Coming back from Chicago inundated me with work, and so I'll admit to only lately becoming aware of negative Blogher09 reactions to both the size and the swag-gish aspect of the conference. You'd think I would have been in the thick of the ire, being a sponsor, but I didn't get the same vibe as the critics at all. I wrote this after seeing Blogher co-founder Jory DesJardin's post which resonated with me on a lot of levels (In my blogging I don't care about ads, product reviews, or being known for much except enabling others to do community stuff).
It's true, that Bing came to Blogher with swag at ready. I forgot most of my business card stash and handed out Bing stickers with my name scribbled on the back instead. Microsoft Spa appointment recipients left with travel packs and meetup attendees ended up with Pokens, a cute little gizmo that exchanges social media info like a USB. To be honest, the Bing folks felt like bringing swag was good manners. We weren't sure what other companies could afford this year, and we knew that for many bloghers this was the only conference they might attend all year. Unlike the geek elite who are drowning in USB keys and t-shirts, this was it for some people and so we wanted to give away stuff that would be worthwhile.
As to brands, I personally (as an experiment) wore three different Bing-branded t-shirts and juxtaposed them with the brands I encountered for fun. So, you could say I contributed to making the conference more like Spons-her.That wasn't a medal, that was Bing across my chest. But everywhere I went, it showed I was willing to answer questions about Bing and people asked them. Or they savored their favorite crazy Bing ad.
Branded shirt or not, I also made time (despite meetup and booth required shifts) to attend one session where many people were tearing up or opening up and weeping. I say this because, no matter how bad you think Windows Vista has treated you, nobody but nobody is crying at PDC or Tech Ed. :) And a gaming conference? Forget it.
I sat in the front to help take pictures of the panel so I saw it all up close, women telling their very real stories of grief, change, and transformation. Babies died, innocence died, old ways of thinking died and you know, when something dies or changes, often people cry. Bloghers in the audiemce told their stories and cried. At that point there is only one brand - human - and we all have it tattooed across our chests. It's hard for me to think anyone went to the session I went to, and then felt like Blogher was only commercialism.
(And, yes, the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile team was in the audience too, and they told me they were as moved as I was. )
I wasn't able to be at the Community Keynote but I was told later it was the same intensity. The blog posts people read aloud ripped through to the heart of the listeners and people at the cocktail party I talked to, still had to shake themselves to get out of the funk (in a good way) the keynote created. Talking about it brought the bloghers "back there" to the narrative of the keynote .
You know, some people may have had a hard year, and maybe being showered in free swag was what they got out of blogher. For them, maybe it was the chance to feel like for once, having too much, abundance, pampered materially. I'm a geek girl who has too many USB keys and conference t-shirts. I am lucky to take or leave material things.
For others, surrounded by all this emotion (and writing is a very private effort even if the results are public) the brazen storytelling and constant talking, sharing, expressing may have driven some to just spend a few nights with a book and the bathtub in the hotel. There was one night I did that, the last one I was in town. The sleep deprivation just crashed me out, and I knew I'd be meeting someone for breakfast the next day before my plane.
Blogher as it grows up to become its next phase, and the phase after that, is only going to get denser and richer like one of those ridiculous lava chocolate cakes. It will be in different languages, it will combine new groups of women, it will engage on all sides of the political and economic and social fence (I would have loved to see the Palin session as well but again, only heard from others how that went). It can't please everyone in the same ways but it can continue to be a rich and supportive mix of both old and new bloggers, niche and broad topic writers, paid and unpaid.
Blogher10 is an awesome prospect - the 10th year, New York, and incredible momentum around the voices of women. Whether I'm a Bing booth babe again or not, I'm going. See you there.
Live it vivid!