Netroots Nation

NETROOTS NATION….Responding to this post from last week, reader VT emails with a question about Netroots Nation:

“Nothing especially bloggable?” — I note almost no comments anywhere on blogs about the substance of this weekend’s conference. What to make of this? Was it a lackluster event? It would be helpful to hear your overview.

Obviously tastes differ, but I’m inclined to say that I probably wouldn’t go again. Partly this is just because I’m not much of a convention person. The best part of Netroots Nation was the opportunity to meet lots of people in the flesh for the first time, but those opportunities mostly came in two varieties: (a) quick 5-minute conversations between sessions, which don’t do much for me, and (b) after hours in watering holes, which are a problem because my hearing isn’t good enough to follow most conversations in noisy bars. I’m pretty sure, for example, that Garance Franke-Ruta must now think I’m some kind of weird semi-sociopath, but the truth is that I could hardly make out a word she said during our short bar conversation Saturday evening, which is why I probably looked so blank the whole time.

Now, this is obviously not the fault of Netroots Nation. On the program side of things, however, there’s a built-in problem with NN: the panelists are almost all bloggers whose blogs I read every day. So I know what they think already. And sure enough, in person they say pretty much the same things they say on their blogs, which can get a little dull. (This includes me, of course, although I gather that at least a few people were intrigued to hear actual bad words come out of my mouth during the obscenity panel.)

Sometimes this works out OK regardless, but as a steady diet it doesn’t. My recommendation, then, would be to mix things up: have some panels, but also have some expert sessions: have Tanta do an hourlong session explaining the basics of the subprime crisis, Marty Lederman do a primer on FISA, Mike O’Hare do a session on carbon taxes vs. cap-and-trade, etc. There are plenty of common blog topics that it would be nice to get a solid grounding on from someone who’s both knowledgable and a straight shooter.

In addition, David Roberts suggests that the sessions need to “generate some heat. Have some panels that aren’t just four or five people sharing the same perspective.” Obviously there’s no reason to deliberately create a Crossfire-style atmosphere, but yes: hearing different takes on subjects would liven things up. There’s not much point in having a panel if all of the panelists are saying the same thing. (Though Ezra Klein may disagree.)

So that’s my take. It was fun to meet people, but the sessions tended to be a little too predictable and little too echo chambery for my taste. But your mileage may vary, so comments are open if any other attendees have something to add to this.