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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

My BlogHer'09: Yes, it actually WAS a conference!

I went off to Chicago for BlogHer'09 knowing I was not going to be a party animal. While there's certainly no shortage of parties surrounding the conference, a conference is what it is. Some attendees have noted that it's changing; as it's grown bigger and bigger, there seems to be more emphasis on various forms of marketing than on blog-building and writing, but since this was my first time, I can't say much about that. I can confirm that there IS a lot of emphasis on various forms of marketing, as distinct from community-building, and that I heard several statements along the lines of "it's not enough to write well any more," but I can't speak to how that compares with prior years.

In any case, my intent in going was conferencing. I reviewed the agenda carefully before I left for Chicago, and planned the sessions I wanted to go to. In some cases, they were tough choices - with at least a half-dozen talks on a number of interesting topics in every time slot, there were times when I had to pick my priorities, and hope to hear about the sessions I missed from other bloggers who made different choices than I did. I managed to attend sessions from almost every programming track, and there was something worthwhile in every one of them.

My favorite sessions were the three Geek Labs I went to, and they were the most genuinely useful as well. I attended back-to-back Labs on basic HTML and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), and I now feel like I have a slightly higher comfort level that I know what I'm looking at when I make tweaks to my blog template! I learned that there are three basic elements to a web page:
HTML - content
CSS - style (how the content appears)
JavaScript - action (what the content does)
As it turned out, I already did know how to use some of the most basic HTML, but I'm less fearful of moving beyond that now. CSS is still a bit intimidating, but our presenter pointed Firefox users to the Web Developer Toolbar add-on, which can tell you all kinds of useful things about any web page, and help you understand what you're looking at.

I also attended a statistics Lab, and it wasn't quite what I expected. The focus was largely on using your stats for revenue projections; the analysis and formulas we learned were interesting, but I was hoping for more discussion on understanding blog stats, period, with perhaps some recommendations on which stats programs were most useful. Google Analytics is a favorite, even though it's not real-time, because it can tell you so much about your site's traffic and usage; it's also not specific to one blog platform, so it's more widely applicable and accepted. I already have it, and I learned a few things that I think will make it even more useful for me. However, if you wanted some definitive answers regarding why different stat counters tell you different things, which is the most reliable, and the meaning of subscribers vs. hits vs. pageviews - which I did want, kind of - they weren't on offer.

All of the Geek Lab sessions were only 30 minutes long, and I wish there had been more time in every one of them; I feel like I got a nice taste of each topic, but they left me wanting more. On the other hand, I guess that can be considered inspiring. I have more detailed notes on each of the sessions - if you'd like a copy of any, just e-mail me at 3.rsblog AT Gmail DOT com.

The best discussion I attended was at a panel in the Leadership programming track, "What is 'Pro-Woman' in a Post-Palin World?" From the official conference agenda:
2008 was a volatile year for women in the public eye. Not just for those women, but for all women as we watched them in action and the reaction to them. BlogHer.com featured substantive, weighty and (mostly) civil conversations that dug up ongoing questions that dog all of us that consider ourselves “Pro-Woman”:

How do we address the rift between many women of color and the perception of the mainstream feminist movement? Can pro-choice and pro-life women find common “pro-woman” ground? If we believe that women are true thought leaders and change agents for the world and that women’s leadership is more important than ever in turbulent times, how do we reconcile this with the fact that women certainly do not all agree?! What does it mean to be “pro-woman” when woman are anything but a monolithic bloc who think…or vote the same?

Join the conversation to answer all these questions and more. Dedicated feminist Danielle HendersonEmily Zanotti, liberal feminist blogger Veronica Arreola, and conservative Fausta Wertz, who blogs about Latin American politics, news and current events. Join them to discuss what it means to be Pro-Woman in today's world.
moderates this conversation with conservative libertarian blogger
The panel, and the audience participation, touched on nearly every question mentioned above in a session not intended to arrive at definitive answers, but to foster conversation among holders of many different viewpoints. I think it was successful. I do stray into the political around here at times, I don't apologize for calling myself a feminist, and I was engaged throughout the session. The disagreements, when they happened, were civil, and I heard sensible opinions - that is, they made sense to me, even if I didn't agree with them - from all the represented areas on the political spectrum. This was a session I attended not just because I was interested in the content, but also to meet one of the panelists - I've been reading Veronica's various blogs for a long time, and it was great to get a chance to speak with her, however briefly, and get her autograph on the issue of Ms. Magazine in which she's featured.

There was some good food for thought in a panel on the Identity/Passions track, "Enough About You - Who's Reading You?" This conversation touched on blogging to build friendships and/or community and how it's like - and unlike - developing a fan base for your blog; shifting the focus of your writing in accordance to what readers do, and don't, respond to was another big topic. The subject of openness came up as several people talked about blog stalkers, and perspectives on blogging authentically and the blogger/reader relationship were offered and shared.

