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:
CSS – style (how the content appears)
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:
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.