I'd be lying if I told you that the mood in the blogher-sphere following the second annual BlogHer conference was one of love, consensus, and kumbaya. This past week, coverage of the two-day event has run the gamut: complimentary, contentious, provocative, bitchy, grumpy, high-minded, strident, creative, insightful, defensive, forward-looking, apologetic, apoplectic, chaotic, well-reasoned, thoughtful, tolerant, intolerant, inconsistent and impassioned.
Personally, I think the noisy aftermath is a testimonial to the extraordinary range of people who participated -- their skills, goals, lifestyles, origins, gender, politics, and professions -- and their commitment to conversation as a vehicle for personal change and social action.
The scaling problems and other growing pains have been acknowledged. Blogher's founders Elisa Camahort , Jory des Jardins, and Lisa Stone, have responded frankly on their blogs to the criticisms and complaints. That in itself is unique and commendable. Fact is, three "chicks with credit cards" launched a grassroots conference in 2005, and in 2006 turned it into a remarkably affordable and inspiring two-day event for over 700 women and men, from Europe; Asia; Australia, and North America ( including attendees from 41 U.S. states).
I have no doubt that this year's BlogHer theme (How is your blog changing your world?) will continue to engage women and men, technologists, activists, and diarists of all orientations. I have no doubt that wireless connectivity at BlogHer will be better next year. I suspect that social media-savvy sponsors from inside and outside the tech industry will be back. And people will blog their way, I hope, to a better understanding of each other's points of view.
It was Yahoo!'s second year as a sponsor, and once again, we were happy to be there. We applaud Blogher's mission: "To create opportunities for women bloggers to pursue exposure, education and community." Yahoo! slipped a purple pen and notebook into the schwag bag. We dressed the pool deck in purple and served plenty of our famous Yahootinis at the closing night cocktail party. "Divine lemony goodness with purple sugar," wrote blogger Tiffany B. Brown.
Yahoo! employees participated on a variety of panels. Others, like longtime blogger Susan Mernit, posted their observations. We were there as ourselves, sharing knowledge and experience:
- Heather Champ, Flickr community manager, and photoblogger extraordinaire, did a workshop on digital photography for blog publishers.
- Flickr co-founder Caterina Fake joined Marnie Webb, and Pyra Labs (home of Blogger) co-founder Meg Hourihan to talk about Web 2.0 and what's next in tech.
- danah boyd moderated a panel discussion titled " Outreach Blogging is not for the faint-hearted." Panelists discussed blogging sensitive topics like mental illness, eating disorders, and addiction. They explored issues of secrecy and honesty, and described listening and responding to cries for help from readers they'd never met.
- Mecca Ibrahim is a UK-based product manager for Yahoo! 360, who blogs pseudonymously as Annie Mole on the London Underground. On a panel about growing and changing as a blogger called "Next Level Naked," Mecca talked about techniques and workarounds for burnout, and described how the London underground bombings of July 2005 connected her with her readers in unexpected ways.
I've been trying to articulate some of the changes since last year's conference, which felt more tech-centric, and included passionate discussion about the visibility of women bloggers, and why there were so few females among the "A-list bloggers." This year, the A-list seems altogether less important, less invincible, as blogging becomes more mainstream and pervasive.
So much attention is moving toward what Technorati's Dave Sifry calls "'The Magic Middle' of the attention curve" -- a place on the long tail of content where "interesting and influential bloggers and publishers are ... writing about topics that are topical or niche ... and in some cases are radically changing the economics of trade publishing."
But, it's not just, as Robert Scoble notes, that women talk about those things like "mothering, cooking, sewing, and soft stuff like feelings, sex, relationships, along with broader things like books and movies... "--more than guys do at tech conferences. It's that women across the blogosphere are doing more than finding their niche and monetizing it. Much like teenagers and young adults in new online social superspaces, they are also pioneering new community structures built on changing fundamentals of time, space, presence, and ubiquity.
Women bloggers and the communities they form are developing and inhabiting spaces where many-to-many conversation can flourish, where safety and solace can be found. Ideas are transmitted, experiment is tolerated, and new genres of exchange can be explored.