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Blog Anxiety

By Annalee Newitz

BLOGS HAVE TURNED me into a nervous person. Reading them makes me want to run around in circles squeaking like a beaver. It's not so much the blog as a genre that's the problem--I'm voyeuristically attached to reading about people's daily lives, and I'm even more thrilled by pages full of links to weird things like vomit videos, Neil Diamond shrines and John Ashcroft's latest speech. Really, blogs are probably the next logical evolution of print zines, and zines are always nice, as Emily Post might say.

Yet for some reason I fear the blog. Partly, this is just pure jealousy, because as a writer I'm trying to put my stamp on the news as quickly as possible, and bloggers inevitably get there before me with their endless updates and capacious discussion threads and daunting lists of hot links. Then there are the enviable ways that blogs deliver their news guerrilla-style--no matter how weird your information source might be, it counts. A blogger can announce some new development in DNS security by quoting the free software developer he seduced the night before. He can quote some woman who works on a movie set to appease Lord of the Rings fans. Or he can get inside information about Big Bill's agenda from a blog freak who works at Microsoft and emails her favorite bloggers about it. The point is this: All forms of communication count.

What the blog threatens to do is dislodge the traditional news media's corner on the "scoop" market. With their unorthodox reporting strategies and lightening-fast publishing schedules, blogs are making it clear that you don't need to have some big fancy newspaper job to break stories. In fact, you don't even need to write stories--you can just throw a couple of sentences up on your site with some telling links. And you can quote that naked boy in your bed who knows how to hack protocols. Whatever.

But really I'm just pissy because all the bloggers and just-in-time news sites have already made hacker extravaganza CodeCon (www.codecon.org) into old information, and I'm just getting started with my analysis of it.

Before I'd even begun to ponder the meaning of what I discovered at CodeCon, anarcho-accordion player and nefarious blogger Joey (www.kode-fu.com/shame/index.shtml) had posted dozens of pictures from the fabulous conference, which was held in San Francisco's DNA Lounge, a nightclub for cypherpunks, techno-heads and perverts. And then Andrew Orlowski, a fine reporter for The Register (updated daily! Argh!) broke this cool story about the CodeCon debut of Peek-a-booty (www.peek-a-booty.org), a new peer-to-peer application aimed at helping people stay anonymous while they get uncensored information on the Internet, even if their country is blocking most of the net with a fire wall. Meanwhile, Cory Doctorow, creator of BoingBoing.net and about a zillion other things, was pounding out copy about the conference while the damn thing was happening. It made me want to kill him--but in a nice way.

Instead of feeling the news stream through my fingers and out into cyberspace, I spent the CodeCon weekend of Feb. 15 watching people like the eerily intelligent Dan Kaminsky (www.doxpara.com) and the twitchy, understated Bram Cohen giving talks on projects ranging from supersneaky security hacks to brilliant peer-to-peer file hosting solutions (http://bitconjurer.org/BitTorrent/). I got lectured on hash functions and picked up a copy of Tinfoil Hat Linux, which protects you against keystroke logging (yes!). I even met my hero Danny O'Brien, who edits the British geek site Need to Know (www.ntk.net), and I was very pleased to discover that he hates blogs too.

Most interesting about the whole event, besides discovering the truth about überphreaker Captain Crunch's front teeth, was how CodeCon presenters managed to reconcile typical hacker libertarianism with the community spirit exemplified by peer-to-peer and free software projects. This was, after all, a conference devoted to security and peer-to-peer applications, a combination that suggests human rights work and good old-fashioned political subversion rather than the kind of show-offy selfish hacking you might see at bigger events like DefCon.

The CodeCon crowd was full of outlaws, but not the kind you'd normally expect--they were conscientious objectors in the data ownership wars, people who wanted to rip holes in copyright-protected material for reasons far more complex than wanting to pad out their Gothic-industrial music collections. Information should be shared, and the CodeCon crowd was doing something about that, building software packages that would make data sharing as easy as possible.

Being at the Con was like browsing a blog, filling up with information and getting linked to new sources of knowledge. But thinking about what the Con might mean--and the possible social repercussions of the many projects I saw presented--well, that could never be blogged. It could only be told as a story. With luck, an ongoing one.

Annalee Newitz ([email protected]) is a surly media nerd who gets all her news from microfiche.

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From the February 28-March 6, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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