BlogHer Roundup

I'd really like to be honest about my BlogHer experience, but I think it's also probably wise to be a bit circumspect. I apologize in advance if I hurt anyone's feelings with my honesty or bore anyone to death with my circumspection.

When I first heard about BlogHer in 2005, I was conflicted. On the one hand, I wanted to support women and blogging. On the other hand, it just seemed like it would be a gathering of the popular bloggers we all know and love, and I worried it would just be a love fest among the elite—without any larger implications for women or blogging. I waffled in my conflictedness long enough that registration filled up, and the decision whether to go was taken out of my hands. I think Austen (who, at 7 months, was still nursing) and Al (who's in the "why would you do that?" camp when it comes to blogging) were secretly relieved.

This year I waffled again, though more because the conference had expanded so much rather than because I feared it would be too limited in scope. I knew I wanted to participate this time, but I was a little afraid of ALL THOSE WOMEN, [a] because I'm a bit of an introvert, and [b] because I'm generally not a fan of girls-only anything. In any case, I finally pulled the trigger and registered, and for the most part, I'm glad I did. If I hadn't gone to BlogHer, I probably wouldn't have met Mrs. Kennedy, with whom I'd started to feel I had something in common over the past year. (One thing I didn't realize we had in common until I met her in person: I'm tall, and she's taller.) We happened to meet when I was feeling a little worn out by all the frenzied socializing on the morning of Day One, and the fact that we were able to share a companionable silence at the Podcasting session—the fact that though we weren't talking to each other it felt like we were there together and not just there at the same time—made me like her more than anything else she could have said or done. (We did end up chatting toward the end of the session, and that was lovely, too.)

Jeanne, eating a Red VineIf I hadn't gone to BlogHer, I definitely wouldn't have met Jeanne, who made me laugh so often and so heartily (and yet without inducing an asthma attack! how did she do that??) that I think she singlehandedly propelled me through Day Two. In addition to being amazingly fun to be around, Jeanne is a voracious reader and prolific writer of amazingly articulate book and movie reviews, so from now on I'm sure never to be without a good book to read. I only wish she lived closer to me (sadly, she's in Seattle), because I would so hang out with her every day if she were nearby.

If I hadn't gone to BlogHer, I also probably would never have crossed paths with Sheryle. I met Sheryle at the cocktail party on Day Two (in other words, a mere hour or so before the end of the conference), when she joined Jane (who's a firecracker in her own right), Jeanne, and me in conversation. It turned out that Jeanne and Sheryle had sat next to one another at an earlier panel (or perhaps at lunch on Day One?), which is how she happened to pick us out at the cocktail party. (So in addition to being great for all the reasons I listed above, Jeanne is also a MAGNET for interesting people.)

Anyway, after listening to Sheryle for a sentence or two and being unable to decide whether her accent was more Georgia or more North Carolina, I split the difference and asked if she was from South Carolina (I figured maybe she was from the Augusta, GA area, which is on the border). She said no, Georgia, but she'd also lived in Virginia, which is probably why I'd had difficulty identifying the accent. At that point Jeanne, Jane, and I got into a frenzied dissection of the origins of various Southern accents ("it was the Irish in Appalachia!" "no, it was the British who colonized Georgia and New England, which is why the Southern and Boston accents are actually pretty similar!"). Sheryle, thank god, only let us go on for about a minute before finding an opening in which to announce, "I should probably confess that I have a Master's in linguistics and dialectology" BEFORE YOU MAKE JACKASSES OF YOURSELVES, she could have added, but didn't.

It occurred to me to mention, since Sheryle was from Georgia, that I had attended the University of Georgia. "In Athens?" asked Sheryle. "Me too!" I replied that I suspected a few years separated our tenures there, at which point Jane's jaw dropped, and she gave me a look like, "I can't believe you just insulted her that way." I read the look correctly and said, "hey, I'm not saying she's OLD. I'm saying that she's probably more than 4 years older than I am, is all." We went on to discover that we'd both been English majors ("Park Hall!") and tried to come up with any professors that we might have had in common. Finally, because I wasn't sure whether Jane had forgiven me the smart-ass "young" person remark, I said, "so what year did you graduate?"

