Photo credit: Lunch at BlogHer '06 by Swirlspice
I've been surfing the Web since I dragged myself out of bed Sunday morning after BlogHer '06, reading and absorbing everything I can about last weekend's conference in San Jose, California. Full-disclosure: I'm one of the event founders, along with my colleagues Elisa Camahort and Jory Des Jardins.
Thank you, everyone who attended who has taken the time to email me with their recommendations for what we should keep and what we should improve, what you learned, what you didn't learn, why you now understand my religious commitment to sunscreen, and how the conference broke your heart--in good ways and in bad.
I haven't absorbed the thousands of writings, comments, photos, audioblogs and videoblogs posted about the conference -- but I'm trying to get to them all. I need to break my stride momentarily, however, to respond to some of what I'm seeing on the Internets. I'm concerned about important feedback and serious misinformation, both. So I'm going to skip over the love (only temporarily! If you're writing about me about something you enjoyed, please send it) and get right to correcting the record.
I've written a short list of questions which I feel the online record of BlogHer '06 must reflect, as well as my own opinions of what I have learned thus far -- good and bad -- about our second annual conference. This is my starter list. If you have additional questions you'd like for me to answer and/or comments, I would love to read them - I invite you to use the moderated comments form below.
I apologize for the delay moderation entails, but otherwise we'd all be buried in invitations to purchase mp3files and Viagra, play bingo and watch live sex acts. And I have a policy to never do those things all at once. Here's the hot-linked list of issues, followed by the details for easy surfing:
2. What happened at BlogHer '06?
4. We invited the community to help plan the conference
5. Who sponsored BlogHer and why?
6. What's the BlogHer Ad Network and what is its relationship on the conference and BlogHer.org?
7. Conference venue in '06 and in '07
8. Why I do this and what truly worries meHere are the details:
When I first asked women bloggers if they were interested in a conference, I did so to dispel the myth that women weren't blogging. This myth was perpetuated by the fact that women were largely missing from lists such as the Technorati Top 100 and from the blogs of many well-known male bloggers. I invited Elisa Camahort to join me. She invited Jory Des Jardins and we pulled together the first conference, BlogHer '05 (here's the blog: http://surfette.typepad.com/blogher).
BlogHer's mission is: To create opportunities for women bloggers to pursue exposure, education and community. In other words, any woman who blogs is invited. Any man who wants to learn more about women who blog is invited. Both genders are invited to pursue any type of exposure, education and/or community they see fit. I fight a constant battle against lumping women OR men who blog into a single demographic. What I told Courtney Lowry of the New West Network here on April 14, 2005, still stands:
NW: Is there a certain genre of blogging that women tend to migrate? Would you agree that female bloggers (with the exception of folks like Ana Marie Cox and well, frankly, you and me) shy away from blogging about topics like politics, law, the environment, business and technology? If so, why do you think that is?
LS: There's just no such thing as a prototypical woman blogger. In my experience, women are enthusiastically blogging about the hard edge of politics, law, the environment, business and tech. Our advisory board at BlogHer.org provides stupendous examples of people such as Mary Hodder and Rebecca Blood, blogging technology, and Rebecca MacKinnon posting about global voices. At the same time, women are making the very most of blogs to write about their own identities. It's both eye-opening and cathartic to read some of the experiences women are sharing about the darker side of their lives, from divorce to miscarriage. And I'm happy to report that men are writing about these subjects too.
This year we threw a second conference, BlogHer '06, because people who attended the first conference asked us to. Why did 700+ bloggers come to San Jose? Ask them! Neither I nor BlogHer pretends to speak for all women who blog. I help run a conference and a site designed to help people find, read, meet and learn from the women bloggers who participate.
As for some women and men who don't see the value of a conference or a community for women who blog, that's fine too. I respect that. It's a question of individual identity. Approximately half of the women who attended both BlogHer conferences had never before attended a conference of any kind. And many told me, in person and online, that they deeply valued the opportunity to be all that they are -- personally and professionally -- when they walked in the door. I read that from both professional women and women who blog personal diaries.
