A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to a pair of conferences in Greensboro, North Carolina. I have now made some headway into my to do pile, so I wanted to take some time to write up a recap while it was still relatively fresh in my mind. What follows is my personal recap of ConvergeSouth 2008 (October 17) and the Independent Blogging Conference at Greensboro (October 18).
I drove from my home in Harbinger, North Carolina to Greensboro and it took me about five hours and fifteen minutes, with two stops along the way. My friend Jared Smith, driving in from Charleston, South Carolina, arrived just 10 minutes after I did.
There were two big things that hooked me into coming to these conferences in the first place. The first one was that my friend Jonathan Bailey of PlagiarismTodaywas speaking at ConvergeSouth. But, the other reason was Jared. When I was thinking about the conference, knowing he was within striking range travel wise, I reached out to see if he would be interested in going. Undecided, I kind of helped push him to attend, I guess you could say.
I’ve known Jared for about eight years now. We met through phpBBHacks.com, when he came to the site and became a member of my staff, from very early on in the site’s history. He saw a lot of the … fun challenges that working in the phpBB community afforded us, helping me to tackle them. He was always by my side and we developed a close friendship from that point forward. But, we’d never met in person. It was awesome to be able to do so and a ton of fun to hang out with him for a few days.
ConvergeSouth had official dinners starting at 7 on Thursday, one of which I was scheduled to attend. With Jared headed to one and me to another, we didn’t really have much time to chat before we had to get ready and separate. I went to the one at Table 16. Anil Dash was supposed to be hosting it, but he had a flight change and ended up being unable to do so (he actually ended up coming to the dinner that Jared was at, in a strange twist).
But, I had a good time at the dinner. Jonathan attended, and it was the first time I’d met him in person, as well, having talked online for a year or two and developed a friendship. Others at the dinner included Ben Hwang of Firelace, Matthew Griffith of Merlix and Chris Kobleur of International Paper.
The dinner ended pretty late and I decided to call it a night, afterwards.
I ended up sleeping terribly… of course. I had set the alarm clock the night before and had wanted to call to set up a wake up call as a back up… but no one answered. The next morning, what happens? Well, of course, the alarm clock doesn’t work. The thing was actually flashing a low light as a means of waking one up. No sound. And I set it correctly because we tested it later. Luckily, I woke up myself a half hour late and got up, got breakfast with Jared and headed to the conference.
Our original plan was to go to The Biltmore, park and take the shuttle. The Biltmore was one of the two hotels that had a shuttle running from it. But, when we got there, we couldn’t even find the place. So, we opted to drive to North Carolina A&T, where the conference was being held.
We got to the pay parking garage and I parked. From here, it was a mess and walking one way and then the other for a good 20 minutes. The map that I had printed from the ConvergeSouth website didn’t seem to make any sense. It didn’t even seem to fit the roads we were seeing. So, we walked here… we walked there. And it started to rain. Hilarious to watch, but not so great if it’s you. I decided to start asking students and that got us closer.
But, as luck would have it, we got in, just in time. We made it to the name badge area and got to the auditorium in time for the keynote, which was delivered by Chris Rabb. Following the keynote was a panel titled “What’s the point? A new look at social networking.” The panel included Robert Scoble, Anil Dash and Pam Spaulding. It was moderated by Ed Cone. After the panel ended, I was delighted to meet Angela Connor, who I had been talking with online for quite a while.
Following this, sessions were divided up into three different breakout rounds, each starting at 10:50, 12:45 and 2:00. The first one was tough because Robert Scoble was hosting one that sounded good, Kelby Carr was hosting another, and I would have liked to have supported her, but I decided to go to Jonathan’s. His presentation was called “Preventing Plagiarism” and it was very solid. After the session, I met Stewart Pittman of lenslinger.com.
Jonathan is pictured below, during the talk.
One thing I noticed is that there seemed to be a lot going on at once. Seemingly too much for the size of the audience. But, I learned that this was because everything had been pushed into one day to make room for BlogHer Greensboro, giving them Saturday. I was going to attend – but, it was cancelled, leaving the ConvergeSouth folks in a bit of a lurch with just a month before the conference. More on that later.
After Jonathan’s great session, it was time for a lunch break. As luck would have it, I got there at just the right time and was able to grab a drink, a sandwich and some potato soup, catered by Ganache and provided by the conference (a free conference with good free food? Nice). The food quickly ran out and I felt a little bad when I found out later that both Jonathan and Jared went without.
After lunch, I headed to the next session, called “Hyperlocal – How to be Influential.” Jared’s all about hyperlocal, so I basically followed him over there. It was led by Ruby Sinreich.
Of the last round of sessions, I selected Wayne Sutton’s“Connecting with Big Media – Get Your Story to the Pros.” I had wanted to meet Wayne and I was interested in the topic. It was a solid session and I was glad to meet him. When he saw my business card, he knew iFroggy – though, not me, of course. That’s the way my branding works, I suppose!
