As I sit down to write this in room 7-11 of the Hilton (you’d think people request this room months in advance), my laptop says it’s 3:53am, though it’s three hours earlier here in Las Vegas for Blog World Expo.
For those who can’t be here, or for those who can, here’s a somewhat random and hopefully coherent collection of impressions from my first BWE:
I don’t miss the lines of Vegas. My trips here have generally either been with family – and a car, or for Consumer Electronics Show (and Digital Hollywood), which a cab driver told me is the second largest conference held here (I think a construction event tops it). With all the time spent waiting around here, this has to be one of the least productive cities on the planet. Lines for transportation, checking in, drinks, dining, you name it. The only thing there’s no line for: slots.
Should it be called Twitter World? Yes, most people here are bloggers or somehow connected to the blogosphere and blog economy, but so many people here really know each other through Twitter. The most notable such experience for me was when I met Shashi Bellamkonda, @shashib, who’s earned a lot of Twitter cred largely thanks to how well he listens and then engages with the community in turn.
It’s fun seeing Vegas from the eyes of someone here for the first time. I shared a cab from the hotel to Friday night’s marquee Techset party with Mashable founder Pete Cashmore, and it was his first time in Vegas. He’s not here long enough and he surely won’t get to eat well enough in this quick conference-focused jaunt, but he was enamored with the artifice of it all. I told him to really enjoy the artifice, he should walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to the Eiffel Tower.
There are some great burgers. Before I left the party I made it to BLT Burger in the Mirage. If you’re hungry for some red meat that isn’t priced in the double digits per ounce here but isn’t your standard fast food either, the $13 BLT burger is one of the best values I’ve found in this city.
There is a real community here. It’s a lot of different communities. Some I’m a part of include the New York tech scene, social media strategists, agency guys, and others not as well defined, but it’s like an incredibly complex Venn diagram. It does feel like no one is more than two degrees from each other, and everyone I met was either someone I knew virtually, someone I was familiar with for some reason or another, or knew someone I knew well.
My favorite moment so far: The cab driver from the party back to the hotel (the Hilton) spent most of the call speaking a language that didn’t register with me. Toward the end, he apologized. I’m not sure who exactly he said he was on the phone with or what the person had to do with his story, but he told me that he’s from Saudi Arabia where he heard (on the call, I think) about a Christian who was tortured with 2,000 lashes and thrown in jail for seven years just for their religion. He said six to eight others faced the same fate, all for their religion.
Then he told me that in America, that doesn’t happen. Not only that, but his son who’s 15 was able to come here and become a citizen because the driver was a citizen. The driver noted there’s nowhere in the world where that can happen. The driver had told his son that outside of the job of President, every other position – 99.999% of all jobs here – are attainable to someone born abroad, and again, the United States is the only place where that can happen.
I told him I understood, and that I had a personal connection to his story. I told him my father was born in Poland (simplifying a long story a bit) and came to this country at age 11 speaking half a dozen languages, none of them English. His family set up a chicken farm. And this immigrant chicken farmer who spoke no English became a doctor, and his younger sister (my aunt) became successful in the music business. He thanked me because now he knew my story, and now he met another person who, although so unlike him in more ways than I can count, benefited in similar ways from this country.
So I’m left with two thoughts from all of this. On one hand, the more mundane, is that the experience is a dramatized reason of why thousands of people are here in Las Vegas for Blog World. We’re all storytellers, or we’re all helping others tell their stories, or we’re helping people support themselves by sharing their stories, and we want to meet each other. Yes, we can all learn from each other’s blogs and websites and tweets and Facebook pages and FriendFeed comments and YouTube videos and emails and all the rest, but almost all of us gain the most value from the real-world bonds that are forged.
And on the larger scale, leaving that cab that I didn’t want to leave, that I wanted to just stay there to spend more time not even hearing more but soaking in that wonderfully inspired atmosphere, there was that moment where I felt so incredibly proud to be an American. That this man can come here and earn his keep and support his family and bring others here all to tell anyone he can, including strangers like me who could be voting for Obama or McCain or Ralph Nader or David Duke or David Duchovny, how much he loves this country.
To think, in the back of the cab to the party was a British web entrepreneur who has recently settled in San Francisco and came to Vegas for the first time, and on the way back I met a Saudi Arabian American who lives in this city of artifice but sees the greater beauty of where he lives. Both of them shared their stories with the son of an immigrant chicken farmer turned doctor who lives less than ten miles from the Statue of Liberty.
And now, from hotel room 7-11, I can blog these stories to share them globally.
But just as importantly, tomorrow I can share them in person with whoever I meet along the way.