Monday, May 15, 2006

Mesh Conference - Day 1

Quite the buzz today at Mesh - am sure the Mesh Group of 5 felt like proud parents seeing their new baby come to life. It's a great story about how a cool idea ramped up real fast to become a real, live conference. I'd say there were 400+ people there, and the buzz felt very real.

That said, I'm not sure what the buzz really was aside from the great anticipation one gets to finally be in the same physical space as hundreds of other like-minded people. I'm also saying this because the conference has - by design - an unconventional format, which is perfect given the disruptive nature of the whole Web 2.0 zeitgeist. The format is at the right level (not too technical/not too mainstream), and touches on a lot of interesting subjects, with lots of real thought leaders sharing their insights. I think it's a great formula, and I for one, think Mesh is on to something. We're all trying to figure this brave new world out, and it's more fun to do it together than at our desks.

That said, I'm sure many of us have been blogging about the day, but you have to go to all their blogs (like Mark's) to find them. There is a blog section on the Mesh website, and Stuart has posted there about the day, but otherwise, I haven't heard if there is any plan to somehow aggregate all the blogging that's going on about the event. It sure would be great if there was. I have no idea if anybody will see this blog post, and I'd love to find all of it in one place - wouldn't you?

The morning had 2 keynotes, and they were both quite good. Mark Evans kicked thing off with Om Malik, and it was great to see two uberbloggers do their thing. Both being journalists, there was a lot of talk about the balance between journalism and blogging, and there are so many issues around that. I found the discussion a bit meandering at times, but Om brings so much to the table. To me, his perspective is very grounded in reality, in part, I think because he writes for a traditional publishing form - a monthly, mass market biz/tech magazine (Business 2.0). Could there be anything further from the day-to-day realities of the Web 2.0 crowd? They don't wait a month for ANYTHING. Maybe I'm showing my age, but I'm 100% with Om in the sense that traditional media still has LOTS of life in it. As disruptive - and exciting - as things like Slingbox, Skype, Tivo, MySpace, etc. are - many people at the end of their work day just want to zone out and do something passive like watch TV or read a magazine.

And to keep it real, Om kept repeating that the Mesh crowd is NOT typical - we're a long way off from how the mainstream utilizes the latest and greatest. On the positive side, Om feels there's a great opportunity out there for ad-driven business models to make blogging a rewarding endeavor, but they haven't emerged yet. And he rightly lamented how RSS is killing his business since it keeps so many people from coming directly to his blog where all the ads are.

Finally, another nugget from Om was that the real value of the blog is not the content - it's the comments - the real dialog that blogs create a platform for. His job is really just to provide context for the important news items, and that sets the stage for intelligent engagement with a community that cares about that topic. Along those lines, as a journalist, blogging is his way of keeping a story going, which I'm sure all journalists would agree with.

Following this, Rob Hyndman had a very engaging discussion with Michael Geist. Prior to their sit-down, Michael gave his own keynote, which probably blew everyone away. I wish I could have taped it, because I'd need to watch it a few times to take in all the ideas he's throwing our way. Michael is definitely on top of this space, and really understands how it works and where it's going. Given his focus, copyright issues were central to the discussion. He did a great job of raising many troubling issues, and there are many complexities yet to be discovered as every form of content becomes digitized and so easily reproduced. The main message for me was his point about how copyright law is mostly about controlling markets instead of protecting the creators, and that clearly doesn't sit well with the latter community. I'm totally onside there, and if this stuff matters to you, you should follow Michael's activities.

Finally, before the lunch break, they had a neat idea called 15 Minutes of Fame. The conference team selected 3 companies they thought had a good story, and gave them each 5 minutes to tell it. First was, who just got funding and sound like an interesting play on accessing all your media content from anywhere. Next was I don't think I'm alone in saying I have no idea what they do, so go to the website if you really need to know. Finally, - hosted project management software. That one sounded pretty good too. Not quite sure if this concept really worked - I'll know better when I see tomorrow's Fame presenters.

The afternoon had 3 different tracks, and I could only take in one - Mathew Ingram hosted a session about journalism and blogging. A bit of a reprise here from Om's morning talk - and he was on this panel too - but still pretty good ideas there.

That was it for me today, and I'll be back for Day 2. On the whole, I'd say Mesh has been really well put together, and it's great to feel such a good buzz and sense of a community coming together before your eyes. Mind you, I have no idea who most people in the crowd are, since they don't usually travel in my circles.

I saw a number of people who were at last week's Canadian Venture Forum, which was really neat. But otherwise, many new faces, and no doubt lots of really smart people - all with the same questions in their minds - what is Web 2.0 all about, and is there a business opportunity? I don't know about you, but so far, I haven't seen much in the way of answers to either at the conference, but hopefully that will change tomorrow!

Here are some photos from the day, courtesy of my Nokia N90....

Stuart MacDonald, Cathy Faktor (TorStar Digital) and Mark Evans


Michael Geist/Rob Hyndman, Mathew Ingram and the Blogger/Journalist panel


Om Malik, the buzz at Mesh


Ronald Gruia/Om, Philip Stern


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