Arianna Huffington after the closing panel at BlogHer06. Photo by Elise Bauer.
Well, a week has passed since BlogHer06, and I have finally recovered my voice, worn hoarse by two days and 3 nights of almost non-stop interaction with the hundreds of intelligent, interesting, expressive, and opinionated people, mostly women, who made up the conference. Why do I love the BlogHer conference? The reason is similar to the epiphany I had the first time I attended a women-in-business conference at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, where I received my MBA. Having worked in the technology field for twenty years, and having attended countless professional conferences, my world, at least in work, has been almost entirely made up of men, and with it men’s interests and attitudes about the world. Sitting in the classrooms which are usually occupied mostly by men, it was almost magical to look around the room and see bright, open, intelligent faces of women, women more concerned with contributing to the discussion and connecting with others than sounding smarter than everyone else.
I have four younger brothers, I have worked in technology, and I have trained in martial arts (mostly with men), for most of my adult life. I enjoy the company of men. But sometimes, it’s just more fun to hang out with women. We tend to be more supportive of each other, and therefore more willing to take risks, e.g. display more vulnerability, in front of each other.
So this is the appeal of BlogHer for me – relaxing, engaging, and talking about subjects that interest me profoundly, with women. Every other conference geared toward the web, blogging, internet technology, etc. is top-heavy with men. And often the same men too, doing the speaking rounds at all the conferences.
If you are reading this entry, and are hearing about BlogHer for the first time, do a quick search on Google or Technorati for BlogHer or BlogHer06 to read more about what people are saying. Note that several prominent bloggers have chosen to voice their opinions about BlogHer, in spite of the fact that they weren’t even there. So check your sources. Go with the ones who actually attended the conference, better yet, the whole conference.
- Day One: Tagging, Tracking, Structured Blogging with Charlene Li and Marnie Webb. Basically these women are brilliant and I’d happily listen to them talk about anything. I already knew most of what they were talking about, but I did learn something new, and that is that Furl is a bookmarking tool that actually creates an archive of the page you are bookmarking, very useful for holding on to those New York Times articles that slip behind a pay-for-use firewall after a few days.
- Day Two: Birds of a Feather with the foodbloggers. A few of us set the wheels in motion days before the conference to organize a gathering of foodie bloggers. There were at least twenty of us there and I finally got to meet some of the women whose blogs I’ve been reading for months. Birds of a Feather sessions are organized by conference attendees, and allow an opportunity for anyone to meet and gather people of like interests.
- Day Two: Is the Next Martha Stewart a Blogger? where I went to cheer on my fellow food blogger Pim of Chez Pim and fell in love with the jewelry made by Andrea Sher. The session focused on the business aspects of following your blogging dream. I was quite interested to learn about the role of an agent and a manager in promoting your online brand. The discussion also covered a bit about advertising in which I was surprised that some people thought that serving up ads on your site, or promoting products on your site was in some way “selling out”. Maybe they have trust funds, or spouses to support them. I don’t, and I really like having the universe compensate me for work that I do, on my website and off. If ads on your site detract from the reader’s experience, you will lose readers, or never have them in the first place. In a similar vein if you promote stupid products because you are paid to do so, people will stop trusting what you say. So, I’m just not that concerned with “commercialization” when it comes to blogs. I welcome the opportunity to be paid for the hours I put in to the blogs I write.
- Day Two: Business Blog Case Studies, moderated by my favorite marketing bloggers, Toby Bloomberg of Diva Marketing, Yvonne DiVita of Lip-sticking, and Susan Getgood of Getgood Marketing. Many women stood up and shared case studies of their experiences using blogs in their business for for their clients’ businesses. I’ve been writing about blogging and business for over three years now, so it was great to hear more upfront and personal success stories.
- Day Two: Transforming Your Life, with Wilson Sonsini attorney Cathy Kirkman, musician Deni Bonet, and financial advisor Nina Smith. I volunteered to run mics for this session, which was a great way to be in the thick of the discussion. Cathy, Deni, and Nina each had their own personal stories to share, and did a wonderful job facilitating the questions and discussions that ensued from the audience.