Sheryle laughed and said, "oh, probably before you were born!" I said no, come on, hit me. "1968," she said. Me: "OK, that was the year I was born. See?" I said to Jane, "I wasn't being mean when I suggested that there were a few years between us... though when I said it, I didn't imagine that there were as many as 22!" We all laughed and talked some more about Sheryle's career (she's currently CEO of a company called Quixit), meeting Vince Dooley and other minor celebrities (like, say, Kofi Annan), keeping our brains fit, and where Sheryle gets her hair cut (Ode, in San Francisco).

dynamic trio: Jeanne, Sheryle, and Jane

If I hadn't gone to BlogHer, I wouldn't have had so much time to hang out with Heather, whom I've known for 10 years but whom I rarely get to see. We both lived in the NYC area when we met—at a web conference in Chicago in Feburary 1996—but I moved to San Francisco 6 months later. We taught a couple clases and sat on a couple panels together at various Internet Worlds, but we didn't see each other regularly until Heather moved out to San Francisco herself a couple years later. Then, of course, I met Al, I moved to the boondocks of Mountain View, and then together Al and I moved to Philadelphia, which meant Heather and I were on opposite coasts again. It was so great to catch up and just relax around someone I already knew and felt comfortable around.

I must confess that I went to Heather's session on becoming a better photographer mainly to support Heather, but without seriously expecting to learn anything new (which is not to say that I don't have far, far to go in my photography efforts; I just thought that she couldn't possibly cover anything in depth in an hour). I was surprised and delighted to find that she was able to touch on many useful points, not least of which was how to use the Unsharp Mask filter in Photoshop (or Fireworks, which is what I've been using until recently). Who knew that I'd been doing it wrong all these years? Who knew that it was called Unsharp MASK for a reason? I have two words for anyone who, like me, has been unhappy with the results of Sharpen in Photoshop or Fireworks or even with adjusting the Sharpness slider in iPhoto: SELECTIVE SHARPENING. (Apparently this was a revelation for Amy, too, as we looked at each other afterwards and said simultaneously, "OMG, Unsharp MASK? I always sharpened the WHOLE THING!"

OK, now that I've gotten the top 4 reasons I'm glad I went to BlogHer out of the way, a quick summary of other things I liked and didn't like about BlogHer:

The Good
Meeting new people.
The Accessibility portion of the Primp Your Blog session. BEST PRESENTATION EVER.
My new Eggbeater t-shirt (buying it from Shuna was pretty cool, too).
It wasn't all women.
The "All You Need is Love" spontaneous sing-a-long when the sound on the "how has your blog changed your world?" Flash movie failed at the Day Two welcoming session.
Arianna Huffington at the closing keynote. I'd seen her in political debates before, but I wasn't sure she'd have anything relevant to say to a bunch of bloggers. Turned out she did.
The Is the Next Martha Stewart a Blogger? session. This was another session I attended more to support the speakers than because I thought I'd be interested, but it was incredibly interesting and informative. Maybe that should be my strategy next year: Go to the sessions I don't expect to be interested in.
Videochatting with Austen every night (and once during the Art Bloggers session; Mrs. Kennedy gave me a "what the hell are you waving at?" look when I got a little enthusiastic in front of the iSight).
The weather. Oh, how I miss Northern California, with its cool, overcast mornings and its warm, dry afternoons.

The Bad
Meeting new people. OK, this wasn't bad, per se—just so, so overwhelming.
The food: Not enough protein at breakfast or lunch, not enough vegetables at dinner. Also, can we get some sponsors willing to provide real, full-fat, full-taste snacks next year? May I suggest Luna bars?
The water: Now with extra minerals! Yuck! I don't think I've ever been so dehydrated.
The wireless acess. Totally sucked, but not exactly for the reason given; it was more about misconfiguring the servers than about expecting 800 businessment to check e-mail occasionally. The 800 businessmen made for a better story, though.
The snubbing. Luckily this only happened to me once, but it was still a scowl-inducer: She-who-will-not-be-named: "Hey, good to see you here!" Me: "Oh, hi!" SWWNBN (to friend): "I know her because of X." Me: "Yeah, X, that was fun. I really appreciate..." (at this point I kinda trailed off, because SWWNBN turned her back to me in a gesture that unmistakeably meant "I'm done with you now, move along.")
The hot, hot session rooms. The mind, it tends to melt down as the temperature goes up.

The Ugly
The Hyatt San Jose. Dudes, can you say 'maintenance'? My room was apparently in better shape than most, was only shabby and ill-designed rather than in downright disrepair, and luckily, it didn't reek of anything unusual, but I'm with Suzanne's husband in that it was below my usual standards.

The Missed Opportunities
I didn't get to meet Julie.
Although I met Alice, I think I kind of turned her off with my assertion that "80 to 90 percent of the people here are probably introverts." Alice, as an extrovert (surprise!, at least to me), obviously disagreed, and we never really got to explore our differing views further.
There were probably a bazillion other women (and men!) whom I would have really loved to meet / with whom I probably had LOTS in common, but I just couldn't put myself out there any farther. (Or is this another case for further?)