--> Takeway #1: When we upgraded to BlogHer.org, I essentially buried the former BlogHer site (http://surfette.typepad.com/blogher) where a lot of these posts live. My mistake -- it should be easier to find these posts. I'll resurrect them on BlogHer.org in the next month.
--> Takeaway #2: I think we've answered the question, "Where are the women bloggers?" Our tagline (Where the women bloggers are) might be outdated as a result. But no, I'm still not comfortable with "Tits and Wits," one suggestion I got, so don't expect me to go there either. Sorry.Back to top
It depends upon who you ask. For starters, I recommend you ask someone who actually attended the conference. Perception should be based in reality.
But whose reality does matter: I recommend you read the comments on any posts you find about BlogHer '06, to confirm whether anyone has issued a correction to something they posted. For a quick guide, I recommend you go to http://google.com, http://yahoo.com, http://technorati.com and http://flickr.com and enter the tags "blogher" and "blogher06". That'll help you find as many posts as possible. I also recommend two lists -- although not every post linked from these lists -- by Amy Gahran and Mir Verburg.
--> Takeaway #3: I'm glad we're continuing our tradition of post-conference surveys for attendees and speakers. If you attended or spoke, please watch your email accounts for the end of next week. Also, two discussions have started on BlogHer.org:Back to top
On Friday a woman who attended the conference told me that I need to remember what Elisa, Jory and I can and should control about the conference, and what we cannot and should not. So I made a list and elaborate on some of these items later in this post:
- How we (Elisa, Jory and Lisa) treated you
- Three-quarters of the discussion topics and people invited to lead these discussions (see #4 below)
- Which sponsors we signed (see #5 below)
- Where the conference was (see #7 below)
- Bad wireless access and plastic plates (see #7 below)
- Where BlogHer 2007 is (see #7 below)
- Your role (or perceived lack thereof) at BlogHer '06 or BlogHer '07 (see #4 below)
- One-quarter of the people invited to lead discussions (see #4 below)
- What sponsors said to you (see #5 below)
- False statements about BlogHer's target demographic (see #6 below)
- What you ate (#7 below)
- How you treated people and how other people treated you (see #7 below)Back to top
For the second year in a row, we asked the community to help us program the conference:
Here's the breakdown for 2006:
- Sessions total: 29 (each on a different topic, e.g., politics = 1 session, motherhood = 1 session, business = 1 session, etc.)
- Discussion leaders total: 95 (Percent who did not speak last year: 85) - Discussion leaders invited by BlogHer: 75 (with the caveat that many people were invited because they wrote and told us they needed them and their idea. And they were right.)
- Discussion leaders in the do-ocracy track: 20
- Discussion leaders invited to check a demographic box (straight, gay, black, white, left-handed, purple-haired): 0
- Discussion leaders for Birds of a Feather breakout sessions: Uncounted. Day Two opened with Birds of a Feather ice-breaker meetings, where people could join small discussion groups. These discussion groups were recommended and joined by attendees as they signed up at the front door. Anyone who wanted to could hold one or start one, as Nancy White, Toby Bloomberg and many of us who staffed the check-in table told people.
--> Takeaway #4: The only way BlogHer will continue to become more diverse and exciting is if you take ownership and contribute your idea. (Thank you, those of you who already have.) Koan did and she was able to help create the 2005 conference she wanted. I've asked people to begin owning their ideas on the BlogHer.org. site here. If you didn't see yourself of something you wanted to see at BlogHer '06, ask yourself why. Not getting involved isn't going to improve the conference next year
--> Takeaway #5: In 2007, I'd like to see the same churn in panel subjects as we had churn in new speakers. I'm really excited that 85 percent of our speakers were BlogHer virgins. Now I want to see new topics too. I'd like to see the same number of panels devoted to Room of Your Own ideas as to sessions BlogHer schedules and staffs to get the ball rolling. I know you're out there. Free my mind. Help me dream. Open my eyes. Get off your hind-end and write in like so many women already have (thanks!). This is your conference to help program.
