By Thursday night my attention was turning to the serious questions of international collaboration, so I handed over my roving reporter role to my friend Humphrey Black. I take no responsibility for the following opinions.
Survived the Schmooze
Every good conference has a social event Ð but what is a Schmooze? I confess that I was a little worried about this event billed at the Sagebrush Inn for our last evening.
Music, dance and drinking - would this be where the mix of New Mexican cultures would flare with the intensity of recently hard-fought local fires? I steeled myself for the perils of Margaritas and bottles with bits of fruit on the lip.
Music there was, and dancing, but absent partners need have no fear of great debauchery. 1990s American community networkers are responsible and generous to a fault.
Free drink tickets were offered by careful drivers and consumers of decaf. Talk was serious, around the coming breakfast meeting on an international association, and core values of cultural conservation and democratic process.
Younger members of the gathering deported themselves with decorum. Older ones started to offer rides back to town at 10pm.
It was warm, convivial, constructive. It was community as our parents would have it, and maybe as we would have our children inherit.
Critics of the Internet will be disappointed to learn that drink and drugs and rock and roll were not on the menu. The hippies were reformed.
In search of the Software Grail
When groups of visionary and practical people meet, talk will turn to the Grail--that artifact which, once found, will solve all problems.
At Community Networking 1996 it was Web conferencing software.
Participants broadly agreed with Frank Odasz and others that the real value of networking lay in a mix of personal empowerment and community problem solving Ð a way of sharing ideas and information to common benefit.
Enthusiasts on the Well and text-based bulletin board systems might claim that their communities are achieving just that, but the users of today want fancier graphics.
Yet while the Web certainly offers that, it is mostly a one-way broadcast channel.
This can cause some embarrassment. To change the metaphor, if community networking 1996 is mostly a new form of broadcasting, will someone suggest that the Emperor is poorly clad?
There was much discussion about Hypernews, Webchat, Caucus, and other arcane products, but somehow no one could find that elusive URL where the great good conversations were taking place, rich in content, enhanced by Frames, and yet still accessible to the humblest 286.
Maybe next year we'll have it.