1500 bloggers is a lot of people, I realised when I walked into the huge ballroom filled with round, white-tableclothed tables fitting 10 people each. Everyone at the table immediately started introducing themselves: “Hi, I’m Amy of Up With Moms“, “Hi, I’m Amy of InherentPassion.com, I’m Fruitlady on Twitter”, “I’m Amy of doobleh-vay, here’s my card!” They were all called Amy, except Neil, who is one of the vaginally-challenged male delegates to BlogHer, and who I actually follow on Twitter because he blogs strange stories about his mother that I can never decide whether I like but for some reason read. And everyone has a card, a thick pack of business cards advertising their blogs that they hand out with their left hands shaking your hand with their right hands. I can’t believe I forgot to bring more than a dozen business cards (I hardly ever need business cards) The best ones are odd-shaped or have textured paper or ziplocked bags of glitter stapled to them.

Then there was speed-dating. If you’ve not been in a room of 1500 women introducing themselves to each other all at once you cannot imagine the volume of that chatter. I fine-tuned my elevator pitch after the first five or six bloggers:

Hi, I’m Jill! I teach social media and blogging at a university in Norway in Europe, and I blog about my research and about being a newbie woman in academia!

I don’t really blog much about being a newcomer to academia any more, not being so young any more and being tenured and secure and settled and all. But I figure the more personal the better, seems to be the currency around here. And I did wrote some damn fine posts about learning the ropes of academic administration!

I walked in to the session on owning your expertise, which turned out to be a great workshop run by The Op-Ed Project, a group that works to train women to participate more in mainstream debate. Did you know that 90% of submissions to the Washington Post are from men? And that 85% of bylines are male? And that though many of the pieces actually published are not from that pile of pieces sent in to the newspaper without the editor having requested them, the editor does largely select writers based on cold submissions. But I’ve been to too many workshops on how to talk to the media already, and when the first exercise was how to present yourself as an expert when you don’t have typical expert credentials such as a book or degree or institutional affiliation I snuck out the back feeling kind of guilty for having plenty of all of those.

Instead I went down to the expo and came out with vast quantities of free swag:

free swag at BlogHer09

I got free Play-Doh, a Mr Potato Head toy, a SpiderMan book, toddler snacks from Gerber, shaving cream, a compact mirror from Microsoft (because all women in tech really care about is makeup?), baby food, laundry detergent, chocolate fairy wands from another laundry detergent brand, a couple of USB memory sticks, drinks, chips, snack bars, lip gloss, socks (2 pairs), a step-counter, several kinds of lipgloss and some things I’m not sure what are.

Some of the sponsors are pretty odd. Listerine’s booth promises to donate ten mouthwashes to children in need if I hang a fake dollar they’re handing out on their fake tree. I hadn’t realised children in need needed mouthwash…

The MommyBlogging session I walk into in the afternoon is sponsored by a line of saccharine movies and girls’ toys who have stands, signs beside the presenters and who hand out gift bags with pink tissue paper and Polly Pocket-like dolls. I keep them for Jessie, thinking we’ll probably lose them on a plane anyway.

The panel doesn’t do presentations, they invite questions from the audience straight away, to have a conversation. One of the panelists writes nothing but haikus on Twitter.

The great thing about Twitter is that you can see what’s going on in parallel sessions – so I walked next door to the session on how to make your blog into a book, where they’re discussing how to get an agent. Sell your book in the back of the room when you’re speaking somewhere, they say. And use your book instead of a business card! People will remember you better! (Damn, I should have brought 100 copies of my book…)

The final session of the day is the community keynote, which showcases some excellent writing from excellent bloggers. Twenty bloggers have been selected to read twenty blog posts – what a great twist on the traditional keynote-by-an-external-expert. My favourites were JD from I Do Things So You Don’t Have To talking about faking concussion as a child, which had the audience in stitches, Black Hockey Jesus of Wind in Your Vagina‘s love letter to his daughter on her fifth birthday, Karen Walrond from Chookalonk’s analysis of why Obama’s win resonated so deeply with her, and Melissa Ford from Stirrup Queens tale of trying to get involved with her husband’s semen collection for their infertility treatment.

The real problem, of course, the real reason why I’m not “squeeing” over BlogHer (ugh, what a word, squee), is that these aren’t really the blogs I read. As Melissa Ford wrote, “This is why I go to BlogHeróto get to see the people I read.” Or read Samantha Campen’s similar but more detailed explanation at her blog (I’ve read Samantha’s blog on and off after meeting her husband at a Second Life meetup last year, and she’s an excellent blogger, writing funny and incisive posts about her life and baby who just happens to be about the same age as our baby). BlogHer is a meetup for a particular set of blogging communities, and that’s why people bond and hug and clap and get so emotional. The problem for me is that I read geek blogs and copyright blogs and academic blogs and some politics blogs and some crafts blogs, and those bloggers aren’t at this conference. This conference is for a fairly specific slice of the blogosphere, and I guess it’s not really the slice that I feel at home in.

