NEW YORK - Many of you know that in addition to writing about sports, I have a keen interest in social networking and building community online. Those two interests dovetailed yesterday in a way that I think you'll find interesting.
The popular sports blog Hugging Harold Reynolds put together a conference in Manhattan for sports bloggers, mainstream journalists, public relations types and the owners of some of the web's biggest sports fan blogging networks. It was titled Blogs With Balls, and yes, the name works on more than one level.
I was there, and so was my Philly.com colleague Sheil Kapadia of Moving the Chains fame. That wasn't coincidental - we both have a strong interest in finding ways for sports fans, especially in the Philadelphia region, to interact with us and with Philly.com's content.
There was a wide range of topics discussed, from how to monetize blogs to the future of the media to the perennial question of the relationship between bloggers and mainstream journalists.
I'm sure you won't be surprised to hear that there was much discussion of the recent controversy over whether Raul Ibanez is using performance-enhancing drugs. For those of you who did not read the Jerod Morris' blog post on Midwest Sports Fans that started the discussion, here it is.
Much was made of how mainstream media - the Inquirer included - fueled the story. Yet the discussion's tone was impressively civil, even with the copious amount of beer that was consumed by many in the room.
(Though not by me. I had work to do, right?)
While the debate over whether bloggers should be able to say whatever they want on their sites will continue for a while to come, I think three significant themes emerged from yesterday's panels.
First, no matter how many ways we find to converse with each other online, nothing matches being able to talk to someone in real life. Whether at a media conference or a ballpark clubhouse, there is something about a face-to-face conversation that Twitter and Facebook just can't match.
Second, the lines that used to divide blogs and mainstream media have been blurred considerably from where they used to be. I remember going to a conference a few years back on the conflicts between blogs and the mainstream media, and there was a sense that the two sides really were opposed to each other.
Today the mainstream media has found value in blogs - just look at Philly.com's Fan Blogroll or Page 2 of the Inquirer sports section. At the same time, bloggers are acknowledging that their work would be diminished without mainstream journalists' access to players and coaches.
(Definitely read Frank Fitzpatrick's piece in today's Inquirer for more perspective on this.)
Third, you never know when something you say will get linked up on the web and suddenly explode into something bigger than you could have ever imagined.
It doesn't mean that bloggers should necessarily restrain their opinions, but it does mean that you have to make sure you're okay with all of your words reaching a wider audience than you might expect.
A blog post you thought would get read by only 10 people might get linked up on other blogs and all of a sudden you've got 100,000 readers instead. As blogs become ever more popular, their authors are finding out that such wide exposure can be both a blessing and a curse.
(This post by Morris on Saturday is a great example, as he considers the broader ramifications of the language he used in the first post about Ibanez.)
On the whole, though, it was a great day. You can find out much more about what happened at Blogs With Balls' official website, and it's also worth reading the wide range of reactions to the conference on Twitter.
Tomorrow, I'll post interviews with two of the organizers of Blogs With Balls as well as Deadspin editor A.J. Daulerio. All three had interesting things to say about the significance of the event and where things might head from here.