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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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!
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
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:
- Free drinks.
- Boring pitches for boring products.
- Product samples that are given out in hopes that you will write about said product on your blog.
- 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.
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!