Heads Up With George Nemeth
It is hard to overestimate the importance of music in George’s life. We began our relationship, and ended it sharing music. Back in the day, we would exchange mix tapes burned to CDs, then later playlists, and just a few weeks ago, I was listening to one of his recent online radio podcasts. When George and I first started working together, we’d meet at our house, where we had some IKEA furniture, a stereo and a Foosball table. We had Foosball tournaments going for days, all the while sharing music: “Have you heard this?” “Check this out!” “This band is really awesome!”
But writing and editing is a heads-down task, while George and I were always heads-up, challenging each other, exchanging ideas, pushing each other further. And I remember eating a lot of pizza. Then, after hours of games and pizza, we would each have to head back to our respective computers, put our heads down, and get the real work done of writing and editing our little email. Many years later, just a few weeks ago, George turned me on to his latest online project, Sonic Garage Radio. I spent a few hours listening to his mix of new and old tracks, perfectly blended.
George became a close friend of mine, but at first, we didn’t have any friends in common. He found me through the Internet, from a little email I had started called CoolCleveland. I think he was fascinated that we were putting out a regular email every week just to tell people about the cool stuff going on in our region. It seemed to match his interest in both improving our community, and using technology as one of the tools to do that. He immediately offered to volunteer his services on the technical side. I knew a bit about technology, but I wasn’t nearly as hands-on as George was. He wasn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves and dig in, spending hours trying to solve what might turn out to be a simple problem, or a major breakthrough. He had a unique skills for translating abstract ideas into something that would actually work online. Eventually, he was spending so much time volunteering with us that it interfered with his work. Soon after that, he became CoolCleveland’s first full-time staffer, our CCIO, CoolCleveland Information Officer.
George had a vision for how the Internet could benefit humanity. Everything George did with technology was foregrounded with the assumption that we were all working towards a new future, a Utopian future, a way of interacting with each other that would benefit all. From the first day I met George, it was obvious that we shared this perspective on what technology could do, and why we were so interested in working on it. We became close partners and very close friends.
Technology ethics was a constant issue for us. It felt like we were inventing the Internet back then, George Nemeth, myself, and Al Gore. Even then we could sense that something was out of balance, that Silicon Valley was more interested in creating revenue than creating community. Especially our community in Cleveland. That was going to be up to us. We knew even back then that the awesome power of technology could be unleashed in many ways, and we chose to use it to solve problems, to expose inequities, to challenge existing power structures, to speak truth to power. We probably need this tech ethics conversation today more than ever.
Above all, George was an astute listener. He would engage people intensely, usually with a cup of coffee in his hand. He would bear down on them, staring into their eyes, very interested in hearing everything they had to say and, after listening intently, only then would George offer his suggestions for how new technologies might be able to help. Then he’d get busy helping.
George was so far ahead in so many ways. It wasn’t that he was a technological genius, but his particular genius was to figure out how emerging technologies, new apps, new ways of working with the Internet, could assist those who were interested in building a better community. Blogs, forums, email, podcasts, video. This is really what George and I shared: this common commitment to Community through technology.
Working With George
I don’t really think our work on CoolCleveland was all that groundbreaking in terms of technology. It was just an email. Of course, there was a bit more to it than that: the email had to be written, edited, posted, mailed out, tracked. Eventually, that took an entire team. At first, The CoolCleveland email had no graphics, no color, not even a logo. It was just 20,000 words of text straight off the top my head. George worked closely with me to move us slowly forward step by step, week by week, month by month, and eventually we got all those things, and even a real website, at first just to host the archives of our weekly newsletters. Next we added a little form so you could subscribe to the email right from the site. That was a pretty big deal. Before that you had to know somebody and figure out how to get a message to us to get your email address added to our list. Eventually, we built a full-fledged website, with the help, assistance and vision of George at every step.
Here’s how it would work: we hear about something new, or we would brainstorm for hours over coffee, until we thought: somebody must already be doing this new idea. Then it would be George’s job to research on the web, and see if anyone else was doing something somewhere, if anyone had built some software, or tools to help with this new task. If so, he would pull together the top tools in that new space, do an evaluation, then rank them from best to worst, including what it would cost, how it would be hosted, how it would operate and how we’d maintain it. If nobody was already out there doing what we envisioned, he’d figure out a way to hack something together that would solve our problem, and that would move us forward. Virtually every week, George was investigating new tools, new possibilities, new spaces that had just recently been discovered, or inventing them himself. George had a unique talent for interpreting new technology, explaining it to the average non-technical person and putting it in motion. All we offered was the perfect vehicle for his unique vision and talents.
