BlogHer ’10

by Wendy Copley on August 14, 2010

BlogHer Welcome

I’m back from BlogHer ’10, the humongous blogging conference that took place last weekend in NYC. It was my first time in New York since my high school trip 20 years ago and I absolutely loved visiting the city as an adult. As far as the conference itself went…well…it wasn’t exactly what I expected.

So what did I expect? Hmmmm…good question. And I’m not exactly sure what the answer is.

The BlogHer conference was unlike any conference I’ve ever attended. It’s this really weird mix of professional, social and consumer elements and even now, four days after I’ve returned home, I’m not sure what to make of it. I mostly went to the conference for professional reasons — I’m trying to drum up freelance writing projects and I’m also looking into the best ways to grow my blog and make some money from it. But I also went to New York planning to spend time with friends and hopefully meet some new people. My experiences were all over the map, so I thought I’d just talk a little bit about what I thought was really good and what I thought was not-so-good.

The Good

The Sessions

I attended all or part of seven different sessions in a variety of tracks (I sat through the beginning of two then moved on to others when I realized they weren’t for me). Some of the sessions were really great and I learned at least a few things from every one I attended. I particularly liked the Family Foodies session with Stephania from City Mama, Danielle from Foodmomiac and Sarah from Sarah’s Cucina Bella. They — along with the audience — offered lots of great suggestions for feeding kids and I came away with several new ideas that I’d like to try with my own family. I also really enjoyed Where’s the Line or the Lie: Storytelling, Memoir and Poetic License with BlogHer’s Jory Des Jardins, Jenny Lawson from The Bloggess and Julie Marsh from The Mom Slant. Honestly, I just went to this session because I wanted to see what The Bloggess was like in real life and she didn’t disappoint. She’s very, very funny and hearing her speak is just like reading her blog. And as someone who puts herself and her family out there on the web, I thought the discussion of privacy was interesting. Finally, I felt that the Little Fish in a Big Pond: Understanding, Accepting, and Loving Your Small Blog session was well worth my time. Unlike many of the people who commented in the session, I am trying to grow my blog audience, but a lot of points people made about staying true to yourself, your writing and your interests really resonated with me.

The People

Dinner with Bloggers

Lisa (Help a Mother Out), Katherine (Dirt to Dish), Asha (ParentHacks), Whitney (Rookie Moms), Alma (Marketing Mommy), surprised Heather (Rookie Moms) and Meagan (The Happiest Mom) at dinner.

I met so many wonderful people while I was at BlogHer that there’s no way I can cover all of them. Some were people whose blogs I’ve read and admired for a long time. Others were people whose blogs were completely unfamiliar to me but who I will definitely be reading from now on. And I also got to spend time with people who’ve I’ve known in real life for a while now (special shout out to the Rookie Moms and my NY dinner buddy Lisa from Help a Mother Out).

The Keynotes

I attended two of the three keynotes: The International Activist Blogger Scholarship Recipients and BlogHer Voices of the Year. Both were inspiring in their own way. The International Activists were four women who blog with the specific intention of changing their countries and righting injustices in the world. They give voice to many woman via their blogs who normally wouldn’t have an outlet to speak  and they risk their lives and freedom to do it. Listening to them made me so glad that the internet exists and gives so many people a megaphone to get their messages out. The Voices of the Year presentation featured 15 bloggers who read their very best posts. Some made me laugh and many made me cry.

The Public Parties

Sparklecorn Cake

Heather tries to eat the unicorn cake. No, Heather! Don’t!

I didn’t get to as many of the official parties as I’d hoped to, but I did attend Sparklecorn for awhile and spent a couple of hours at the CheeseburgHer party. Both were crazy and fun. The cake at Sparkelcorn was to die for and I had a lovely time dancing on a giant Cheeseburger bed with Heather and Alma at CheeseburgHer.

The Stuff

This is where the weird bits of consumerism come in. BlogHer is heavily subsidized by corporate sponsors and attendees get a lot of swag. The people who attend the conference tend to be the people who do the vast majority of purchasing in this country — let alone the fact that they all post their opinions of pretty much everything they encounter on the internet — and the companies who sponsor BlogHer are well aware of that. I was pretty choosy about what I brought home with me and I recycled quite a bit of stuff at the conference and I still ended up filling a large duffel bag with stuff. I particularly liked the Jimmy Dean alarm clock, the electric toothbrush and the Weebles, which sent me right down memory lane. There were also a lot of free samples in the expo hall, along with a certain amount of dreck. One of the most memorable moments of the weekend was watching a friend take a bite out of a sausage skewered onto a stick and then dipped in pancake batter. She ate it thinking it was a corn dog, and when she put it in her mouth a look of horror immediately crossed her face and she hastily spit it out into  the garbage can next to her. The stunned guy who gave her the sample said, “I can’t believe you just did that in front of me!” Awesome.

