I’m on the plane now headed back to San Francisco, after a fun few days in Chicago for BlogHer. I have mixed feelings about the conference, which I will get into, but I do want to make sure I say this up front:
I had a wonderful time, met some amazing people, am glad that I went, and have already bought my ticket for BlogHer ’10 in NYC next year.
We only criticize that which we love, right?
So, onto the critiquing. I think this is going to end up split into a couple of posts, since as usual, I got rambly.
Where were the actual experts?
BlogHer had lots of panels run by various women, but very few actual “experts” to speak of. Seeing people who’ve been blogging or twittering for a year being elevated as ‘expert women in technology’ really gets to me. It’s just like being able to drive a car and claiming you are an expert working in the automotive industry.
The real expert, respected female bloggers weren’t at the conference. Where was Kathy Sierra – who knows better than anyone what can happen when you become too exposed as a blogger. Where was Sarah Lacy, who’s published one (second one is on the way, I think) book on the industry, and is now a regular blogger at TechCrunch. Gina Tripani from Lifehacker. Kara Swisher from All Things D. Megan McCarthy, Molly Wood, Natalie DelConte. They don’t blog about Pampers, but they are very widely read female bloggers. What about Veronica Belmont, Amber Mac, you could call them video bloggers.
It does a lot of harm to hold people up as experts when they’re not, or at least, not without very explicitly narrowing down the field they are experts in. “This person is an expert at talking to 50k people on twitter about random stuff,” is very different than “this person is a technology expert.”
And it is, unfortunately, a gender thing. Men would never put up with it. If some article came out in the New York Times calling a guy who wrote a couple of blog entries over the last year a technology expert, Michael Arrington and others would have their hides. Men, understandably, don’t consider someone an expert until they’ve proven themselves. Women, for some reason, are a bit more loose with that, and will sometimes consider a woman an expert because the woman themselves said that they were.
When we allow the media to elevate women with no practical industry experience as technology experts we leave the impression that there aren’t any better experts out there. And THAT is terrible.
If there are going to be expert panels, they should be run by actual experts. Not someone who has 10,000 followers, and therefore thinks they know all about Twitter. Want to do an expert panel on Twitter? Get someone from Twitter on the panel. Panel on WordPress? Get someone from Automattic. Most of the panels at BlogHer would never fly at any other kind of conference. Harsh to say but, well, assuming the panels even got started because of the sponsorships (which I’ll cover in another entry), the panelists would have been laughed off the stage.
What are these non-experts teaching people anyway?
Teaching someone how to download Tweetie is helpful, but only touches the surface of what a lesson on Twitter should be.
A session on privacy and identity that tells people to use the privacy features on Facebook to protect themselves is misleading and dangerous.
This is what happens when people are running sessions on technology they don’t fully understand themselves, and why you really do need “real” experts to do the teaching.
Thank god for the geek lab!
The vast majority of sessions I went to were what were called “Geek Lab” sessions, held in one side of one little conference room. I learned PHP, Apache, htaccess, and CSS. Of course, I didn’t have time to learn much…while other sessions were 1-2 hrs and held in a large room, ours were 1/2 hr each and competing for attention with another session on the other side of the room.
It very much left the impression that these “women in technology” didn’t actually care about the technology part, and that’s a horrible thing.
Please guys, don’t see this as typical.
My biggest fear is that men will look at BlogHer, and assume that all women online want to write about hand cream, be paid to go to conferences, pitch air freshener, and couldn’t care less about the technology running the tools they’re using. It’s NOT TRUE.
BlogHer has to change to be a bit more accurate. Merge with Mom 2.0 or something (which really is a conference for ALL mommy bloggers) – or make a concerted effort to be what they claim to be…an open conference for all women bloggers. Merge with She’s Geeky or work with the Webgrrls to give the tech bloggers some sort of presence there.
They also need to pay more attention to their “expert panels,” and who’s on them. Expertise aside, a panelist who was sponsored by some company to go to BlogHer is obviously going to promote that company. If that’s not disclosed (as it so often isn’t), the credibility of the panel is shot.
It’s all fixable.
And that’s the good thing. These are all things that can be changed. None of the current content needs to be excluded, it just needs to be promoted more realistically for what it is. “Learn about Twitter from someone who has tons of followers,” instead of “Meet a Twitter expert.” Get someone from Twitter to do the actual Twitter expert panel. Learn about privacy from Parry Aftab instead of someone who thinks Facebook’s privacy controls are the end all and be all of content management.
BlogHer just needs to use the same quality control for their panels that other conferences use and ensure that their panelists have the credentials, experience, and knowledge necessary for whatever their panel topic is.
As I said above, I will totally be at BlogHer next year. And I would love to do whatever I can to get the right people into the right panels, to get more actual technology content into the technology conference, and make this next BlogHer a bit more inclusive for ALL female bloggers.