Diversity Weblogging Writing

Measuring Success

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Before I started the new weblog(s), I told a friend that I was going to avoid saying anything even remotely critical about BlogHer. It does no good to do so, I told him.

I’m sure he knew that I could not follow this vow. I don’t know if being critical of Blogher will do any ‘good’ or not. I do know that fighting for women to be heard–inside blogging or not– has been a part of me for too many years to see it co-opted into a new business model; or used as an excuse to disregard women (even the flirty, sexy, beautiful ones) the other 360 ought days when BlogHer is not running.

I wanted to point you to Jeneane and Stowe Boyd’s response to Dave Winer’s Blogher recap. I particularly want to empathize Boyd’s reaction to the conference, which I found honest and direct. Tara Hunt also came out with a post related to some of the ‘bloghim’ responses. In addition, she provided her reasons why Blogger is not for her–most of which parallel other’s thoughts.

I’d already mentioned my concerns about the marketing aspects of BlogHer. These were, in a way, enforced by Lisa Stone’s only mention of the conference at the BlogHer site. In it she discusses the ’success’ of the women in the keynote panel of the conference; their success, and how, it would seem, the new BlogHer measures such:

If success is the best revenge, revenge must be sweet indeed for this quartet. For today, each of these women todays enjoys kudos from their readers/users (even critics), while at the same time being able to point to cold, hard facts such as Web traffic and revenue that demonstrate their ideas were worth pursuing.

Is that the true mark of a good idea within weblogging? Web traffic and revenue? Not writing or worth of the thought or the person…web traffic and revenue?

Women make up 50% of weblogging. That used to be a rallying cry, demanding that we be heard. Now it’s been reduced to facts and figures to place in front of the likes of Johnson & Johnson, GM, or some condom maker. This is influencing, heavily, the direction BlogHer seems to be taking.

Barbara Ganley wrote on some of this, in reference to the fact that DOPA passed–a law that has dangerous implications to the freedom of the Net in our country. Not a word was mentioned at BlogHer:

…rumbling through the two days was, as Laura points out, a strong whiff of the almighty dollar. People were looking for hints on increasing traffic to their blogs, making money blogging, encouraging advertisers. In sessions I attended, and in the buzz around the pool, there was a whole lot of attention paid to getting people to your blogs. Fascinating.

Okay, so I learned that my world is indeed what I expected to find out–a bit out of touch. But I expected there to be a huge outcry against DOPA–after all, Danah Boyd spoke on Day Two. But no–NOTHING within my earshot. And in fact, as I went around talking about it, I found out that many, many bloggers, including those in academic circles, hadn’t even heard of it. How can that be? I was shocked and not a little bothered–we were surrounded by the sponsors giving us everything from zipdrives to condoms, fake flowers to souped up water; but no talk about legislation that will deepen the digital divide by making blogs and other social networking sites out of reach for kids without computers in the home, and force those who do use the sites underground to form their communities. Read Danah Boyd’s inspired research on MySpace and adolescents if you don’t believe me.

If DOPA did not generate interest, where was the emphasis at BlogHer? From what many of the attendees stated: Mommyblogging.

I salute parents (and grandparents, and uncles, and aunts, and close family friends) who write about their children but that term is offensive–to women and to men. It forms a clique, a ring that keeps women without children on the outside, as if we’re freaks of the natural order. However, it has a catchy sound, doesn’t it?

Not all think so, though. One blogger, after a night at the conference seated next to a table of mommybloggers, wrote her opinion of it in no uncertain terms. The backlash was immediate, and not unexpected. I didn’t agree with much of what she said, but I can understand why at 2 in the morning she felt the need to say it.

What was unexpected, though, was that at so many of the sites that condemned her, there was a strong element of their being right, with much murmuring that there will always be women who turn against their own kind; women who aren’t warm and nurturing because they use such harsh terms. Wait until she has a child, they would say, then she’ll see. I must have read that dozens of times. Wait until she has a child. All the while, of course, not being able to link to her because it might shock the sensibilities of their audience. Or worse: give her attention.