The Food

There were a lot of complaints about the food at BlogHer last year, and the organizers obviously took them to heart becaust the food this year was very good. There were healthy choices with lots of fresh fruit, grilled veggies, and fantastic salads at every meal. Considering they were serving over 2000 people per meal, I think that was pretty impressive!

The Not-As-Good

The Sessions

So like I said, many of the sessions were good, but I was a little disappointed with them over all. Maybe it was the specific sessions I chose, but I felt like a lot of them didn’t have much to do with blogging. They were interesting and all, but I had hoped to leave New York with lots of new ideas for improving my blog and I think I only came away with a few ideas.

The other thing I found surprising was that no one had slides! Every room had a huge screen and a projector, but they just sat there unused. Most of the sessions I attended were panels and I realize that the informal nature of  that format doesn’t always lend itself to a structured presentation but some of the topics that were discussed would have really benefited from having visuals. For example, I think the session about statistics  would have been much better if the speakers had shown screen shots of Google Analytics as they explained its various features. At the very least, it would have been helpful if every session had a slide up on the screen listing out the name of the panel and the presenters, their blog URLs and Twitter handles. I found I had to really dig around to get this information and I would have liked to have had it right there in front of me.

The Private Parties

Mario Pedicab

The Mario pedicabs that I didn’t get to go in.

I wasn’t going to comment on this, but I really feel like I have to. There are a lot of invitation-only parties at BlogHer. Many of them are thrown by big brands and they involve some or all of the following:

  1. Free drinks.
  2. Boring pitches for boring products.
  3. Product samples that are given out in hopes that you will write about said product on your blog.
  4. Totally awesome experiences that you would probably never get to have in your normal life when your job is taking care of children who scream a lot.

I was invited to none of the private parties. This was my first year attending BlogHer and I’m a small blogger, so I didn’t have any expectation that I would get any invites, but the fact is that it sucks not to be invited to things. It sucks when you’re in jr. high and it sucks when you’re at BlogHer. It’s not that I wanted big swag or to sit through boring product pitches, but when everyone around you is hopping into a pedicab driven by Super Mario or getting tours of the Martha Stewart Omnimedia headquarters and you’re just trying to find someone to eat dinner with it kind of makes you feel like crap. Also, I very much like free drinks.

The Fashion Show

The blog posts and Twitter messages about what to wear to BlogHer before the event are out of control. It seems like that (along with the party chatter and the swag chatter) is all anyone talks about! Maybe it’s the women’s college graduate in me — or maybe it’s because I wear jeans and a t-shirt every day — but I found it stressful and weird.

The Elevators

Oh my God! The elevators at the Hilton were so freaking slow and packed like sardines. I waited for an elevator for over half an hour more than once. Normally I’d just take the stairs, but my room was on the 32nd floor so that wasn’t really an option for me.

So there you go. I’m still kind of mulling it over in my head, but mostly I think it was a good experience. I’ll talk more about my non-BlogHer New Yorking in the next few days!

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  • Heather

    THanks for the report. I totally wish I could have gone to Blogher and I plan on it next year… looking forward to it, and kind of dreading it at the same time. Can I wear my PJs? 🙂

  • heyjenrenee

    ooooooh, so interesting! thanks for your honest report – i've so often wondered about this event and i look forward to reading about your other new york adventures!

  • Yes, you totally could wear your PJ's! (To the parties, at least — you might get funny looks if you wear them during the day.)

    You know — your comment reminds me of something I didn't talk about in the post: I only met one craft blogger the whole time I was in NY! Maybe I just didn't know where to look, but I felt like the craft bloggers were surprisingly under-represented. That was another disappointment for me.

  • “Jimmy Dean alarm clock”? Whoa. Is it of Jimmy Dean's head, or just vaguely representative of Jimmy Dean's presumptive product line?

  • This is the best BlogHer post-cap I've read, Wendy.

    Do you think it was worth your time and money to go? Think you'll go to the next one?

    I love the honesty of your write-up. Thank you.

  • Was it worth my time? Yes. Getting away for a weekend in NY to flex my professional muscles and concentrate on grown-up activities that I enjoy was something I've needed for quite a while. I was assigned a paid writing project within days of the conference through one of the connections I made too, so that also was a great pay-off.

    Was it worth the money? Er…probably not. The cost of the plane tickets, hotel, meals and the conference ticket were pretty high since it all came out of my pocket. While I hope that I gathered enough new knowledge and made enough connections to make enough money to pay for my trip over the course of the next year, I sincerely doubt that will be the case.

    Will I go to next year? I'm not sure. I'm headed to BlogHer Food in a couple of months and I'm going to see how that works out before I make a decision on the big conference for next year. While I feel that this experience came down more on the positive side than the negative, I think it's subtly weighted in that direction.

