Sunday, July 26, 2009

BlogHer 2009

Guaranteed, if you've lived abroad for seven years, then returning to your home country will be a bit of a shock. It's not just jet lag you have to adjust to, it's culture shock as well. And that culture shock will be especially astonishing to you because it's your own culture, gosh darn it. Who knew things could change so much back home?

I've only really been blogging for about a year (before that I communicated via mass-emailings), so blogging's all pretty new to me. I started my blog while living in Poland and, go ahead and laugh, but at the time I didn't realize that blogging is an industry. Foolishly, I thought it was a hobby. An avocation. Something like scrapbooking or baking or whatever. I simply never had the crucial afterthought: where there's scrapbooking or baking, Creative Memories® and Pampered Chef® can't be far behind.

So for me, the jury's still out on BlogHer 2009. I attended for the first time ever and my feelings are mixed. The amount of giveaway loot was mind-boggling. I've been to lots of trade shows in a number of industries, but this was beyond the beyond. It seemed to combine the worst aspects of America's rampant consumerism with every stereotype there is about womankind's overwhelming desire to shop. And it kind of made me feel sick. Believe me, I'm not perfect. I came home with booty (even after "recycling" a lot of it), but the attention given to swag spread an oily, glistening sheen of greed over the proceedings that made some participants appear grasping and shallow.

As to the additional focus on monetizing your blog, optimizing readership, gaining followers? Well, who doesn't want money, connections, fame, big numbers? It's human nature, for sure. And at a big blogging conference, you certainly want to address the issues that are concerns for attendees. BlogHer provided a venue with lots of seminar options, so bloggers could learn about what they wanted to learn about, and ignore what was irrelevant to them. My mantra is, if you don't like to look (or read, or whatever) then don't. If I don't want to hear about advertising or getting my Twitter follower numbers up over 1K, then nobody needs to make me listen. It's my choice. So I mixed it up: a few geeky sessions on SEO and Twitter basics and social networking, a session on the latest tech gadgets (video, cameras, netbooks), a fascinating session on travel blogging. The outstanding Friday afternoon keynote highlighted 20 blog posts, read by their authors, and was by turns funny, heartwrenching, tragic, and full of joy. The Saturday keynote featuring a panel discussion with Tina Brown (Daily Beast), Donna Byrd (The Root), and Ilene Chaiken (The "L" word) was thought-provoking and empowering.

Still, even though I just said that people should attend the sessions they choose, I was completely unprepared for the shamefully small turnout at Saturday afternoon's session, "Leadership: The BlogHer '09 International Activist BlogHer Scholarship Winners Share Their Work". Bloggers Annie Zaidi (Blank Noise, Known Turf), Cristina Quisbert (Indigenous Bolivia), Pilirani Semu-Banda (The Wip, Pilirani Semu-Banda), and Toyin Ajao (Gender and Me) participated in a panel with Anita Doberman Tedaldi (Ovolina), discussing their activist work and the role of blogging in social change.

The BlogHer organizers were apparently hoping for at least 100 participants for this presentation. There were only 30 in the room. Thirty people, out of 1,500, who were interested in the groundbreaking work of these social activist bloggers from Nigeria, Bolivia, Malawi, and India? That's it? Meanwhile, next door, "Women Writing in the Age of Britney" was packed to overflowing.

Nothing against pop culture and Britney -- it's not my thing, but hey, to each her own. But I'm disappointed and surprised that BlogHer didn't feature these four women, these scholarship winners, in one of the conference-wide keynote addresses. Their work is big. Their work is shocking. Their work is the new wave of news in a post-print world. BlogHer should have chosen to have them present to the conference-wide audience. After all, they paid to bring them all the way here, half-way around the world. Why didn't they think we'd all want to hear their voices?

And it would have been a good stiff tonic for many, after all the goody bags and loot and monetization and whatnot. Families in Malawi subsist on about $1/day. Isn't that something you want to know more about?

Related posts: The Mom Slant, Motherhood Uncensored


Julie said...

Your description of the turnout for what sounds like an amazing session saddens and embarrasses me as much as the behavior of some of the mommy bloggers. What a rare and valuable opportunity to hear from those women, and how disappointing that more bloggers didn't recognize it and take advantage.

