Blogher: business, party, or movement?

I went to Blogher on Friday and Saturday, and had a blast. The Hyatt San Jose on First Street has a weird blowzy appearance, but the snacks’n’drinks area sorrounding the large pool, with shady side gazebos, was just perfect for extended hanging out. I saw friends from out of town and across town, met some new folk, got a good lead on a contractor for a work project, went to a good panel billed on political blogging, where the best discussion was about hyperlocal blogging.
Blogher has clearly grown up, gone mainstream, and reaped the benefits of good old-fashioned commercialism. I heard there were over 750 people. Last year, I was somewhat surprised by the outpouring of interest in making money from one’s blog. The blogging I’ve done has been affiliated and complementary with various professional and avocational activities. I’ve thought about blogging as a way of connecting with people and getting the word out, but never about making money directly. The Blogher crew have tapped a vein of demand to make blogging an economically sustaining activity for bloggers by creating an ad network. And they’ve clearly tapped an interest among mainstream marketers for the niche that used to be filled by women’s magazines. This resulted in jarring yet archetypal combinations of conference schwag — the weight watchers propaganda next to the mineral water next to the condoms . Meanwhile, one of the keynote speakers talked about her daughter’s struggle with an eating disorder.
I’m glad to see that people who were seeking economic support for blogging are getting it. The reinvention of the magazine industry around ad networks for independent writers with two-way comments and linking is not a bad thing and a step forward. The commercializing and mainstreaming of Blogher was disapointing to some of my friends who looked back nostalgically to the previous year when Blogher felt less like a commercial venture and more like a movement. There were definitely some real deficits – the crowd looked more prosperous and paler than average, and didn’t have lots of younger folk — there are probably pricing, scholarship, and outreach choices that would make the event accessible to a greater diversity of people. I’m not going to go down the liberal guilt path and say that an event with middle class people is not worth doing, just that more accessibility is better.
There were birds of a feather sessions and networking opportunities, so folk who want to gather around minority interests could. I didn’t find the commercialism to be censoring of things that I might say, including criticism of the product pitches at the closing session (I counted four) and the Cadilac Escalade promotion in the age of global warming and peak oil.
So, Blogher this year was an expression of our culture, with connection, culture and consumerism intertwingled. The universe of peer media is combining with commerce; the various permutations will have differing combinations of integrity. Overall, I came to Blogher expecting to have fun and connect, and did. Overall, I felt that the conference had some of the ambiguities of our culture, but the sum was a good thing and a good time.

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