  • Wendy, thanks for your awesome and honest write-up of BlogHer. As you're well aware, I'm very new to the blog world, so your assessment is very valuable. I'm finding more and more that so many blog communities are a bit cultish and cookie-cutter, and the corporate sponsorship and product placement on blogs and Twitter is out of control. Having spent my career in PR and marketing, I get it, but it turns me off nonetheless. Okay, I didn't mean to turn this into a rant. I simply want to say thank you for the recap. I'd also like to say that I, too, would have felt alienated by the private parties and the emphasis on what to wear. I hate feeling like I have to worry about looking good and fitting in, ugh. I'm really looking forward to your write-up on BlogHer Food. I missed the boat on tickets, so I will be living vicariously through you!

  • And can I get a “woot woot” for my first successful comment!?

  • rookiemomwhitney

    Probably the best and most honest write up of BlogHer I've read. I have also wondered about the craft bloggers. Maybe all their friends and advertisers are Etsy sellers who could not in one million years afford to be at BlogHer. The prices for sponsorship are exorbitant and the result is that only companies like WalMart, Pepsi and Stouffers can afford it, which is really too bad.

    Maybe Mom2.0 is a better fit? I'm going to look into it and ask people how it differs from BH. EVO sounded like the perfect thing for craft bloggers. A lot of how-to sessions on prepping and photographing food, etc.

    Doing it again? Well, San Diego is much cheaper than NY, both in terms of flight, hotel costs, and childcare slack required by husbands or babysitters due to less travel time. PS Had I known I would have my own room in advance, we totally could have shared which would be half the price, or in the case of this year's deal I got, free.

    Swag: I left my Jimmy Dean clock behind. Ha!

  • One of the things I loved about BlogHer was meeting new-to-me bloggers like you. Well, that and the free drinks. Keep impressing me with those Bento boxes and I may just break out of my pb&j rut.

  • woot! woot!

  • Yea – the whole “not invited” thing is still a bit of stick in my craw. I've been to every. single. blogHer. And I have yet to be invited to any of the private parties. Throw in the “non-mom” thing and I'm very much on the fringe. But the people I do meet make it all worthwhile. I hope I'll get to meet you at BlogHer food.

  • Jenny, Bloggess

    The trick is to go hang out in the park while everyone else is going to private parties. That's what I did.

  • What a great review, thanks so much for posting this. I've always shied away from the BlogHer scene and mainly for all the reasons you mentioned here. Sure, I'd love to meet all the ladies & hang out and have a great time but there's an undertone of high school drama there that keeps me back

  • SisterDiane

    Thanks for this balanced and honest write-up, Wendy. I tend to think that the blog world is essentially so personal and so niche, mass events like BlogHer are maybe challenging to produce in service to everyone in attendance. There definitely seems to be a lot of corporate money in this event, and it's sad to see that creating social stratification where none should exist.

    For the record, I've heard the “It was kind of good and kind of weird” assessment from quite a few bloggers.

  • Out-Numbered

    Thank God my post didn't make you cry. Wait a second. What are you laughing at?

  • Yeah, I'm really interested to see how BlogHer Food differs from BlogHer. I have a feeling that it will be a better fit for me because of the smaller size and the more specific focus.

  • I'm keeping an open mind about next year, but I'm thinking of looking into some of the other conferences too. I don't know much about Mom 2.0, but EVO looked fantastic. I wanted to go, but it wasn't in the cards since I was already doing BlogHer and BlogHer Food.

    And as for the Jimmy Dean alarm clock, did you see this? Now I bet you wish you'd kept it!

  • That was one of my favorite things too, Alma. I've been loving reading your blog since I got back, along with several others I was introduced to.

  • Oh yes! Please introduce yourself if you see me! I'm hoping the smaller size of BlogHer food will make it easier to connect with like-minded people (though I did meet lots of wonderful people at the NY conference).

  • Well, I ended up eating at a really great restaurant with a friend, so it worked out fine for me in the end. I just wish that Mario had driven me there and that my drinks were free.

  • I think this is a very good point, SD! The size of this event offers a little something for everyone, but it also makes it unlikely that everyone will get all their needs met.

  • “Fuck you and the winged unicorn you rode in on.” That's good stuff, man.

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  • Wendy, Awesome and honest post – I'm so glad you wrote this because I agree wholeheartedly with everything you articulated. What I enjoyed most about the conference were the informal and more intimate gatherings. And what a wonderful treat it was for me to get to hang out with such a smart and creative dinner companion. So glad we were on the same page there! 🙂

    p.s. I actually thought the Jimmy Dean clock would make a great art installation if we filled a whole wall with them, but alas, my thought came too late to do anything about it.

  • So glad you liked our session! Jenny slays me. Figuratively, of course.

    I wish I'd known you were trying to figure out where to have dinner. Ninth Avenue! Next time, okay?

  • So glad you liked our session! I learned lots too (and ran right out and bought a Thermos — hadn't even thought of using that for my son's lunch).

    I just wanted to note, in regards to slides, speakers weren't allowed to use slides (see…). I was actually surprised to see the projects/screens at all, as a result.

  • Thank you for the guidelines link. I had *no* idea about the ban on slides! Why do they put the screens and projectors in the rooms if the speakers aren’t allowed to use them?? Their very presence sets an expectation. Really interesting.

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