(I thought the comment, I hope one of their kids barfs on your shoes was rather funny, though.)

Mothers, and empowerment. Leaving aside their disbelief that a woman would actually choose not to have children, these women, these mothers who feel so empowered, have forgotten their history. The earliest advertisements on TV were geared towards mothers. Much of the ads in early print were geared towards mothers. Yet mothers still send their children off to war. Mothers still worry over their sick babies, because they can’t afford a doctor and health insurance costs too much. If mothers have power, where are the changes we must assume every mother wants?

If we, women and men both, follow a path where the only measure of success is the number of ads at our site, the links we have, the money we make, then the only power we’re exercising is that of consumer–catered to, perhaps; but essentially meaningless.

Melinda Casino, who is both a contributing editor and was a panel presenter at BlogHer, wrote a long and thoughtful response about her impressions of Blogher tonight. It was titled, appropriately enough, Goodby Grassroots BlogHer. In it she lists out her disappointments of the conference, including the marketing and, ironically, the lack of diversity.

She talked about one incident:

…I was sitting in the audience waiting for a presentation to start, when a woman came up and knelt down by my side. She seemed friendly and I thought perhaps she’d seen my presentation on Day One, and wanted to chat about it. Or maybe she was familiar with my BlogHer posts…

I realized with a sinking feeling, as she handed me her card and a book, that she was making a one-to-one sales pitch. I politely accepted her “gifts”, sensing she’d then move on to the next customer, and she did.

I read in the liveblogging of the session on sex how the representative of the company that supplied the condoms for the goodie bag participated in the discussion. From this, I gather we can rest assured that the constuction of their condoms is of the highest quality.

I will freely admit that it is Melinda’s post that spurred me to write this one last post on BlogHer. When she mentioned this event, it reminded of all the concerns that have been expressed the last few years about the growing ’selling’ of weblogging–that one day we would be sitting there, in pleasant expectation of a conversation, only to be given a sales pitch. When the lines start blurring, we don’t know what’s real anymore. That will kill this environment faster than any law like DOPA.

Melinda also mentioned about the married, heterosexual, mother focus of the event:

Lisa WilliamsAn audience member got up and contributed a comment during the closing discussion on Day Two. She said something like, “There are a lot of married women with children here…” I thought she was going to segue into making a point about how we’re not all heterosexual married mothers. But to my surprise her statement—and it was just a statement at that point—was interrupted with a big round of applause.

I’d like to point out, sans applause, that:

woman ≠ mother

woman ≠ heterosexual

I don’t do Melinda’s writing justice. I suggest that you read the rest of what she wrote. It took a lot of guts to write it, and I admire her greatly for doing so. I wish now that I still had Burningbird, so I could send her and the others I mention in this post more traffic. Barring this, I hope a heartfelt “Well done”, will do.

I won’t write on BlogHer again. No truly, this time I won’t. I would ask that the company remove the tagline “Where the Women are”, because it really isn’t all that true anymore. Is it? Still, if they don’t, such is life.

I also wish, and I mean it, much success for the organization. I have no illusions that I will change anyone’s viewpoint with this writing. Perhaps the emphasis on women’s purchasing power can, this time, be used as a weapon for social change. In this, I hope they succeed.

I’m going a different path, though. One that doesn’t measure success based on ads, links, and revenue. And I’m not going to look back.


An excellent somewhat alternative perspective of the conference, via a metaphor of shoes, by Maria of alembic. These boots are made for walking, indeed.

Kevin Marks also posted another thoughtful viewpoint of the event and some of the responses.

Less than impressed with Jory Des Jardin’s defense against accusations of ’selling out’, which was not a part of the criticism.


According to Phil in my comments, and this post the blogger who stood up may have said she was unmarried and didn’t have kids.

Regardless, this shouldn’t be an issue at an all inclusive women’s weblogging conference.

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