That, and the all-over-the-place sponsorship and monetizing, oh, and words like “squee”, well.

Mind you, Jessie loved her free Mr Potato Head.

10 thoughts on “my first day at blogher: swag, sponsors and mummyblogging

  1. Sonitus.org | blogg

    jill/txt: my first day at blogher: swag, sponsors and mummyblogging http://twurl.nl/j43a3v

  2. brittany

    When I went in 2006, they were handing out Contrex water – this creepy “women’s” bottled water I’ve only since seen in a shop in Berlin. The only useful thing I got from the whole shebang was a giant tote bag that still holds up very nicely and fits a whole mess of stuff. I’m glad you met a nice male delegate. The only dudes there that I noticed were the ones taking strange, slightly sketchy photos of too many women and otherwise keeping to themselves. Ack.

  3. Stephanie

    I went in 2006 too and remember the water well – yuck. Very oily for water. And I had a similar experience to you, Jill. I never really felt at home there. There were, of course, some brilliant women there with wonderful things to say… and I did get to meet danah f2f, which was great, but other than that – it felt a bit like high school. I expected this strong sense of ‘in it together/feminist’ conference – especially as it is BlogHER, but it seemed more geared towards marketing your blog – which was somewhat preaching to the choir as these were nearly all women with blogs and who were interested enough to pay for a conference on the topic. Besides the few handfuls of amazing women I got to meet, I feel that the conference would become a better experience if it were more focused on topics such as how women are represented in the blogpshpere, or specific concerns of female dominated communities of practice in the blogosphere and less on marketing and sponsorship.

  4. Elinesca

    I am a bit sad that Blogher turned out to become a mummy thing. Maybe it’s time to admit that this ‘female’ focus isn’t working – just as a ‘Bloghis’ theme would probably have been equally weird. In our days – do we really need gender specific conferences…? I doubt it.

  5. Nancy white

    I was one of the first year Blogher supporters and was heavily involved the first two years. Then life (and too much other travel) interfered and I have not attended since. However, I resonate with you and your commentor’s sense of missing a really large and important side of women who blog. I think because of the sheer number of women who have found blogging to be an integral part of their mothering part of life, Blogher has naturally shaped towards this group. Blogging is an incredible environment to weave networks for people with shared needs and experiences and parenting sure is one of them.

    So this raises the question about the other, multiple (but perhaps not as vast) arms of women who blog. Academics. Business. Non profit. Arts. Activism. Non-English speaking. International. There are so many.

    If we want to find a F2F intersection, maybe we need to think about some options:
    * work with Blogher to shape a/some side events before and after Blogher that give a more intimate and focused conversation on some of the other subgroups
    * create our own side events (piggyback!)
    * create new events – particularly ones that support regionality as flying to a central conference has cost and environmental impacts that we have to take on board

    What else?

  6. Beth Terry, aka Fake Plastic Fish

    Was so great to meet you at the cocktail party Saturday night and find another person who was disenchanted with the whole commercial aspect of the conference. Am getting read to write my own post now. Wondering if I can use your great swag photo and link back to this post. I was so overwhelmed by all the swag, I neglected to take my own photos. Instead, ran screaming from it. 🙂

  7. Lynn from OrganicMania.com

    Hi Jill,

    I’m the woman who met you in the Microsoft suite. We talked about the troubling phenomenon of Nordic teenage girls publishing too much information on their blogs. My memories of our conversation are one of the highlights of the conference for me. I met someone I normally would have never met and had an interesting exchange. I think MS did a fantastic job of providing a quiet “escape” for those of us who wanted to get away from the din of the conference.

    Thanks for a great post. Glad to have found it through my friend Beth’s site, Fake Plastic Fish.


  8. Green Bean

    “I guess itís not really the slice that I feel at home in.” – that’s how I felt last year. Thanks for reminding me why I didn’t go this year.

  9. JD at I Do Things

    Hi, Jill!

    Thanks so much for the shout-out and the great BlogHer recap. I’m not sure if we met (at this point, I’m still sorting through emails and biz cards), but I’m happy to have discovered your blog!

  10. […] What have you heard about #BlogHer09 so far? Stories are circulating around the web that the conference is no longer about connection and content and community and is instead all about sponsors and swag and greed. Check out this damning video by a Chicago writer who worked at the Pepsico booth for a few days. Read Jessica Gottlieb’s followup interview with him. Another blogger asks, “BlogHer ‘09: Does Swag Pervert the Purpose?” and a disenchanted blogger I met at the Saturday night cocktail party posts a crazy photo of all the plastic swag she picked up. […]

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