Leaving town on NC-16, you don't exactly get the feeling you're entering Silicon Valley. Twisting past the Jet Ski rental lots and the java huts in a town built around a fake lake, a sign welcomes you to Denver, NC, or as the sign says, "The Denver of the East."
From the outside, Charles Hogan's 70- by 20-foot lime green trailer doesn't appear to be a technological haven. Just last year he got running water after the well water he had been using was found to be contaminated.
But you are about to enter the headquarters of the largest subgroup on Ourmedia.org, a nonprofit Internet site that copyrights and stores all types of media outlets for free, forever. From this trailer, Hogan (or Windsong, his webname) acts as the group's moderator.
Currently, the site has 75,000 members who post video blogs, podcasts, MP3s and other digital forms. The blogs cover every topic imaginable: Salsa Lovers, Iceland Happy Place, Citizen Journalism, The Conservative Conscience and Atheists are just a few of the group names on the site. Rocketboom, a Daily Show-eqsue video blog, features segments like "Ask a Ninja," and traffic has grown to 150,000 hits in a day. Hogan says Rocketboom's creator, Amanda Congdon, started with a budget of $20 a day and recently sold a week's worth of advertising on eBay for $44,000.
The bloggers come from all over the world, Charles says. Everywhere, that is, except Charlotte. "We're like in a vacuum in this area," he says. "Charlotte's kind of funny. People know how to use computers, but they're operators, they're not really into computers."
As a moderator, Hogan teaches thousands of members how to upload videos, songs and podcasts. Sometimes he tutors through video newsletters. With his hair parted neatly to the side, he lectures about RSS feeds over a classical music score. Hogan watches and listens to every second of content on his group. He's dealt with porn auteurs trying to argue how their cinematography distinguishes their artistic work from smut. Last week, he kicked someone off for posting a stag film involving an animal.
Hogan's computer is a three gigahertz off brand optimized for graphics. Two programmers have supplied him with $10,000 and $15,000 of software hoping he might promote some of it to his group. Hogan believes grass-roots media is the entertainment of the future. "I don't think I've actually watched TV in a year and a half."