His session got started a little late and we (we being Jared and myself) were wondering if we had the right place or not as there was nothing on the door and no real direction to it. But, as I was going to head to something else – I spotted Wayne and simply followed him. He was a little hard to miss as he was carrying an impressive amount of luggage. While at his session, I met one of Jared’s friends, Dan Tennant.
With Wayne’s session over, we headed back for the closing panel, titled “People-powered Media and the Election.” It featured Robert Scoble, Anil Dash, Pam Spaulding and Matthew Grossand was, once again, moderated by Ed Cone. After it was over, we went back to the hotel to freshen up a bit for the ConvergeSouth Community Barbecue at the Hoggard’s home.
There was a walking tour leading to the BBQ, but it was cold and rainy, so it really wasn’t even an option. But, a few minutes after we arrived at the BBQ, Jonathan walks up, soaking wet. He took the walking tour and said he was the only one. I respected his … toughness.
The BBQ was great. It was good to get something to eat and, more importantly, to get to talk to people. I met Kelby for the first time, before eating, and it was great to get to talk with her. Most of the time, I just hung out with Jared, Dan Tennant, Jonathan and Mr. Scoble. But, when we all sat down to eat, it was also at a table with Anil Dash and Wayne Sutton. Talking with people and networking is the best part of every conference for me, so I really enjoy these times the most. Toward the end of the night, I met Brian Carter, as well.
After the BBQ, I gave Jonathan a lift to his hotel and called it a night, needing to get up early the next day. 5:30 AM, to be exact. Yay!
So, getting back to what I was talking about earlier, about BlogHer Greensboro, etc. After it was cancelled, it left an opening in the schedule. Really, it was a long way to drive for just one day. Luckily, a pair of people local to the area – Kelby Carr and Dave Slusher – set up a mini conference of their own, called the Independent Blogging Conference at Greensboro. I wanted to support it, so I offered to speak and lead my own session, which placed me on the opening panel for the day, as well, with everyone else who was speaking at the event.
During breakfast, I got to meet another one of Jared’s friends (a bunch of people came up from Charleston, many of whom knew each other – I think I met most of them!), Heather Solos of Home Ec 101. She was speaking that day, as well, and would be on the opening panel with myself and Jared, who – yes – was also speaking.
Where Friday morning was chaotic with one dead end after another, Saturday went perfectly. We got there a little early, when there were only a couple of people there; only one of which was there for the conference, if I recall correctly. It was Don Moore, the Technical Operations Manager at The Nido Qubein School of Communication at High Point University.
Others started slowly showing up and we all got to talking about random things, generally blog, community or social web related. Sorry that I am forgetting most folks, but one of them was another Charlestonian, Vera Hannaford.
We headed to the auditorium when it was time for the opening panel to begin. On the panel were all of the speakers from the morning sessions. This meant me, Jared, Heather, Kelby and Anne Fitten Glenn. I believe I counted about 23 people in the room, including panelists. So, it was a small group.
The panel itself was rather open ended. It was, I guess, you could say, about blogging in general and the future of blogging. There were a lot of questions and there was a lot of audience participation, which led to it going really late. But, I thought it went well and Wayne was nice enough to stream it. Check it out below (I hope to have a higher quality version up at some point, as well).
When the panel ended, it was already time for my session to begin. The session was called “Promoting Your Blog Through Social Media.” The idea was to talk about a few dos and don’ts of promoting your blog through five key forms of social media: blogging (blogs run by other people), microblogging (Twitter), social networking (MySpace, Facebook), social bookmarking (Digg, StumbleUpon) and forums.
It was planned that Robert Scoble would co-host the session with me, but at the dinner the night before, he had been invited to go door to door with a pair of politicians attempting to increase voter turnout. I was definitely looking forward to doing the session with him, so it was a bit of a let down, but it was cool and I was ready to go, of course.
Because of the opening panel running long, we got started 15 minutes late. Jared had a session right after mine, in the very same room, so I was very aware of the time and was attempting to get through the session as swiftly as possible, while also giving a good presentation. I thought that it went well, though it felt a little dry to me. I hope to post video of it at some point.
It was a small crowd. Maybe 5-6 different people came. This included Jared and Reginald Greene, who had attended the opening panel, as well. I took up the time I was supposed to take up, meaning that I finished 15 minutes late.
Jared got started right away and gave a nice presentation, detailing the tools he uses to do his weather broadcasts. Here’s a picture:
After he finished, it was time for lunch. It was pizza provided by the conference and shared with a number of people – most of which have already been mentioned above. The second day was really small and intimate.
The second half of the second day was the hands on workshop portion, organized by Dave Slusher. There were a series of presentations as detailed on Dave’s blog. Mur Lafferty spoke about creating community and selling books. Dan Conover and Janet Edens Conover (more friends of Jared’s from Charleston that I met!) gave a presentation on blogs and social media and how to use them to create good content, in addition to other things. Jared gave a demo of his weather show, doing a live broadcast in the process. Finally, Don Lewis brought in a ton of video equipment, including a green screen, and talked about how to use it. He also allowed people to take photos or videos in front of the screen, for their own use.
