report - Part I

Some 50 delegates from across the world attended the Blog Hui 2006, the Inaugural International Conference of bloggers in Wellington NZ over the weekend.

Was this a gathering of just a bunch of tech-heads? Were they nerds with the social skills of a giraffe?

Not really. I couldn’t see any giraffes among the crowd, and not any tall-poppy-wannabes either. Actually, what I saw were people from a range of backgrounds in education, health sciences, IT, journalism, foreign affairs (e-spooks?) and even an author and illustrator of children’s books.

All had found and used blogs to create powerful instruments for developing a new form of civil society. Blogs are becoming the source of institutional building in the most Hayekian liberal sense – spontaneously emerging communities of practise and interest sprouting forth from the populace with little or no government control or intervention.

Yesterday morning, I received a call from a journalist at Triple-J (Australia’s youth radio network) who wanted to know whether anything was being discussed about blogs and young people. That was before I actually arrived at the conference.

What I found was an entire conference geared toward people of all ages – the young and the young-at-heart. Blogs have become like personal toys to their authors. They represent a space where an author’s eternal sense of youth can be transmitted across the cyber universe for all to see.

Blogs enable a person to put their own fresh spin on just about any topic. Most people at the conference were over 40. Yet their enthusiasm for their work was almost child-like.

It all sounds quite silly, doesn’t it? But I will try to explain what all this means over the next few days and weeks as I re-visit some of the themes from the conference.

Anyway, here are a collection of thoughts I put together and submitted to a NZ newspaper.

What the Blog?

This weekend, Wellington hosts an important international summit with important implications for our region and the world at large.

Huh? Will Bono be speaking at yet another Anti-Poverty Summit? Is US Secretary of State Condi Rice, perhaps the first female to have even a faint chance of being elected President, flying in to seek advice on the matter from Helen Clark? Have Melbournites given up on the Games and seeking them to be moved across the Tasman?

Nope. More important than all of that. This weekend, myself and hundreds of other delegates from across the globe will be converging on Wellington to discuss a four-letter word.

No, this isn’t a French linguistics conference. This Friday marks the commencement of Blog Hui 2006, New Zealand’s inaugural international conference for bloggers.

For the technologically challenged readers, allow me to offer some genuine clarification. Put simply and clearly, a blogger is basically someone who blogs away on a blog.

Blogs represent a new force in the growth of the internet. The term “blog” is believed to be short for “weblog”, a word which first made its debut on the cyber stage some 12 years ago. It is used to describe an online template that enables you to develop and update your own website. The art of writing and updating your website is known as “blogging”. Generally items on your blog will appear in a reverse chronological order.

How do I know all this? Because some 4 years ago, I stumbled upon a website of a smart Aussie from Melbourne named Amir Butler. Amir is an Aussie Muslim activist of British and Caribbean heritage who uses his blog to comment on media matters. I was quite impressed with the website and assumed he was only able to perform web miracles after spending hours engaged in coding and programming.

Then I read this unusual square which said “Powered by Blogger”. I decided to click the icon, follow the directions on the blogger website. Within 5 minutes, I had created my own website! I decided to name it “Planet Irf”.

Today I have 5 full-time and 1 seasonal blog. I initially thought blogs were just a simple way to comment on what the mainstream media are writing and broadcasting. I soon discovered blogs can have multiple uses.

In fact, one of the themes of this inaugural conference is the enormous number of blog applications. Jonathan Ah Kit of the Victoria University of Wellington will be speaking about how blogging can revolutionise the process of learning and teaching in tertiary institutions. Similar themes are explored by West Australian Kate Rodgers.

Social architect and Melbournite James Farmer will be avoiding the Commonwealth Games traffic by addressing the conference on how a single blog website can be used by many different people within an organisation. And I think he should know. After all, he is single-handedly responsible for enabling the construction of over 2,600 education-based blogs, over 500 learner blogs for school students and over 130 uniblogs for college and university students.

A host of local and international speakers will address a broad range of other issues. And in case you thought blogging was just for tech-heads and grunge-listening nerds, you might want to check out the photos and profiles of the conference organisers. One is a professional aquaculturalist, while the other three are education designers.

It is estimated that around 800 blogs are created each day. Already, cyberspace is crowded with millions of blogs.

Some of the most popular blog templates are creations of a small company based in San Francisco named Pyra Labs. The company was founded in the midst of the tech-boom in August 1999. In the words of its founders, the company committed itself to “helping people have their own voice on the web and organizing the world's information from the personal perspective”.

In February 2003, the company hit the jackpot when it was acquired by internet giant Google. At that stage, it had 1.1 million registered users. From there, blogging became a serious business.

Blogs have affected all areas of media and public life. In the last US elections, blogging was used extensively by all sides. Indeed, political blogs are amongst the most common blog form.

Then there are sketchblogs which contain less words and more images. They are used by artists to post sketches and other forms of visual art. Educational blogs are becoming more common amongst students and teachers, ensuring in many cases that courses less intimidating and assessment involve less paperwork.

You can even get a moblog, which enables you to post content from your mobile phone! Yet for many, blogging is little more than an online alternative to writing a diary.

Blogs represent the latest push into online publishing. And as always, Kiwis are at the cutting edge of the latest developments in cyberspace. Blogging is well and truly here to stay. If you don’t like it, you might as well blog off.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006