- Day Two: Closing keynote with journalist Chris Nolan moderating a panel which included Grace Davis, Caroline Little (CEO of washingtonpost.com), Mena Trott, and Arianna Huffington. First off, as much as I love Chris Nolan’s writing, I think her true skill is in live interviewing. She did a great job teasing out the best from this panel. For the full write-up of this session, see live blogger Socal Mom’s blogging of this session. Mena talked about the future of blogging technology in terms of how we need to make the tech easier to use. After the conference, some people have come down on Mena for mentioning her company’s product, Vox, which does just that – simplify blogging. Personally I thought what she said was appropriate. The next wave of technology shouldn’t be the super gadget mashup that is going to make our lives perfect, but the simplification of the tools that are already out there. Vox happens to be a great example of making technology simple and accessible. NYT tech writer and author David Pogue, by the way, made the case for simplification at this year’s TED conference (great video, I highly recommend it.)
Arianna reminded us that the trick isn’t about being fearless, but moving forward and making things happen in spite of the fear you may have. Arianna is a rock star blogger. She proved everyone wrong who thought the Huffington Post would fail, by making it one of the most read blogs on the planet. And this after failing spectacularly in her California gubernatorial run. This woman knows how to take the punches and get back on her feet.
I wish I could have heard more from Caroline Little. I was supposed to attend a gathering for her one of the nights and completely mixed up the dates. (Sorry, Mary!)
I had no idea that Grace Davis had rock-climbed up the side of the Transamerica building in San Francisco. How do you top that?
There were several men attending BlogHer this year. Several of them were industry leaders, pundits, sought-after speakers, who I imagine, were not used to being at a conference where the conversation didn’t revolve around them. Many of the male attendees seemed to be there to participate and learn, which I applaud. Coming to a conference that is so blatantly oriented to women takes some guts. Thanks for taking part and I for one hope to see you at BlogHer07. The two guys I most enjoyed meeting were Phil Hollows, CEO of FeedBlitz, and John Klem from Yahoo. I always thought that Phil was the most amazingly responsive tech support guy who ever helped me, and then I found out at the conference that he is the CEO of the company. John Klem gave me an awesome cranberry sauce recipe to try out. I love men who love to cook.
The water. I found out post conference that lots of people were complaining about the free bottled water from Contrex – tasted bad and the marketing messages were obnoxious. I helped talk Contrex into sponsoring the conference. I for one thought it was GREAT that we had an unlimited supply of FREE bottled mineral water. The water did taste funny. That’s because it has calcium in it, as well as magnesium, which are two vitally important minerals for women. A lesson for the Contrex folks is that with bloggers, perhaps it’s better to say upfront – “This water tastes odd. It’s supposed to.” And then explain why extra calcium is good for women, and not “it will help you lose weight.” That’s obnoxious. How about, “It will help prevent your bones from disintegrating.” Cite the data. Assuming there is some.
In the middle of Saturday morning’s fiasco commercial interlude with the Microsoft sponsored BeJane home improvement gals, I left my table and headed out for a test drive with General Motor’s Saturn Sky. What a great way to market to this audience! I loved the test drive. It’s a gorgeous car. Unlike the Miatas and Alfa Romeos I’ve driven, the Sky seems sturdy. It has great acceleration. It could be a bit easier to steer. The ride is thankfully smooth. At my age I really do not want to feel every dimple in the road. I also loved talking to the women staffing the GM goodies table. They seemed genuinely happy to be at the conference and talked to me some about the challenges of promoting marketing to women from within an almost entirely male-oriented industry. And we think tech is bad. Try Detroit.
Finally, I must applaud the herculean efforts of the BlogHer conference organizers – Lisa Stone, Elisa Camahort, and Jory Des Jardins, and especially Elisa, whom I imagine is now thinking “gotta hire an event planner” for next time. These women have displayed patience and diplomacy in not only corralling hundreds of different opinions leading up to the conference, but even more so in dealing with the fallout post-conference. Thank you for all of your incredibly hard work, and for setting such a high standard of integrity and responsiveness. You each have more patience than I would even aspire to have. Here’s to BlogHer07!