Mr London Street said...

What a shame these events aren't somehow defined by whether your blog is any good and you know how to use a spellchecker rather than whether you're in possession of breasts and a uterus.

That said, I have the shallow hope that your excellent blog will have picked up more readers and followers because of your attendance. I was especially looking forward to your thoughts on the event and you didn't disappoint (even if I have a sneaking feeling you might be holding something back).

sas said...

I do wonder if this is an american women who blog conference rather than one about blogging.
Having read some of the main protaganists on and off for a few years, I find them all a bit samey and very self-promotey. It's quite off-putting, a bit like high school.
The advertising is just annoying. And the whole mama-blog thing is utterly beyond me.
How disappointing that those women who are blogging with a purpose, and who actually have something to say that's worth reading are left out in the cold.
Mr LS is right, you need to dish!

Expat mum said...

My post is coming out as soon as I can gather my thoughts. I still can't quite decide what I thought. I was at once staggered by the sheer professionalism of some of the bloggers (ie. wanting to make money, get sponsors etc.) but since I wasn't allowed into most of the event (because i did the lobbyCon thing) I didn't see the swag etc. I spoke to a few women who thought the same as you though.

Expat mum said...

PS. Sorry we missed each other.

Tennyson ee Hemingway said...

There you go, I was not even aware there was a BlogHer conference. What a strange thing to have. Then again, maybe not. But you're right, if you're going to pay for people to come out that you think are worthwhile, the least you can do is give them the best chance to be heard. It's something of a worry.

ALVenable said...

Hello, I sat behind you during the international blogger session. :)

I was also shocked at the paltry number of attendees at this particular session. My hope is that since two of the organization's co-founders and one of the conference organizers were in the session and saw the low turn-out for themselves, they will change up how the session is presented. For example, it would have been great to have the ladies on the stage during the conference opening keynote so we could cheer them on.

The one thing that I do appreciate about the BlogHer Conference is the opportunity to meet bloggers from across the world (have a feeling there may be an even larger international presence in NYC next year) who have varying degrees of expertise and write about a variety of topics.

On the swag, yes, there is a lot, but it's a double-edged sword. The mommyblogger demographic is being targeted at this conference by various brands/marketing firms. In some of the people I spoke to who fit that demo, there were some who were just as appalled at the amount of "stuff." That said, benefit is having the ability to attend a conference that is fairly all-inclusive of meals, breaks and sessions for a relatively low price.

My conference roommate helps plan conferences at her job and she was amazed at how much was included in the conference registration cost, which the BlogHer folks will openly say are subsidized by their major sponsors.

But I digress, I'll have a lot to write in the conference feedback questionnaire.

David said...

If the posts I'm reading are indicative of the conference, I think we've witnessed a key moment in the "mom-o-sphere." The community appears to be at a crossroads of sorts. I'm in the PR/communications profession, and this sort of thing leads me to believe there are some serious credibility issues brewing in the community.

I'm also someone who believes very strongly in using social media to create social change. And I think there are some amazing people out there doing it. But what I'm reading suggests that the online parenting community isn't really the best place to do that anymore.

I'm very glad I found your blog via Kristen's.

Denise said...

Excellent post, covering a lot of issues faced by BlogHer attendees, panelists, sponsors and everyone else.

That heart hurts thing I put into my recap... one of the sessions I missed, that made my heart hurt, was the international activist scholarship session. Those are amazing women, doing great things today and they'll do great things tomorrow. I just wish I'd been able to be in two (or three) places at once.

Blue State Cowgirl said...

I can't believe you were at BlogHer too and I missed you.

I've found the event very useful, but you have to choose your sessions very carefully. The tech sessions especially are worth their weight in gold.

The fault of the low turn out at the Scholarship session was BlogHer's for not writing a good description. I was desperately trying to avoid the Britney session and ended up skipping everything during that time slot. Had I known what the session was about, I would have been right in the front row. The way it was worded, it sounded like it was a session for young student bloggers vying for a scholarship.

You also need to avoid a lot of the parties which are just screamfests. And the swag? You don't have to take it and they do have a lot of recycle areas. But the sponsors do underwrite so much of the conference that it's outrageously cheap for participants (at least as far as conference costs usually go.) So I don't usually mind the "consumer angle".