I attended the first session in the MommyBlogging track, "Have You Found Your MommyBlogging Tribe?" because I really felt like my answer was "no" - and after the panel, it still is. I'm a mom who blogs, and who contributes to a group blog with other moms, but I've never felt like the "mommy-blogger" label fits me, and as its definition shifts and seems to narrow in focus due to its growing popularity with marketers, it seems even less right for me. I agree that it's necessary to put yourself out into the blogiverse to bring readers back to you - I comment, I link, I participate in group activities, and most of you who've been around here for awhile know all that already. But I also write here, and I care about what and how I write - and the bloggers I want to know about and read are the ones who care about the writing too. This panel was the first place I heard the "writing well isn't enough" comment (from a blogger who I think writes very well, and who didn't seem to enjoy saying it either), which I really wish wasn't true, but as far as evaluating popularity in the blogiverse, it just might be.

In any case, I continue to feel on the fringes of the "mommybloggers", and to feel that my "tribe" is among those - moms and everyone else - who blog about books and popular culture and everyday life. I like having interests that cross genres and topics and tribal boundaries. But my sense of online community is rooted among the book bloggers, who were in very short supply at BlogHer (and unless that's addressed with programming, I fear that's unlikely to change). Here are two of the three besides myself that I know were there, in a photo I'm borrowing from TexasRed:


TexasRed is on the left at one of the few moments she wasn't wearing her cowboy hat, and Sassymonkey is in red. We're just missing Beatrice from My Kingdom for a Book.

I heard about some other good sessions that I'm sorry I missed. The conference experience depends on what you make of it, and BlogHer'09 provided lots of good program material to work with; I was quite satisfied with my choices of how to use it, and it was well worth the time.
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18 comments:

  1. Great post. I attended a BlogHer mini conference in Boston last year and likewise found book bloggers in short supply. I'm glad the sessions were good- I hope that next year they come back to New England so I can attend! :-)

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  2. Ok, I wasn't in that session so this is my question - Writing well isn't enough for what exactly? I really, really, really hate the notion that if you are ranked a x level, or have x amount of traffic, or not making money off your blog or insert anything here that you are doing it wrong. Because that's a big lying mcliarpants lie.

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  3. Hi Florinda,
    First of all, I wanted to let you know how happy I was to stumble upon you at the Mom Central party! What were the chances? Looking back, I also wish there would have been a better way for book bloggers to connect. While I don't blog about books specifically, a good part of my blog is devoted to children's books and children's book reviews. Luckily I also had a chance to meet TexasRed (hard not to miss in her cowboy hat) but other than that, I did not meet any other dedicated book bloggers.

    As far as the conference goes, I was disappointed in the sessions I attended. Responding to your comment, I do think, especially in the "mommy blogging" segment that some of the writing lacks in quality. I visit quite a few blogs trying to compile my Full to the Brim lists and each time I find book "reviews" that are more of an ad -- posts that don't contain any helpful information or insights. Once and awhile, even so called book bloggers just display the book summary and offer nothing more. That does make me angry as I spend a lot of time working on my reviews to make them personalized, use my own words, and I try to offer my viewpoint as a mother. I did attend some of the parties and really had only postitive experiences. I was able to meet some really nice women and had a couple of fairly in depth conversations.

    Someday I hope to go to a book blogging conference or the BEA as you mentioned. I know that the kidlit bloggers also have their own conferences. It would be interesting to compare BlogHer to one of those primarily book focused meet-ups. - Janelle

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  4. Just to chime in, I think writing well is enough. It's what brings me back here!

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  5. THANK YOU for posting the first write-up that didn't talk about the parties, swag and schmoozing. I have yet to go to one of these conferences, but I thought that I would get everyone's take on it after this year's and see if there was anything interesting.
    Your blog is the first one I've read that went over the actual panels! Great review, and interesting - since next year will be local for me, I may go (for the conference as well, not the parties!).
    I also feel like I'm on the fringe of the mommyblogger circuit, so I know what you're talking about there as well.

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  6. I can totally elaborate on my "writing well isn't enough anymore" comment for your questioning readers. There was a lot more to it, obviously, but those that weren't in the session would be sort of lost.

    Writing well isn't enough anymore because it is next to impossible to find the blogs that resonate with you these days, given the thousands of new blogs that start each day. Your readers that are saying that your writing is what brings them back here are right... but how exactly did they find you? Did they psychic-ly feel your good writing and manifested your URL in their heads? No.

    You probably put yourself out there somewhere, whether it be by commenting on other sites, twitter, message boards, etc., and they checked you out... only to discover that your writing is brilliant.

    It used to be that you could write a brilliant blog, never leave your private space, never comment or leave your signature anywhere, and people could find you, um, somehow. Because there were only a handful of blogs.

    Writing well is not enough anymore. How on earth are readers supposed to find you if you don't let them know you are here? How does that first reader find you?

    It's romantic to say that it's the writing that brings you back. But I insist on asking, "How did you find her in the first place?"

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  7. I had to come back and respond to Megan, especially after she took the time to email me her response! Now that I have the context of the quote, I have to say that Megan does have a point, especially if you want readers (not everyone does, surprising but true). People do need to find you in order to read you and it's easier to find you if you put yourself out there. Not in a "read my blog!" pseudospam kind of way but sometimes the best way to have people come to your blog is by having a conversation with them. Comment on posts that you like, have conversations on Twitter, even (and I want to say particularly even) if they have nothing to do with your blog. Some of my top referrals come from Twitter (blogs linked in profile) and BlogHer (blogs linked in my signature and profile).

