I’ve just returned from my trip to California for BlogHer ’08 and a short vacation, both of which I intend to tell you ALL about either here or over on Snapshot Chronicles, depending on the topic. I certainly didn’t intend a two-week hiatus from blogging, but I was so busy being there and truly enjoying the experiences — in San Francisco with my mom and son, at the conference and then up in Sonoma for a few days — that it just sort of happened.
But I have some great posts planned, which hopefully will make up for my absence.
Starting with my reflections on BlogHer ’08. I’ve been to all four BlogHer Conferences, and have seen it evolve from its fairly humble beginnings in a San Jose office park to a world class blogging conference, community and advertising network.
1000 attendees this year. Sold out again. As the song goes, I’ve seen the changes.
From the first conference which had a definite tilt toward technical and business types. So much so that the few mom bloggers in attendance said quite clearly that they felt marginalized. (2005 post-conference observations).
To year two, which was the explosion of the mom blogs. So much so that the conference seemed to tilt completely the other way, leaving the more business-oriented adrift. BlogHer Business came along to fix that little problem. (2006 post-conference observations one and two)
To year three in Chicago. BlogHer was definitely growing up. With the accompanying growing pains. Bigger and better than the year before, it had terrific programming, but suffered from being dispersed over three locations — the Navy Pier conference site and two hotels. The sponsors were also much more prominent. This is purely a statement of fact, as I agree with BlogHer’s sponsor policy. Sponsor support is the best way to keep the cost of the conference within reach of the community, most of whom are NOT submitting expense reports to their companies for the trip.
In 2007, the community was now too large for everyone to know or speak with everyone else during the conference, and it was clearly stratifying along both topic and, for lack of a better word, popularity. Mom seemed to be the word. It was clear that advertisers and sponsors were most interested in mom bloggers, with an emphasis on A-list moms. Read last year’s post conference posts (mine here, for others, just search on BlogHer 07) if you want to rehash all the post conference controversies that resulted. I don’t, at least not in this post. Let’s just say there was all sorts of resentment, along multiple topics. From why do companies send mom bloggers lame pitches for laundry soap to why don’t the advertisers and sponsors value women who aren’t mom bloggers or A-list. Many valid points, all of which have been discussed ’til the horse became glue.
The most relevant thing about last year for today’s discussion is that 2007 was the first year of numerous invitation-only parties, most held the night before the conference began. In previous years, the organized party action was by and large at the BlogHer sponsored events.
This year, there were even more invitation-only parties and swag suites, both outside of and during the conference hours.
While I am glad to see BlogHer grow into a world-class conference that attracts sponsor attention, I worry that the spirit that attracted so many of us to a woman’s blogging conference will get lost in the swag and party shuffle. One of the reasons BlogHer has the sponsored parties on both nights of the conference and also started the Newbie party this year is to make sure that no one gets left out. Rankings, ratings, book deals, tv appearances etc. etc. None of that matters. Everyone gets the same two drink tickets.
It’s all about the community. That’s one of the things that makes BlogHer so special. It’s more than a conference. Sure we don’t always agree and sometimes we fight, but there’s more there there than just two days in a swank hotel.
Don’t misunderstand. I don’t have a problem with swag or parties. It has been terrific to see the women’s blogging community grow and attract attention from sponsors and advertisers who, to use a cliche, "get it." Who get that you should talk with bloggers, not at them. That you should participate in the community, not try to "leverage" it. For many women who attend BlogHer, this is their vacation. For the moms, it may be one of the few times in the year that they get a couple days to let their hair down without kids. It’s terrific that companies want to take them to dinner or throw a cocktail party or give them some good swag.
It’s also very understandable. If a company has been working with women bloggers, why wouldn’t it want to have an invitation-only dinner for the people they’ve been working with, as Nintendo did Friday night. Or create an event for Sunday like Michelin. The swag suites are okay too, as long as they are open to everyone, as MomSelect did by handing out flyers and Alpha Mom did by announcing on Twitter.
I just think we’re reaching a point where it’s too much. How many parties can people really attend? How much swag can we stuff in our suitcases before we have to pay the overweight or second bag charge to the airline? One mom I spoke with on Thursday night at the Kirtsy/Alltop party had six other parties to attend that night, including the open-to-all People’s Party.
While it’s fine — wonderful even — that sponsors are willing to foot the bar bill the night before the conference, how much is too much? What do you really get out of a party if you are worrying about being late to the next one? Are we counting cards collected or making connections?
One problem, and reason for so many pre-conference parties, is that there is so little time outside the conference hours to connect. BlogHer did its best to accommodate the sponsors by making sure that the breaks were long enough for attendees to check out Sesame Street, the spa suite, the Internet Cafe and all the exhibit tables. While this may have made some of the breaks too long, by and large I think attendees appreciated having unstructured time to talk with other bloggers without feeling like they were blowing off the conference sessions.
Swag, parties, it’s all good.
Until it’s not.
I personally draw the line at invitation-only events held during the conference hours. I just think it is wrong to have a private event during the conference hours that draws attendees away from the conference program. Away from the speakers who have worked so hard to prepare for their sessions. There were other examples during BlogHer but far and away the worst in my opinion was the private suite that SixApart held Friday afternoon during the Community Keynote.
At the Community Keynote, twenty bloggers read their posts on everything from depression, body image and suicide to the Wiggles, porn and farts. For some bloggers, this was their very first time speaking in public. The emotion on the stage and in the room was palpable during the more intensely personal posts. When it was funny, we all laughed.
It was the very essence of the BlogHer community. And at least five of the bloggers who read at the Community Keynote are on SixApart platforms (Moveable Type, TypePad and VOX).
But SixApart decided to hold a private party at the same time.
Definitely not in the right spirit. Which is why I didn’t go, even though three people offered to let me tag along with them. Yeah, even though this blog is currently, and I stress currently, on TypePad, I didn’t rate an invite. Oh well…. I wouldn’t have gone anyway 🙂
What would I like to see instead?
I was pleased to see companies getting together for joint events like Kirtsy, Alltop and the sponsors of the People’s Party, and I hope we see even more of this in the future. But I’m greedy. I want more.
I’d like to see a major company NOT throw a party and instead donate a significant amount in the names of the attendees to breast cancer or autism research, two issues which are very near and dear to this community. And I’m not talking a token $10,000; make it meaningful, and I guarantee the BlogHer community will remember you.
And the swag? While it’s fun to collect trinkets and trash (and there was some good stuff this year), in the end we really pay for the free shit. Either the suitcase weighs too much or we have to check a second bag or we have to ship a box home, all of which costs money. For the free stuff. In my case, I was glad to have it because it made lovely padding for the wine we shipped back from Sonoma. But what would be really cool is for companies to mail it afterward. Just show us the goodies and get our mailing address. Don’t abuse our trust by automatically adding us to your mailing list, but I guarantee you, people will appreciate NOT having to lug your product samples home. Unless it is small and really useful, we really would prefer to get it later.
I also think companies that throw parties or host swag suites at the conference should be official sponsors of the conference at some level. It’s about supporting the whole community, not just part of it. This will require some creative thinking from BlogHer on how to structure it, but I know they are up to the task. It will also require the companies throwing the private events to coordinate, not compete, with the main event.
That’s the spirit of BlogHer.
Speaking of useful swag, the best items were the 3-plug outlet from Topix and the Joby Zivio Bluetooth headset. Both already have a home in my laptop bag and purse respectively. Small, useful items. Everything else? In the box with the wine.
And the best party? Y and Lindsay’s infamous Cheeseburger party. Supported this year by Alpha Mom.