NEW YORK -- I'm at the Audience conference in Midtown Manhattan today... but, well, not right now. Right now, I've sneaked away to the nearest Starbucks, because in the actual conference there are no laptops allowed, nor is there WiFi access. There's also a rumor that if you're caught Tweeting, you'll be impaled on the flag pole out front.
But... maybe I started that rumor.
In any case, the Audience conference is unlike most of the Web-centric tech conferences we're typically blessed with because, well, first off, it's based on the belief that the audience still exists: a claim likely to offend anyone in the 2.0 club, where the term isn't relevant.
Moreover, the man in charge -- Loren Feldman of 1938 Media -- has actually reintroduced the very feeling of being in an audience (and in 1938).
This is the first event I've been to in quite a while where the "audience" is actually an audience. No one is Tweeting out the quotes, bit by bit; no one is live-streaming the sessions; there is no Twitter board to which people try desperately to post snarky comments.
Instead, we've been forced to just listen, to acknowledge that there is room for both a storyteller and a passive audience, even in the world of technology.
Of course, as a reporter here to cover the conference, my inability to use the Internet or the laptop I've uselessly lugged from the other end of the island of Manhattan is rather annoying. But Feldman doesn't care: "I don't need press, blog posts, or any of it," he said.
Still, we forge on, while the audience eats lunch.
While many in the Web 2.0 industry believe there's no longer a separation between creator and audience (we're all content co-creators, we crowdsource the news, we all are the president, etc., etc.), no one here at Audience seems to be under that impression. Rather, the focus of today's content is on how to maintain an audience -- particularly a monetizable audience -- in today's digital world.
Probably one of the most interesting insights so far has come from our prolific ThinkerNet contributor Andrew Keen, who spoke on how, as a real author, to develop an audience and about what he really thinks is going on in today's Web 2.0 world.
Keen admits that the audience has been politicized -- and that we're experiencing the empowerment of the "untalented, ignorant, and narcissistic" masses. But he believes this "empowerment" to be a farce, an attempt to replace the old media elite, not with a liberated "audience," but with a new elite group: Web figureheads like Michael Arrington and Robert Scoble who make the audience believe they are "collaborators" while still maintaining authority.
The key is to use the new tools (Twitter, et al.) and build one's own stage, says Keen. But do it so that the audience thinks it's on your level. These are the people who will succeed.
Those creators who will fail, however, he says, are those who fall for it. "If you really believe the audience is equal with you, you as a professionally creative person are dead."
We'll have more insights for you next week on what comes out of today's conference. I'd promise them this afternoon, but I anticipate being jailed for running away and finding this glorious Internet access in the middle of the conference.
Oh, and I'd show you some pictures of the day's great speakers, but video and photos are banned as well. We're supposed to just pay attention.
Listening... Remember what that feels like?
— Nicole Ferraro, Site Editor, Internet Evolution