--> Takeaway #6: On Day One, when Lynne d. Johnson and I held our writing discussion, I felt the size of the group (70+) and the lack of wireless microphones forced us into a classrom/lecture feel. I wanted a big circle. Not possible. We need to work on formats and invest in the audio equipment that'll allow us to explode discussion hierarchies as well as we did last year.Back to top
Our conference sponsors are listed in the right-hand margin of <a href="http://blogher.org">http://blogher.org</a>. To me the list looks like an even mix of brands focused on female customers and brands who sell to everyone.
We signed enough sponsors to maintain our $99 fee for Saturday and $149 fee for Sunday and still pay all travel and registration costs for discussion leaders, volunteers and the other costs of the conference. We did not turn any sponsor dollars away because of what they sold.
We did not attempt to script or control what sponsors said to you, either when you approached their tables or you met them in line for lunch. This year we introduced the concept of an interstitial commercial, allowing sponsors ten minutes to talk with the crowd at the beginning of three of our 29 sessions. We did not have any say or control over their choices of speaker or what the speakers said.
--> Takeaway #7: Sponsorships worked for some people and not for others. Why don't you recommend sponsors you'd like to see at BlogHer '07? We need sponsors to keep BlogHer affordable, but if you prefer some over others or you can act as an introduction, by all means, contact Jory, who manages Business Development & Alliances.
--> Takeaway #8: I don't think the commercials were a good idea. I prefer the GM model, where users can opt-in to participate in the sponsorship on-site, or go to the kitchen and get a beer instead.
--> Takeaway #9: I really like this post, where Leah talks about how companies could develop larger customer groups by supporting as many bloggers as possible.Back to top
As I explain here, we formed the BlogHer Ad Network in response to women bloggers who came to me and asked us to develop a new business model to help them make more money from blogging. So we opened this beta ad network. We focused our first ad network on parenting blogs, an area that advertisers were asking us about. These women bravely helped us develop and roll-out our system.
It's working. We're planning to launch BlogHerAds.com, a new ad network open to all women bloggers, in the next week. In addition to general interest ads, we're already being asked to develop targeted networks in food, health and business.
--> Takeaway #10: I need to re-emphasize that BlogHerAds.com will be separate from BlogHer.org. As I wrote when we launched:
"There are plenty of women associated with BlogHer who don't want ads on their blogs. We know and respect that. That's why the BlogHer Ad Network is completely voluntary and participation is separate from membership in the BlogHer Community at http://blogher.org. The only change we need to bring to your attention is that you will start to see ads on the community site at http://blogher.org--hey, we have to start paying the contributing editors and ourselves somehow!"
--> Takeaway #11: I need to respond specifically to errors in this post by Melinda Casino. The post misleads by stating an opinion as fact: that "the organizers were focused on using the conference to further strengthen the newly announced BlogHer Ad Network. The target demographic of the network: married middle-class mothers."
Wrong. Here are the facts:
(a) BlogHer's target demographic for both the conference and the community site is ALL adult women, ages 18 to n. That commitment goes way beyond lip-service: Of the 20+ topics covered on BlogHer.org's community journalism site, one of 20+ is on motherhood. Of the 60+ editors writing for BlogHer, four editors (six percent) cover the "Mommy and Family" topic area. You can see our list of editors here. While I do not plan to provide you with their demographic profiles or sexual habits, I can confirm that our editors are not all married, middle-class, mothers or all three. They are all women. I also can confirm that not all the women who publish ads from the BlogHer Ad Network for parents are married or middle-class or both.
(b) At the request of the community, I held a Birds-of-a-Feather session for anyone interested in hearing more. But we didn't take an official session of the conference to discuss the ad network. Nor did I sign any new contracts with any bloggers over the weekend. I was there to confab. At the conference. If you are interested in knowing what I said, please read this SFGate.com report by Justin Berton and this Austin Chronicle report by Marrit Ingman.
The one thing that both editors and women who publish our ads share is a contractual obligation to uphold a high standard of authenticity and accuracy. Each has signed an agreement in which BlogHer defines unacceptable content as "editorial content that has been commissioned and paid for by a third party, and/or contains paid advertising links and/or spam."