I'm sure I'm forgetting a few things, as I've obviously been a lot more positive about the whole experience than I thought I'd be when I started writing this, but before I wrap up the roundup, allow me to point you to this interesting post from 2003 on Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality (thanks to Al for IMing it to me, and to Karl Martino for showing it to Al). It directly addresses all the griping about "A-listers" vs. "B-listers" (and "first-generation mommybloggers" vs. "second-generation mommybloggers") that I heard this weekend, and makes me wonder where we'll all be next year, when the size of BlogHer (and the blogging community in general) doubles again.

Edited to add: Following are two pull-quotes from the article to whet your appetite. It's not long, and it's definitely worth reading.

A persistent theme among people writing about the social aspects of weblogging is to note (and usually lament) the rise of an A-list, a small set of webloggers who account for a majority of the traffic in the weblog world. This complaint follows a common pattern we've seen with MUDs, BBSes, and online communities like Echo and the WELL. A new social system starts, and seems delightfully free of the elitism and cliquishness of the existing systems. Then, as the new system grows, problems of scale set in. Not everyone can participate in every conversation. Not everyone gets to be heard. Some core group seems more connected than the rest of us, and so on.

Prior to recent theoretical work on social networks, the usual explanations invoked individual behaviors: some members of the community had sold out, the spirit of the early days was being diluted by the newcomers, et cetera. We now know that these explanations are wrong, or at least beside the point. What matters is this: Diversity plus freedom of choice creates inequality, and the greater the diversity, the more extreme the inequality.

...

Inequality occurs in large and unconstrained social systems for the same reasons stop-and-go traffic occurs on busy roads, not because it is anyone's goal, but because it is a reliable property that emerges from the normal functioning of the system. The relatively egalitarian distribution of readers in the early years had nothing to do with the nature of weblogs or webloggers. There just weren't enough blogs to have really unequal distributions. Now there are.

Posted by Lori in bloggity goodness and blogher06 at 6:26 PM on August 4, 2006

Comments (6)

Do you know that Jane is my cousin?

Lori [TypeKey Profile Page]:

Wow, I didn't! Small world, eh?

Jane:

Yep, I was just gonna tell you that....!

And that you're one of my BlogHer bests....!

Also, I'm thinking about green--since you've got purple cornered. What do you think????

Lori [TypeKey Profile Page]:

Hi Jane!

I'd wondered why "By Jane" sounded so familiar when you introduced yourself at the Flickr meetup -- now I see it was because I'd read your name on Shani's blog. :)

As for green, it's a hard color to pull off, but it works for some people. I learned through trial and error (and requests from colleagues at every place I've worked since college, including the World Bank, believe it or not) that I need to stick to purples, pinks, and deep berry hues. Blue, green, and teal make me look like a corpse. I saw a woman with bright yellow hair once who looked totally fabulous, but I've yet to try it myself.

Skye [TypeKey Profile Page]:

Thanks for the kind words about the accessibility presentation.

And if I hadn't gone, I wouldn't have met you! So glad I did. Very impressive memory for conversations, BTW. Thx also for the links to Jeanne and Jane's blogs.

Comments

Do you know that Jane is my cousin?

Posted by: ratphooey [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 4, 2006 10:39 PM

Wow, I didn't! Small world, eh?

Posted by: Lori [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 5, 2006 3:42 PM

Yep, I was just gonna tell you that....!

And that you're one of my BlogHer bests....!

Also, I'm thinking about green--since you've got purple cornered. What do you think????

Posted by: Jane at August 6, 2006 3:30 PM

Hi Jane!

I'd wondered why "By Jane" sounded so familiar when you introduced yourself at the Flickr meetup -- now I see it was because I'd read your name on Shani's blog. :)

As for green, it's a hard color to pull off, but it works for some people. I learned through trial and error (and requests from colleagues at every place I've worked since college, including the World Bank, believe it or not) that I need to stick to purples, pinks, and deep berry hues. Blue, green, and teal make me look like a corpse. I saw a woman with bright yellow hair once who looked totally fabulous, but I've yet to try it myself.

Posted by: Lori [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 6, 2006 8:05 PM

Thanks for the kind words about the accessibility presentation.

Posted by: Skye [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 8, 2006 3:23 PM

And if I hadn't gone, I wouldn't have met you! So glad I did. Very impressive memory for conversations, BTW. Thx also for the links to Jeanne and Jane's blogs.

Posted by: Sheryle at August 9, 2006 1:17 AM

Comments are now closed.