Let’s just say Jared took full advantage of that. He got some professional footage and a lot of humorous footage of him pretending to be blown around by a storm and plenty of other fun that I’m sure he’ll release at some point. I took some photos.
That was the end of the conference day. We bid our good byes and headed back to the hotel, not really sure what we were going to do for dinner. Jared mentioned that Mr. Conover was going to a dinner with Dr. Sue Polinsky, the organizer of ConvergeSouth, Mr. Scoble and others, and that there may be a slot open.
Sure enough, Heather calls shortly thereafter to ask if we’d both like to go – apparently, there were three spots open. They were eating at a sushi place named Sushi Republic. Since neither I, nor Jared, eat sushi… we did a quick check online to make sure they had some decent non sushi items. And they did. Really, for me, it’s more about the people than the food, so as long as there is something there I can order, I’m good. And we were off.
The dinner was great and, for me, one of the highlights of the trip. I had Chicken Teriyaki and it was delicious. There was maybe 12 to 14 people, including me, Jared, Mr. and Mrs. Conover, Dr. Polinsky, Lauren Polinsky, Mr. Scoble, Heather, Janet Wright and Brandon Pierce of TechTriad and ShifterTV. There are some photos from the night in Dr. Polinsky’s Flickr photostream. Here’s one of me and Jared. Yes, that is sake in front of me. No, I didn’t drink any. I ended up being the only one not to have any sushi as even Jared tried some. Good by me.
Dinner was over and Dr. Polinsky picked up the check, which was very kind of her. She suggested that we go out for dessert at Ganache. Most everyone agreed. I had driven Jared and Heather there as I had a van with GPS at my disposal. So, it’s comfortable and pretty easy to get around. Mr. Scoble followed us and hopped in and we were on our way.
Lauren had given me some rough directions but, for some reason, they didn’t work out. Quite possibly my fault. As luck would have it, I was headed on a road and thought we were in the right direction – Jared turns and says look, over there, Dr. Polinsky and Lauren. Sure enough, there they were. So, we just followed them. I dropped the people riding with me off and was about to go find somewhere to park when they said there was a long wait at Ganache, so we were headed somewhere else. Cheesecakes by Alex. The only thing that I am told is that it is at The Biltmore. Ok, I know where that is.
We get there and, well, I don’t see anywhere to part. Now, here is where it gets kind of funny. Someone, I think it was Mr. Scoble, pointed to a spot on the street, where I could parellel park. Now, I have a hard enough time with this as is. Have I even done it? Good question. I practiced, but it was never even requested for my driving test. And then I have a hard enough time doing it with people riding with me. But, with the Scobleizeron board? Heh.
So, yeah, this is predictable. I try once… fail. Try again… fail. Well, great. I’ll probably see this on Mr. Scoble’s Twitter tomorrow. “O’Keefe can’t park.” Funny. Heh.
At this point I say… forget it, I’ll just drop them off. So, that’s what I did. I tried to park one last time once they had left and realized that I never had any chance of getting the van into that spot. It was just too small.
Mr. Scoble said something about a parking garage and I ended up turning the wrong way, having to turn around… but, yeah, I found it. Problem was I had to take like 3 one way streets to get to it, so it took me 10 minutes. But, the garage was in a good spot, right across from The Biltmore, and I walked to it.
One problem: I have no idea where this cheesecake place actually is because it became apparent to me that it wasn’t at The Biltmore. I called Jared and realized… yeah, he has his ringer off. So, I sent him a text to call me and got in line at The Biltmore for a minute and asked the guy at the front desk if there was any dessert place near by. He pointed me in the right direction and Jared called a second later and confirmed it. Finally, I made it.
I wasn’t really feeling like anything, desert wise, so I just sat down and enjoyed the conversation. A lot of random subjects (a fair amount of politics, which, of course, I stayed out of) and a great time. Sometime around 10:30 or 11, I think, everyone decided to call it a night and myself, Heather and Jared walked Mr. Scoble back to The Biltmore, which was exactly where we (Heather, Jared and myself) needed to be to walk to the parking garage. Once we got to the van, we had a really good laugh about the whole parking fail and driving Mr. Scoble thing.
With no reason to get up early, I stayed up late just hanging out with Jared while he feverishly worked to export my video of his presentation.
Pretty simple. I felt a bit off when I woke up, but got over it, got some breakfast, packed and hung out with Jared until he had to go. I left shortly thereafter and had a nice, quick drive home, getting back in about 4 and a half hours or so with no stops. I got back just in time to watch my Dolphins lose, unfortunately.
I had a great time and it was definitely a worthwhile trip. It was awesome to meet Jared and Jonathan in person for the first time and to also meet Mr. Scoble, Wayne, all of the Charleston folks, Dr. Polinsky and so many others. One other person that I met but don’t recall when was Matt Blalock of Vewd Media.
A huge thank you to Dr. Polinsky, and everyone who worked to make ConvergeSouth happen, and Kelby and Dave for doing the same for the Independent Blogging Conference at Greensboro. I really appreciate the effort that goes into organizing these events and thank them for creating the experience so that attendees like myself can enjoy it. With some luck, I’ll be back next year.