--> Takeaway #12: I'm unapologetically proud of the fact that BlogHer LLC is able to help our women bloggers earn additional revenue from their blogs. With our ad network, bloggers are able to charge the same advertising rates as national content sites such as iVillage and some of the best-trafficked blogs. Until now, women have been charging pennies for advertising on some of the most attractive and sought-after communities online. I think it's important that more people know reports of women being taken advantage of by some content aggregators who are trying to underpay for the intellectual property of new writers. More here, here and here.Back to top
Oh yes, the hotel could have been nicer. JenB makes the point beautifully. And we should be greener, although I do think we cannot commit to a veggie only conference. As for the wireless access or lack thereof?? This post, which has no relation to BlogHer, but is written by a woman I met there, says it all for me.
--> Takeaway #13: Fix all of the above while keeping room rates low enough that people can afford to come. Idea: Locate the conference in a place where folks have a range of hotel prices and options.Back to top
Shelley Powers, who didn't attend BlogHer '06, implied this week that traffic and money are "the new BlogHer's" priorities.
I can answer that: No, those aren't the new BlogHer's priorities. While I am thrilled to see that women are being justly sought and rewarded as the power users of Web 2.0, and that many women bloggers today (including members of our final keynote panel) can point to data (revenue, traffic, results)
in addition to kudos from their readers/users as proof that they know what they are doing, that's not why BlogHer exists. I won't repeat myself on our mission and priorities; Instead I'll just point to #1 and #5 above.
That's also not why I blog. I blog because I want a chance to learn and dream. I work on BlogHer's conference, community site and ad network because I want to have and to support conversations that I am not seeing on op-ed pages, in most of the daily news products put out by mainstream media, at tech conferences and even in Silicon Valley boardrooms.
I blog to know myself better. I blog to keep myself intellectually honest. I blog to question my own assumptions. I blog to open my mind.
In BlogHer I find a rich community of people who open my mind and help me do this. What truly worries me about BlogHer '06 is the few people who attended who aren't blogging in the same spirit, and the damage they can and are doing to our community. Take the hatred in this post, made the night before the conference. Now, swap out the word "mommy" and substitute it for another group -- say "black" or "lesbian" or "men" or "developers." Appalling, isn't it? A post Mel Gibson could be proud of.
But there's more. Now read this post, which a mommyblogger-on-the-scene wrote after the first. Now here is learning and insight. This is what it's like to look at your own community from the inside, at the hands of a talented writer.
--> Takeaway #14: Yes, it is time to "leave the hate behind" and I hope to see more thoughtful posts that say so. I worry that we aren't taking enough responsibility to build a conference culture together, all of us.
Elisa, Jory and I cannot control how you treated other people or how they treated you, online or off. But I can own my intention: To create a culture that supports and values the individual contributor by embracing everyone's right to their opinion, while enjoying a community that embraces civil disagreement and insists upon authentic information. I also recommend these links on the subject by three women who attended the conferece:
- Nancy White: "If we cannot feel safe to speak our individual truths, even if they are not the truths of others, we won't get anywhere. I know I still have a long way to go down this road. But if I continue to react hatefully and in the culture of fear (fear of men, fear of women, fear of making a fool of myself) I won't get anywhere. So I'll keep trying to move more towards the culture of love. That includes apologizing for inadvertently hurting you or anyone else. And trying to be more thoughtful in how I express myself."
- How the Urbanites Adopt: "I was inspired to write by the women out there who rock my blogosphere with their writing. I'm not on par, they just make me want to be a better writer and fuel my desire to build a community based on threads of commonalities and mountains of differences (that's the beauty of the Web, no?)"
- Chirky: "But more than anything, I learned so much about myself. And perhaps that is the best thing that I could have taken from the conference."
--> Takeaway #15: We need the BlogHer Gong Show as a great, big, messy, fun, starter icebreaker -- especially now that some of us know each other in person, it's even more essential that we all reach out. Who's willing to teach me welding in the next year and help me craft the gong?
So, wrapping it up:
I'm extremely proud of what we accomplished so far.
I'm ready to make it better.
I believe we are building something great together.
Thank you so much for reading.
Comments are open.
LisaTags: blogher, blogher06