    In that sense I have to agree, just writing well isn't enough. You can only get as much out of a community as you put in and part of being in a community is participation.

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  8. Florinda,
    This post was beautifully written (as usual) summary of your experience at BlogHer. I live blogged and posted about my experience at BlogHer but am waiting until later in the week to do a fully digested post about the sessions. I too have trouble with defining myself. I consider myself to be part of many tribes: book blog, food blog, and mommy blog, although I have to admit that some of the mommy blog debates (PR black out, etc...) are not my cup of tea. One of my favorite parts of BlogHer was getting to meet you in person and having a chance to hang out at many of the events. I only regret that we didn't have time to have a bigger book chat, but I hope we can keep doing that online.

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  9. What a great recap. Sounds like some interesting sessions.

    I didn't know there were blog stalkers. Interesting.

    --Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

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  10. It was so great to meet you at BlogHer. I agree that book bloggers were under-represented. I'm glad you got so much out of the sessions. I attended several and am still processing what I learned. I think the biggest benefit for me, though, was meeting people face-to-face.

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  11. Thanks to you, now I know what CSS stands for. :)

    I also bookmarked the link for the Web Teacher. I hope that will teach me a thing or two about playing around in this stuff without totally messing up my page.

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  12. Sorry for the delay in replying to the comments on this one!

    Marie - It's going to be in New York City next year. Is that close enough for you? I'm really hoping for more book bloggers next time around!

    Janelle (Brimful Curiosities) - I'm glad we ran into each other as well! Truthfully, there were only a couple of other book bloggers you could have met besides TexasRed and me :-).

    I'm sorry you weren't thrilled with the sessions you went to (but glad you enjoyed the parties!). There's some discussion of a writing/technique track next year, and I hope it happens; some of us are more interested in that than marketing. And I agree with you about "reviews" (and it's not just on book blogs) that aren't much more than product info - I put a lot of effort into my reviews too, and I tend not to stick around for blogs that don't.

    Jeanne - Aw, shucks. Thanks!

    Jenn - Thanks. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only person who talked about the conference content, but posts about it do seem to be in the minority. I think it depends who you read; everyone experiences BlogHer in her own way, so we share different things.

    I am off the fence and now officially registered for BlogHer'10. Hope I'll meet you there!

    Megan - Thanks for stopping by and clarifying that. I have to agree that good writing isn't enough to bring people to your blog - you do have to go out there and interact (which I do). But if other people like what you're writing well enough to share it via links...well, in that case, I'd say the writing does bring them in, but with a tour guide. However, I still want to believe that good writing can be enough to keep people reading your blog once they find it.

    Of course, all of this would assume that I have a well-written blog, wouldn't it :-)?

    Sassymonkey - I always wanted readers; I just never really expected to get them :-). But it turns out that I actually enjoy the participation on its own merits, in addition to getting the blog out there.

    Vanessa (Chefdruck) - I am really glad we had the chance to meet and talk in Chicago! I really want to keep up the book talk online too. And I'm working on trying to get more book bloggers to come to BlogHer'10; I hope you'll consider yourself one of us, at least part of the time, as you circulate among your tribes :-)!

    Anna - I'd rather NOT know there are blog stalkers. And there was lots more going on in sessions, but I could only talk about the ones I went to :-).

    TexasRed - I'm glad we met up too! You seemed to be absorbing the whole BlogHer experience fully, which is great. See you next year?

    Mike - Glad I could help educate you today :-). I've subscribed to Web Teacher too; the more I know, the less trouble I can get into!

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  13. I don't see you as a "mommy" blogger either. You post about all sorts of things so you are sort of a "hybrid" blogger. That's how I see it.

    I'm glad you had a good time. I know you were a tad worried about mixing but it looks like you did quite well.

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  14. Ti - I kind of like "hybrid blogger." I know I'm not a pure book blogger either, but that's the place where I feel most comfortable - more so than among the mommy bloggers, although many of the blogging moms I know really don't fit the mold either (such as the "mold" is).

    I mixed OK, I guess - as much as I wanted to, and I stopped when it got to be too much. I do want to go to Chicago again, though!

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  15. wow, this sounds like a great conference...I need to learn more html etc.

    I'll have to keep that on the radar for next year.

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  16. Serena - I certainly hope you will!

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  17. "The conference experience depends on what you make of it" so true! And it sounds like you had your priorities and got a lot out of it. I could use some help demystifying HTML and the various stat counters, too.

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  18. Dawn - I'm hoping for even more technical stuff next year; there's talk about a track focused on craft and writing as well as the more geeky topics. But yes, I made my plans, and they did involve getting as much as could out the sessions,

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Now it's YOUR turn - speak your piece, please! Or just let me know you were here; I always like that. But you'll have to leave a name - I've disallowed anonymous comments due to some recent spam problems. Thanks!