I do admit to some dismay, like you, at the whole AGGREGATE, LEVERAGE, MONETIZE focus. I kept searching for the people who were still doing this for passion and fun. Luckily, I mostly found them.

squaregirl said...

Great post! I am in contact with women on the Int'l Activist panel to further their reach through my site ( and hope to do a project similar to the Rwanda outreach documented on my blog.

I too agree that was the best panel by far, and I sincerely hope the organizers repeat the scholarship program next year to bring more women like the panelists to share their stories!

mo.stoneskin said...

This is the first account of BlogHer that I've read that is, well, maybe a bit more objective. Nice to read your account if it. And as for blogging as an industry, you're damn right about that. A life-sucking industry too!

Kacie said...

I watched the Blogher news with curiousity, and mostly felt like I am uninterested in most of what was described. The lack of interest in the last session you described really shocks me though. I don't blame people for being consumers and marketers - we are a capitalist society.

The LACK of interest in our fellow human beings when it doesn't benefit ourselves... that is truly the ugly side that pushes me away.

Madame DeFarge said...

I hadn't heard anything about BlogHer, but your review makes me wonder if I would have enjoyed it anyway. This is a hobby to me and a means of expression for many. Turning it into a commercial opportunity seems somehow all wrong. Does this happen in the rest of the world or only the US?

Suzy said...

That was a brilliant post with terrific comments. I did not go amd not going to hot, humid expensive NY next year. When they come to LA, I'll go. Or they can fly me out to MC the gig.It's what I do best...

MBNAD woman said...

BlogHer sounds a nightmare. But thanks for introducing me to those four inspiring women and their writing.

expateek said...

Julie -- you're right, and you know what? It just makes me want to work on the project, to make sure that more people hear from these women next year. Inspiration, in a couple of different directions...

MLS -- "holding back?" Moi? I fear you know me too well.

sas -- "american women who blog conference". Yes, that is kind of the atmosphere. But then I find Americans in general have a hard time fighting their way out of their American paper bags. It's lots easier not to listen to all that weird "noise" coming from outside the 50 states. People interested in foreign policy, world issues, etc are few and far between.

expatmum -- again, sorry we didn't hook up, the train schedule to GE is dire on Saturdays. I'll look forward to reading your post on the event.

tennyson -- there are other blogging conferences that are not just for women. I think I'll try one of those next. Mr London Street objected to a "uterocracy" which still has me giggling.

ALVenable -- gosh, I hope I wasn't twirling my hair too much! I'm looking forward to a more international feel in NYC as well. Perhaps I'll volunteer to help make it happen. And I understand the underwriting/sponsorship issue -- it's how most trade shows work. I guess it was the behaviour of the bloggers, not the reps, that bothered me.

David -- I agree completely. Perhaps a separate non-commercial track? I don't know. I'd never even heard of product review blogs before I got there. (From another planet, perhaps? yeeesh.) I'm very interested in the effect that the new FTC rules will have. I think it's entirely necessary and appropriate.

Fantastic blog post of yours, on female role models. I want to read more!

Denise -- as to the "two places at once thing" -- there was a videographer there, was the whole session taped? It would be great to see that up on BlogHer. Generally, I agree, there were lots of good sessions to choose from. Sorry you missed it but I'm sure it was the right choice for you.

BlueState -- I agree, it was an error in advertising the session. I too was not sure what it was going to be about. "International" was what pulled me in, but I almost didn't go. Good grief. Happily I avoided most of the party madness because I commuted, rather than staying downtown.

Squaregirl -- I'm off to read your writing; thanks for the direction. Please send me a link @expateek if there's other stuff I should be watching. I'll look forward to it.

mo -- "objective"! Gosh, that's high praise. Thank you.

kacie "The LACK of interest in our fellow human beings when it doesn't benefit ourselves" ... exactly, Kacie. You hit the nail on the head.

mme defarge -- I think partly it's a US thing. A lot of the press in the last couple of years has been about recognising the importance and power of this demographic, in terms of marketing. The tough thing is, as things evolve, how do you strike the right balance?

suzy -- thanks. The comments were better than the post, I think. It's amazing how many thoughtful people there are out there!

mbnad woman -- you know, it was actually really pretty amazing in so many ways. (I'm apparently incapable of leaving negative vibe in my wake...) I think I will go again, but I will be sure that I lobby for what I think is good and right beforehand, and choose carefully what I participate in.

