Once upon a time, when there were just a handful of women blogging, the BlogHer conference was a perfect place for those few to connect. They needed to know they weren’t alone. They needed to geek out with other women who understood their language. They were strengthened by their community. Even if they blogged about radically different things, the “women doing it” common thread was enough to link them tightly together.
Now that blogging has gone mainstream things are changing.
Last year I still felt the need to mask where I was going when I left for BlogHer. I told my friends and coworkers that I was going to a writer’s conference. They knew nothing about blogging. Or maybe they knew just enough to be suspicious of it. I didn’t want to be scrutinized, looked up, and judged on my words, my thoughts, my daily outpourings. And I really didn’t want to have to face that blank stare of complete and utter incomprehension.
But why would you blog? Why would you let the whole world into your head? Isn’t it dangerous? Aren’t there crazy people online?
Now everyone has a blog. My friends and ex-coworkers all know about my blog. And for the most part they don’t care. (Except for the few awesome ones who are faithful readers!) There are fewer blank stares. Less need for long explanations. And really, no longer such a need for a conference where the only common thread is our sex and our hobby.
Last year I met a wonderfully diverse group of women bloggers. One blogged about movies, another about food. There was the girl who blogged about politics and the one who only talked about travel. It was amazing to connect with people who expressed such different opinions and thoughts through the same medium. It felt great to be by their side as one of the early adopters.
This year I didn’t meet too many bloggers who lived outside of the Mommyblogging sphere. There were too many sessions. Too many options for self segregation.
I missed that feeling of belonging to a larger community.
But at the same time I understand the evolution that is taking place. We are too diverse a community to all be held under one roof. Especially if the numbers keep growing.
I really feel that we’re almost at the point where there’s no need for BlogHer to be a conference for all female bloggers. I think that we’re almost at the point when it could be about topic or affiliation, not genre. It’ll be BlogHer for the Mommy bloggers, BlogHer for the Foodie bloggers, BlogHer for the Politcal bloggers, BlogHer about Social Networking, BlogHer for those who just want to blog for fun, BlogHer for those who aspire to make a living from their craft…
When you expand the attendee list you create more space for self segregation. A small group of women who are all focused on a different topic can still find common threads they hadn’t expected. A large group of women has more trouble connecting, it’s just too easy to stay with your tribe and not venture out. And that’s when groups start to feel marginalized or even ostracized. And when marketers push their way in, focusing on the largest group, it exacerbates the separation.
Last year I loved the homey close feel of the conference. This year I was overwhelmed by the amplitude. Strange as it might seem, you can connect better with 999 other women than you can with 1599. I felt guilty to be one of the people PR reps were anxious to chat up. I felt sad that I couldn’t find a way to reach out of my group.
I don’t know what the solution might be. Kick out the sponsors? Then none of us could afford to go. Keep the attendee list to a minimum? Then you’ll frustrate the sponsors. Restrict the number of speaker sessions? Maybe, but with the large numbers the sessions would be unwieldy. Keep the session topics as inclusive and diverse as possible? Maybe, though it’s hard to find topics that interest everyone.
I love my mommy blogging friends, both the real ones and the virtual ones. I always have fun when I hang out with them and this weekend was no exception. It’s just not what I headed to Chicago to do. I think that next time I’ll have my expectations adjusted, or maybe I’ll just try to find smaller conferences where I’ll experience those connections that I so loved last year.