Blog Camp!

05Jul09


Ever since I have taken to Twitter with a vengeance, I have also stopped being somewhat of a recluse. Yes, ironically, the internet has been done some very Botox like wonders for my social life and sense of self. Wanting to continue in this vein of awesomeness, I gave into a friend’s insistence, and before you can say anti – social, there I was, arguing with the conductor about a window seat on a bus to Pune. While the journey was surreal and very Impressionistic, rain streaked windows like splotches of grey paint separating the bright green, brown, blue broad strokes that whizzed past, I had trouble adjusting to the tripe that was Koi Mil Gaya playing on the bus’ in-insane-highway-horn honking at everything-driving entertainment system. But point was, I was on my way to Blog Camp Pune 2009. To interact with strangers I knew only by their Twitter and GTalk handles, folks whose blogs I read but had never met in person. All on my own accord.

Pune was cool, green, with a nip in the air, and perfect for a long day of playing romantic hookey. As I drove from my aunt’s place to SICSR (Symbiosis), I could not help humming ‘and all those children, heaven help them, but they’ll look after me!’ In that frame of mind, I met my friend responsible for getting me to come in the first place, fished out the much beloved Blackberry and starting tweeting about what was going on and the things to come. Quite an impressive turnout and I could not wait to get started.

Being used to an industry where people say they are 5 minutes away, but turn up for meetings once the first rounds of coffee and teas have been cleared, citing ‘what awful traffic, dahling,’ I was very very pleasantly surprised when we started right on time! Tarun Chandel, wearing a cheery bright yellow t-shirt, introduced the agenda and then we were asked to introduce ourselves. As I saw people stand up and talk about what they do, I froze for a moment. The very moment I was dreading. Then all those years of public speaking classes at school (always slept in, never learnt) kicked in, and I heard myself smoothly go on and on about my blogging passions and what makes me unique from the million other extremely talented bloggers in the same room. Heck, so excited I was with the new me, I started smiling at unknown faces. SOMETHING, I HAVE NEVER EVEN DREAMT OF DOING.

The most amazing part of the Pune Blog Camp was that it was quite an unconference. No strict rules, restricting structures, organizations, or linear counting. I am sure there is a Memento joke somewhere here, but ha! I won’t be such a total dork. We were free to walk out any time and start discussions of our own. It was just like being on the internet, but without a keyboard and HTML formatting of course. And there were no hashtags in real life. Participants and speakers mingled, there were impromptu discussions on the stairwells, (college was like this come to think of it) and there were as few PPT presentations as possible. The geek fests had begun!

The first talk I sat for was by Meetu on her movie review blog WOGMA and all the cool stuff she has been doing. My takeaways from this talk were to be confident in your writing abilities, to keep in mind that content is the single most values element for any blog, and to marry someone who was a PHP God. Okay, the last one not so much considering I am not even close to marrying someone who knows what the internet is, let alone a God. Before this gets any lamer, I am moving on.



I also discovered much to my own chagrin, that old habits of wanting to lend voice to discussions die hard. Meetu blogs about all things cinema and the topic of reviewers being influenced by producers came up. If reviewers were to accept merchandise and premiere passes, would this mean their reviews would not be objective? In my opinion and experience, that is not something a reviewer should worry about. Users online don’t really care about what someone thinks. All they need is a conversation starter. The internet is a place which functions socially as a parallel means of communication. I say parallel because not all discussions are indicative of real life scenarios. Collective consciousness is best measured by logging onto a popular message board such as Rediff and seeing what people think and feel. There are no influencors online. Just facilitators of discussion and conversation, The well spoken and talented Mr Raja Sen seems to be the most hated man online. And yet, he’s the most read. (Note to self: this has got to be a separate blog post by itself)

I was very glad to meet Meetu because it’s so inspiring to know people who have done such a phenomenal job of combining passion and work together. Please read her blog WOGMA (Without Giving the Movie Away) at www.wogma.com. That’s another thing I was pleased to discover: entrepreneurs and smart people ranging from16 to 45 years, doing their own thing, and doing it best.

Next, Annkur was up talking about the mistakes best avoided while blogging. There was much frenzied discussion on how marketing should be considered after there is content to show for it, and how content must remain the focus of it all. Now, I can only wish Bollywood gets this very simple and basic principle. You’d think a billion dollar industry would have understood content by now.

Alas, I was sort of surprised no one really mentioned the user experience. Why do we blog? To call attention to ourselves. To tell the world – look at the wonderful and horrible things I go through – Empathize with me! And yet, if you squeeze in a thousand ad sense ads selling Life Coaching Books, stick in an all white background, call your only substantial web presence something like Suzy’s House of Cool (which on retrospect doesn’t sound half bad), and make your blog design seem like something that Freddy Krueger met earlier, you will not get those that matters – readers. People willing to listen. #megafail. User engagement comes right after content being King. Bollywood, still with me?

Ankesh K was very very cute and very very smart. After all, his was one session that gave me insights on the more important bits: make money out of your blog! He also reminded me of an old school friend from school who would carry flash index cards to lead the school assembly.

By now, everyone was relaxed and all the XKCD type jokes seemed rampant. As I allowed myself to drift off, checking for Twitter updates, the room blinked in unison. Ankesh was standing on a chair, saying something about a string, a girlfriend and a cat. While the next logical step would be to think about spatial physics, having considered the keywords caught by my half-listening brain, I had never been so wholly entertained in my entire blog life. Which turns 5 years old next month by the way.

Post the talk, we decided to head out for lunch. On our way out, I met and chatted up with Harish K (of Blogadda), who’s doing some great work in the space of content aggregation, Kunal Sheth, a fellow Bombay blogger, and Sahil K – boy genius. Sahil’s venture The Tossed Salad is a beauty in design and usability and I have been known to quote from its articles.

After a rather nostalgia inducing Bengali spread, we returned in time to sit for Thakker’s anecdotal, mostly funny, half creepy talk on user privacy online. On the surface, Thakker seemed like any other normal IIT-B graduate, denied and repressed (haha), but he made some strong points on plagiarism and privacy. Basically boys and girls, do not pass off source material as yours if it’s not, and if you are taking pictures of unsuspecting and hot girls in Pizza Hut, at least have the good sense to turn away your viewfinder. Or just don’t upload said photos to your highly popular blog. Basic blog practices. Basic life practices. So Bollywood, can you repeat what I just said?

The day came to a close, ending on Thakker’s hilarious recounting of ‘meeting prospective brides’ stories, and introducing his younger brother as Thakker Junior, V2, out of Beta testing. (Yeah but I saw that joke coming.) Time for us to pack up, meet and socialize some more, and head out to The Corinithians for the ALL YOU CAN DRINK beer tweet-up. On my way out, I tweeted: http://twitter.com/tanushreebaruah/status/2357731659

I hope there is another blog camp soon, maybe at Goa? And the next time, I hope to actually be a presenter, talking about movies and their presence online, talking about content and piracy. I learnt at this blog camp that being a geek is actually cool, I met some very nice and fun people, and that they’d guide you to a place where everyone is happy and dreaming of the building the perfect PHP based backend, or figuring out unwinnable scenarios in Star Wars. Thanks all you guys, and thanks Pune!

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