Meet The Bloggers
One of the most transformative ideas George had was creating Meet The Bloggers. A simple idea really: George and his associates would contact people in politics, government, technology, and leadership positions, arrange to meet them somewhere, and interview them. He recorded everything, which then became a podcast that was posted on the Meet The Bloggers site. Sometimes it was George doing the interviewing one-on-one, sometimes there would be a group of bloggers, each taking turns questioning and interviewing the subject. Some of the conversations were just helping to promote cool new stuff, which was exactly what CoolCleveland was doing at the time. We collaborated a lot.
But sometimes there was a tougher edge to the questioning. Our region has gone through tough times the past couple decades, and often our leadership has failed us. Part of what Meet The Bloggers aimed to do was to explore new solutions for our region, to ask the questions that needed to be asked, and to hold those in power accountable. Meet The Bloggers was like the Cleveland City Club and it’s famous question-and-answer session, without the 45 minute speech in front of it. Meet The Bloggers was one of the most powerful and respected civic conversations this region has ever had, harnessing the power, transparency, and reach of Internet technology to a sincere, heartfelt effort to make our region better. And George did make our region better. We are better because of George Nemeth.
Brewed Fresh Daily
George Nemeth had a tremendous capacity for work and for focusing his attention, time and effort on necessary projects to improve our community. When he was on his game, which was virtually all the time, he placed himself where he should be, when he should be there. Fueled by his passion for coffee, George tapped an unending supply of energy that contributed to the common good. When he started his own blog, Brewed Fresh Daily, it was a nod to both the emerging culture of coffee, which was fully appreciated by George, and also an acknowledgment that information on the web, websites and blogs, needed to be updated often in order to stay relevant. At first, these two passions alternated, but eventually the civic mission won out, and BrewedFreshDaily.com became a respected source for business news on the edge.
Emerging leaders, emerging technologies, interesting new efforts and commentary were offered in an uninterrupted flow. He often quoted other blogs, writers and thinkers, honoring their voices and serving as his own search engine for what conversations you should be paying attention to. Every day, there was another side to be considered, another voice to be heard, another flavor to be tasted, with the commonality that we were all pointed in the same direction, working together to improve the region. And although good people might disagree about the specifics of how to get there, George had a way of respecting all sides, hearing all voices, and giving everyone the platform they deserved.
About 10 years ago, when blogs were just starting to enter the zeitgeist, George and I were invited to Las Vegas to the the world’s largest blogging convention, BlogWorld Expo, to present a session on our ideas and our achievements, along with area web entrepreneur Jim Kukral (left, in photo above) and Clevelander Eric Olsen of BlogCritics. Everyone else at this conference was presenting sessions that started with the words “How To Make Money With a Blog About…” Ours was on how to create community using a blog. So we attracted about a dozen people, while the other sessions had lines out the door. In typical George fashion, he had us come down off the podium, sit with the audience, and asked everyone to form a circle.
This remembrance has been difficult to write. CoolCleveland is entering our 15th year, and to celebrate I started inviting all the writers, editors and contributors throughout the years to a series of small get-togethers at our house. George was one of the first I reached out to, although I hadn’t spoken with him in at least five years. George had already moved away, but he had gotten in touch when I had some health issues. However, we didn’t keep up, and I didn’t hear from him again until just two months ago, when he accepted my invitation. We spoke for two hours on the phone, and it was like time hadn’t even passed. He came by our place, and Carol and I got to spend some time talking with him. It was amazing how engaging he was, just as always.
Of course that 2-hour conversation led to more conversations, and more new ideas, and soon enough, we were talking about working on a couple of projects, just like we used to. He conferenced in Kathleen when I expressed an interest in doing something about ethics in technology, which we had been concerned with all along, but seemed to be totally out of hand now in 2016. George agreed. It would be the last thing of many things we agreed on. CoolCleveland is dedicated to George Nemeth; in reality it simply would not have been possible without George. That it’s lasted as long as it has is a testament to George’s energy, his technical prowess, and his vision, which will surely never pass away.
PHOTOSTREAM of George Nemeth can be found here.
Thomas Mulready is the creator of the CoolCleveland email, CoolCleveland.com, and the CoolCleveland apps for iPhone and Android. He founded the Performance Art Festival and co-founded the Ingenuity Fest. George Nemeth was CoolCleveland’s first staffer, and the Cool Cleveland Information Officer.
Many thanks to Gloria Ferris, Jim Kukral, Valdis Krebs, Jay Levan, and everyone who was touched by George.