Converge South www.convergesouth.com
Friday; NC A&T University 8 a.m.; FREE
Ed Cone monitors the world from his thirdfloor aerie at the corner of South Elm and Lee streets, a tidy space of hardwoods and high ceilings with a bulwark of work surfaces and a décor that might remind you of a cool older brother’s bedroom.
A vast grid of fenestration opens up on the corner below, and from here you can see the newly sprung lawn that’s felted over the spot where a fish market and a devastated bakery once stood, or keep your eye on the comings and goings at this downtown crossroads.
The computer screen sits perpendicular to the windows, waiting for him to sit down and get to work. On the one hand, Ed is one of the last of a dying breed — a professional, working journalist. But in another sense, his funky digs are right there on the cutting edge, fully engaged in the new paradigm even as the rules are being rewritten.
Ed’s blog, in its present incarnation known as Word Up at www.edcone.com, is older than blogging — or, at least, he’s been doing it since the personal-journal type website didn’t have such an annoying nickname. He’s been credited with much of the inspiration for our thriving local blogosphere, and has expanded the talent base by encouraging others to jump in with blogs of their own. And Word Up has become required reading for newshounds in the Triad — more than one of the best newspaper stories you’ve read this year, including a couple in this very publication, have been co-opted from threads on his site. Even his ideological enemies are paying attention: Our man Bubbanear would run short on steam if Cone ever ceased his commentary.
He’s uncomfortable with his nickname, the Blogfather; he waves off any accolades; he has no pretensions of greatness. Likewise, he takes no special credit for ConvergeSouth, the Triad’s contribution to the new media that he helps put on each year. It happens on Friday — a blend of tech conference, how-to seminar, media convention and community gathering which began as a way to advance the “new” medium by simultaneously bringing it to the masses and preaching to the choir.
“We started doing it as the Piedmont Bloggers Conference in 2004,” he says, showing a reporter the soles of his black Chuck Taylors, propped up on his coffee table. “A community, even an online one, is more successful when it has a sense that it exists.”
That year’s event, Cone says, was more an acknowledgement of local talent and the possibility of things to come.
“It was much more high concept,” he says. “What can you do online? What will it mean…? These theoretical conversations we had… we don’t have to gaze at our navels anymore. It’s happened.”
Perez Hilton. Twitter. YouTube. MySpace. The iTunes store. Gawker Media. Viral video. Wikipedia. Online community organizing. Webisodes. MMORPGs. The introduction of “OMG” to the lexicon. Text advertising. Cyberbullying. Trolls.
We’ve crossed the frontier. “Two years ago,” he says, “we had [“Rocketboom”’s] Amanda Congdon. She was doing video on the web. [We said,] ‘I know this sounds a little bit ahead of the curve, but it’s gonna happen.’ Then YouTube happened like five minutes later. Now it’s down to the real point of the thing: These tools are here and people are using them. Everyone can put video on their blog. Now it’s how to make good videos.”
This year’s conference features a special video walking tour of Greensboro hosted by local luminary Tom Lassiter and noted video blogger Robert Scoble, whom Cone describes as “a folk hero in this business.”
Other breakout subjects include social networks, video games, e-mail marketing, news and opinion blogging, plagiarism and podcasting, helmed by guys like Chris Rabb, Matthew Gross and Anil Dash. Cone acknowledges that you may have never heard of these people.
“[David] Weinberger had the great quote,” Cone says. “‘In the future, everybody will be famous for fifteen people.’” There is a social aspect as well. On Friday night David Hoggard hosts his annual barbecue for all conference attendees (and whomever else wants to show up), and the downtown restaurants and bars should teem with the blogerati until late Friday night.
But the real action will be in the lecture halls at NC A&T University, where knowledge will be shared, passions reignited, potential realized and pages turned.
“It’s so far beyond blogging now,” Cone says. “We spoke up first, but we take no special credit. Greensboro was ahead of the curve in putting this conference on. But you’re supposed to take the fire and then light your own fire.”
To comment on this story, e-mail Brian Clarey at firstname.lastname@example.org.