Gnomedex is a friendly, human-scale conference of early-adopter geeks. When Jason Calacanis asked the crowd how many people were on the Web back in 1994 or 1995, four out of five hands went up. The event’s marketing tagline is “The Blogosphere’s Conference,” but of course this is only one slice of one blogosphere (there was, for instance, almost no overlap with this other blogosphere).
The sessions have been a wildly mixed bag. Things got off to a rocky start with the keynote by Robert Steele, a former intelligence officer turned crackpot libertarian who delivered a scattershot rant whose agenda was so vast that it was no agenda at all. For instance, Steele simultaneously advocated the “restoration” of the U.S. constitution (through, among other things, the impeachment of Dick Cheney) and the abolition of the U.S. constitution (via a new constitutional convention).
Steele believes that “central banking is an evil cancer,” but he could not make the effort to explain why. He raced flippantly through his own slides, showing a complete disrespect for the crowd (if he couldn’t take the time to prepare a presentation, why should we take the time to listen?). Among Steele’s positions: Henry Kissinger is a war criminal; the federal government is “going away”; wikipedia is for “morons” but Amazon.com will become the hub for a new global mind; we can attain world peace through “open everything” — including “open carry” of guns. There was something here for anyone to agree with, something else for anyone to disagree with, and in the end nothing of substance.
Far more valuable were Darren Barefoot‘s exploration of the relative value of different forms of digital do-good-ism and Ronni Bennett‘s presentation on aging and the Web (sites need to do a better job of making themselves accessible to the elderly). Vanessa Fox led a thoughtful discussion about the line between public and private information in a blog-based universe.
The day closed with Calacanis. His title slide read, “The Internet’s environmental crisis: How the Internet is being destroyed by selfish polluters — and how we can stop them.” Calacanis pines for the early days of the Web, before the SEO spammers got involved. But the talk was really a pitch for his new “human-powered” search company, Mahalo (which I wrote about here). Dave Winer called him out from the back row, declaring that the talk itself was “conference spam.”
I just thought there was something naive and/or disingenuous about the idea that Mahalo is a blow against spam. There are many classes of spam-related pollution of today’s Net — e-mail spam, comment spam, spam blogs — and of them all, actual spamming of search results is probably the least pressing. Google still does a pretty good job. The day that Google’s results look like the flow of spam into your e-mail inbox is the day that people will start clamoring for something like Mahalo. But unless Google slips up badly, that looks unlikely.
is ad-free today, but sooner or later it will begin running search advertising. already runs Google text link ads, and one imagines it will push that more aggressively over time. (If the service succeeds in drawing big numbers, the pressure will be on to “monetize” the traffic; somebody has to pay all those “humans.”) Calacanis has an editorial background and promises clear labeling of all ads. That’s great. But Google’s ads are clearly labeled and separated from the search results, too. Having editors is a fine thing but it is no more a guarantee of incorruptibility than a good algorithm.
UPDATE: Darren Barefoot posted the full text of his talk. It’s an entertaining and enlightening walk through the comparative social value of many of the different kinds of volunteer activities and contributions people make on the Net to try to improve the world.
[tags]gnomedex, gnomedex 2007, robert steele, jason calacanis, mahalo, darren barefoot, ronni bennett, vanessa fox[/tags]
There are no revisions for this post.