In May of 1994, the first World Wide Web conference was held in the auditorium of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). For some historical perspective, this was the year that Netscape released its first Web browser, Mozilla, the World Wide Web Consortium was established, Windows 95 was released with software to access the Internet, and companies like America Online, Prodigy and CompuServe were competing for status in the public consciousness as the lead provider of Internet access. The Internet was beginning to be accessible to the general public, not just those with extensive computer knowledge or who were working within educational or governmental institutions. The Web as we now know it was beginning to take shape.
Eventually, out of the Cambrian-like explosion that wired the masses, the Blogosphere emerged. While it evolved in the same rocky fashion as the Web itself, burdened by neigh-sayers and meeting corporate resistance as companies struggled to harness its growth for profit, the blogosphere is now viewed as an entity that is revolutionizing journalism and human communication at large.
For those on the forefront of the development of the Web, the World Wide Web conference was an event that educated, inspired and forged partnerships by connecting people whose paths would otherwise never cross.
From Weaving the Web, a book by the inventor of the Web, Tim Berners-Lee:
It was a tremendous gathering. The auditorium held perhaps three hundred people. We limited registration to three hundred, but ended up with three hundred fifty after admitting members of the press, and others who just appeared — testimony of how the Web had grown.
There were people from all walks of life brought together by their enthusiasm of the Web. Talks given in the small auditorium were packed. Because it was the first such conference, many people who had been interacting only by e-mail were meeting each other face-to-face for the first time.
The excitement, congeniality and grass-roots fervor for furthering the Web inspired the reporters there, overdoing it a little, to dub the meeting the “Woodstock of the Web.”
Overdoing it or not, it is fitting to compare innovative conferences like this and ScienceOnline to the generation-defining music festivals that bring multitudes of people together over their commonalities in musical taste every year; registration for ScienceOnline was capped at 250 attendees this year, and filled up within 3 days of the initial announcement. The described enthusiasm and fervor of WWW conference attendees parallels the enthusiasm I observed of ScienceOnline participants.
And so I hereby dub the ScienceOnline conference, the Bonnaroo of the Blogosphere. I’m 23 and never attended Woodstock, but I think that as meaningful as it was to Sir Berners-Lee’s generation, Bonnaroo probably is to mine. As important as it was to have a meeting in the late ’90s to discuss and define the Web when it was in its infancy, it is as important to do so for the blogosphere today.
I attended for the first time last January, prompted by my role as an overlord of ScienceBlogs.com, and will return this year to lead a discussion session with Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com. Our session will be on Web Science, the emerging academic field that explores the way people use the Web, and will cover the origin and history of the Web, the phenomena that can be observed and measured by tracking the way people use the Web, how it effects us currently, and the future of science communication on the Web. We chose this topic because it is of extreme relevancy to the attendees of the conference — and extreme interest to us — and was personally inspired by our recent meeting with Tim Berners-Lee himself.
Attending the ScienceOnline conference last year was an incredible experience that further solidified my decision to pursue my interest in the Web. It’s a place where, if you’re into science and you’re into the Web, and these are the things that get you really excited academically, professionally and/or socially, you can learn what the game-changers in the field are up to and talking about, and talk about it with them, maybe become a game-changer yourself.
On the time line of human existence, being able to “know” someone before you meet them occupies an extremely minute segment. ScienceOnline is an event that epitomizes this. It’s a place where the names that we’ve come to know by hypertext on the computer screen become associated with real people: Where the mental images we hold of people based on their projected online personas become modified or solidified by the impressions gathered from meeting them and interacting IRL. Someday, this concept will be commonplace, if it isn’t already. But right now, it’s exciting to connect these two seemingly anachronistic pools of information.
So, you’ve probably gathered by now that I think ScienceOnline is awesome and that I’m really excited for it. And if I haven’t sold you on it’s awesomeness yet, be convinced by this: Bloggers and scientists partying together. I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing I enjoy more than a good geek party.
ScienceOnline2010: Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, January 14-17, with the main conference events Saturday the 16th and Sunday the 17th. Get ready. Check it out on the ScienceOnline Wiki. Explore, contribute, Tweet and reTweet. Then when the time comes, check you favorite science blogs for mentions and Twitter for the #scio10 hash tag.
The effects from the networks that were forged at the early World Wide Web conferences are visible in just about every aspect of the Web today. Who knows what aspects of the future this year’s ScienceOnline will shape.
Lead image photoshopped by me, logo courtesy of the ScienceOnline wiki.
“Geek Party” pic via damn cool pics.