The "Live From the Blogosphere!" confab is equal parts literary salon, cyberpunk press conference and geek cocktail party. And before the party is over, strangers who've traded secrets but know each other only by code names will have met in the flesh for the first time, and a young hacker possibly will have become a millionaire.
Six of the biggest personas in blogging have converged on the Electronic Orphanage, a small black box of a gallery in Chinatown, to deconstruct the blog. (Blogs, or Web logs, are online journals with entries running in reverse chronological order, the last appearing first.) Onstage, gray-haired Doc Searls, senior editor of Linux Journal, is the tribe's sage. Mark Frauenfelder, founder of bOingbOing and Wired Online, is the pro: He was in an Apple commercial. Tony Pierce -- "not an IT genius, not a professional writer" -- is the everyman. Susannah Breslin, who orchestrated the event (with moderator Xeni Jardin and electronic arts collective Rhizome.org), is the lady holding the virtual whip. She runs the racy Reverse Cowgirl's Blog. Evan Williams, the cute guy in the Blogger T-shirt, is the boy who built the blogging software. To the digerati, he's "the Blogfather." If Williams is the blogger every other blogger wants to be, then Heather Havrilesky, the author of the Rabbit Blog who is brainy and sexy in the manner of Agent Scully, is the blogger everyone wants to be with.
By a quarter to 8, a crowd of a hundred or so has gathered. Attendees scribble not their names but their blog addresses onto sticky badges -- "Hello My Name Is ... http://www.lablogs.com." They tote laptops, cell phones and Palm Pilots with miniature screens that glow blue in the darkened room. The super six answer questions: Are blogs a threat to conventional journalism? How has the blog phenomenon evolved? How are blogs changing our culture?
"Live From the Blogosphere!" is unprecedented: It is the first time the alpha bloggers onstage have been in the same place at the same time. Though in blogger parlance, "place" is a hazy concept. "If I'd known I was having guests," Pierce quips as his blog scrolls up live onto the giant overhead screen, "I'd have spruced it up a bit."
The blogosphere moves fast. Speed is its nature. People blog about the event at the event. Seconds after questions are posed, they go public online through a WiFi wireless connection.
A contradictory mix of anonymity and intimacy is also part of the blogosphere's nature. You can, for example, know what Havrilesky's fourth grade teacher told her about the Apocalypse but never know what makes her laugh. You can, as one blogger confides, be a vixen in the blogosphere but a wallflower in person. In the spirit of intimacy, Searls confesses why the line to the bathroom was so long -- he was in there blogging.
The panelists also discuss physical interaction. "This guy came up to me and said, 'Hi, I'm Boogah,' " says Frauenfelder, gesturing toward a large fellow dressed in black. "I recognized him from my blog, but he didn't tell me his real name." Says Pierce: "Mark was nerdier than I expected, while Evan was cooler. And Doc, I was surprised at how down to earth he was."
As the discussion draws to a close, Williams suddenly gets hot news. In lieu of an explanation, he shakily brings up his blog on the giant screen: "Google Buys Pyra: Blogging Goes Big-Time," it reads. Pyra Labs is the company Williams founded. It makes the Blogger software. Google, of course, is Big Money. "Everyone imaginable will be doing it this year," he'd replied earlier to the question of what this technology will mean to the mainstream. Tonight, a community. Tomorrow, an empire. But for now, boot up and read about it on a blog.