Palymama said...

I am really surprised at the lack of attendance at that session. I too thought that they would be at least introduced an honored at a group-wide community event. There was indeed culture shock for me at this Blogher even though I went to last year's - much more intense capitalism. On the positive side, I really enjoyed meeting you at the "Moms of Teens" lunch table. And, glad to add you to my RSS feed. Let's stay in touch.

Mary Alice said...

I am actually NOT surprised...just sad. So many like to stick their head in the sand.

Jett Superior said...

YES. Yes and yes and yes.

I've been voyeurnalling for ten years now; I was in the very first wave of webloggers who were somewhat maligned and definitely made fun of way back when. BUT, the ribbing was worth taking because there was not one single blog you'd click through to that was not of quality. Seriously, not a single one!

And there certainly wasn't the rampant consumerism that is prevalent nowadays.

In the past I have shied away from the BlogHer convention altogether, but for some reason all of this year's negative 'press' has shored my resolve to buy a ticket for next year. I want to represent myself and not have people at large think that those shallow grabitallskis are the majority in this gorgeous medium.

Mahmood said...

You have a nice way of narration. Your blog is very nice. The images are very beautiful. God is Great. Best wishes.

ladyfi said...

Very interesting - and at last an insight into something more than who went to which party and what they wore.

Not my cup of tea at all.

Scope said...

I dropped into the lobby of the BlogHer hotel on Friday afternoon to meet up with a person who was attending. (I work in Chicago, so I just walked over, no whoop)

There did seem to be a lot of swag bags over flowing. As I am not in the least bit interested in monetizing my blog (personal choice, I run ad free), doing paid testimonials, or Twittering (okay, I do love it when I get new followers, and thanks!, but I'm not about to go on some follower-ship drive or anything), I doubt this conference would have been for me.

I'm much more into the "social" than the "change" you might say. I enjoy meeting folks from around the world, and hearing their stories. And it's changed my life. It sounds like it really should have been different conferences or different tracks for the casual bloggers, the make a few bucks bloggers, and the serious new-journalism bloggers. They all have different agendas, and maybe it's grown enough that they don't mix well?

Crabby McSlacker said...

Thanks for the behind the scenes look! I was reluctant to spend the $$ this year, and it's good to hear about the plusses and minuses in deciding whether to go next year.

I think I'm in, but this is great food for thought!

StandTall-The Activist said...

It's touching you blogged about this. Being one of the Int'l activists paid for to come and share our work, I looked forward to meeting so many women at our session so we can rob minds and benefit from one another but alas few showed up but it was a blessing to have those few change makers such as yours at our session, it reawaken a new committment in me.

I do hope though that BlogHer will make future activits appear in one of the keynote sessions...

Christine said...

Follow the money!

There probably is not much money to be made writing about things that matter. However there is money to be made writing about celebs.

Funny that you mentioned the swag too. Another blog that I read mentioned all the swag as well. There must have been an incredible amount of stuff floating around.

the fly in the web said...

I am so low incompetent..that I could not manage to sign up for Blogher....what is 'body' and what am I supposed to do about it?...
However, thanks to finding your blog through VLiF, I now can read the blogs you describe. How dreadful that their event was not better organised....or is it that this is the social gesture, validating all the rest of the hype of the event, in the same way that social programmes are supposed to validate the excesses of large companies?
I don't know enough to say, but you probably do.
Thank you again for the heads up on these blogs.

Anna said...

Why such low turnout? Because people are tired of social activism, it's as simple as that. Personally, I think that a lot of these "activist" bloggers come across as oh-so-self-righteous and holier-than-thou do-gooders, and even though their message is important and needs to be heard, the attitude is an immediate turn off. Mom-o-sphere is much more approachable and offers something that most women can relate to.
But still, it sounds like you had a great time. Too bad I wasn't able to be there. :(