Three weeks without email is a wonderful restorative . And if you catch at something really important to replace the daily messaging fix then you are weaned of the habit within a few hours . For me , travel is just such a replacement habit . As we wandered in the Registan at Samarkand or across the Maidan in Isfahan , then my head was alive to the possibilities of town planning in (ancient) civilized cities . The palace complex at Persepolis awoke ideas of power concentrations and communications , just as the tomb of Cyrus at Pasargarde reminded me of how easy it is to lay a trail which misleads as much as informs one’s successors.

But it was the walls of ancient Merv that brought me down . Having struggled arthritically to the top , and then onto the citadel , the view from what was once the greatest city in the world barring only Babylon exhibits – a desert . After Genghis Khan , the great city , which may have had a population close to one million , was never re-occupied . The deserts of Turkmenistan are unforgiving. Progress stopped here .

Almost the first thing that I saw on my return to work was the agenda for the next ePublishing Innovation Forum 2010 ( which I am chairing in London on 25-26 May – next week – in London . Like the view from the top of the walls of Merv , it is inspiring , but for utterly different reasons . It reminds me of the pace and iterative nature of change in an information marketplace that is recreating itself from ground level in cycles that used to take a decade to complete , but which can now take 10 months .

Peering from the top of the walls , I know that I can no longer envisage an agenda that covers the whole spectrum of change . The great team who organize this event now know this too , so the keynotes are particularly important , from Simon Waldman of the Guardian at the beginning ( “The internet ate my business” !) to Shane O’Neill and his political perspective on using third party ( government) content at the end . In between come some case studies I really want to hear – Chris Pilling on the Complinet experience , or the Economist strategy on networks from Aeneas McDonnell . Evan Schnittman at OUP is a wonderful commentator on distribution issues , and Jonathan Glasspool at Bloomsbury is building a new digital world of professional and academic publishing with some interesting acquisitions .

Out there on the walls are also some seasoned observors , eyes narrowed to slits in the face of blinding sun and sandstorms . Adam Hodgkin , one of the industries most experienced venturers , will tell us how you build businesses which exploit iPhone and iPad , while Hugo Drayton , veteran of the Advertising Legion , puts fresh heart into markets which have at times looked like the Karakoram Desert itself .  

And I have only scratched the surface .Ian Eckert knows all about publishing platforms – from newspapers ( I first met him at Portsmouth and Sunderland , a group now as well forgotten as Merv itself ) to UBM , to TES and now back to making things work at Abacus . And TES’s current CEO , Louise Rogers , will be there to show how UGC really works .Other case studies include Fish4 ( who will no doubt remind me that I was once their chairman too ) and Conde Nast . And the panellists come from vital places like Nature , Penguin , Incisive Media and Pearson Education .All this gets somehow shoe-horned into two days ( pity the chairman ) and has so far gained a bigger audience than last year . I am pleased and proud that my colleagues at Outsell are once more , for a third year , its media partners .

Unlike ancient Merv , the network allows media to die in one context while regenerating in another . We have to use events like this to tap into the collective experience of that powerfull  speaking team to find out what natural laws govern that regeneration , whether experience can be replicated , how we can really understand user behaviour , what constitutes value add in the eyes of our users and whether we can understand and work with them successfully before they decide that we are part of the problem , not the solution . While I remain confident that publishing will never become a deserted city , it may be best to find out now what is in the minds of the Mongol horde on the network ,something which the citizens of old Merv never deigned to do .

I look forward to seeing you there .

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