A peek into programming a conference

BlogHer Original Post

Last year I wrote some posts about how we found speakers and how programming decisions for the conference got made, and there is definitely a group of BlogHers who like getting the "inside scoop." Now I've written a couple of posts over on my Worker Bees blog and my personal blog about my broader feelings about post-conference feedback, but I thought I would write here about conference content.

This year there has been some feedback that people felt that conference content was skewed in certain directions. Some people felt it was skewed toward MommyBlogging; some felt it was skewed toward those who want to commercialize their blogs. Some people who only attended Day One said they wondered where the "conversation and community" was, and some people who could only attend Day Two wondered where the technical content was.

So, it brings up a couple of issues that we will be contemplating for next year.

The first is: splitting the "technical" day from the "community" day.

Why we did it: we thought more people might only care about one day or the other, and we figured splitting the content and offering single day passes would let people customize their experience.

Perhaps that perspective was perfectly valid...the mistake was in projecting that fewer people would be interested in the technical day than the community day. That projection impacted our space planning, affected our capacity, and artificially kept many folks out of Day One who wanted to be there.

I've been quoted saying that blogging is the gateway drug of technology. This is something I learned from the very capacity problem described above. I learned that I was not an anomaly. I knew not a lick of code when I started blogging, but as I got more and more into blogging, I also got more and more into wanting to be a self-serve blogger...I wanted to make my blogs look better and function better, and I ended up learning html, and am still hoping to learn more.

So, is it splitting the content that is problematic, or is splitting it perfectly fine...but for goodness sake, let everyone have the same opportunity to geek out?

The second issue to contemplate is: to define or not define content "tracks".

Last year we actually started out with themed tracks and got pushback. Some of it was purely solvable confusion. No, you didn't have to go only to sessions within a particular track. but some of it was the basic individualism of the blogging mentality...don't tell me I only care about one track or another. Don't put me in a thematic box. I can build my own conference experience, thank you very much.

The truth is that this year, on Day Two particularly, we actually did have track themes in mind, but given last year's feedback, we didn't ever publish such themes. Maybe this year, given the sheer growth in number of attendees, naming the tracks would have helped set proper expectations...a piece of constructive feedback that Adrianna Montague-Gray, here in this video from JD Lasica gave us.

How so?

Well, here are the three tracks we actually had in mind with Day Two content:

-The Identity track
-The Blogs as Opportunity track
-The Outreach and Activism track

The Identity track was:
MommyBlogging is a Radical Act
Identity & Obligations
Next Level Naked

The Blogs as Opportunity track was:
Is the Next Martha Stewart a Blogger?
From Here to Autonomy
Is Your Blog a Gallery or a Canvas?

The Activism & Outreach track:
Outreach Blogging
Political Blogging
Community Assistance

So, would having such themes associated with sessions have helped attendees plan their day? It might have given the Martha Stewart session attendees more of an expectation that the use of blogs to further a business was a key part of the session...more than the brief 20 word description online. It might have given more of a clue that the point of the Politics panel wasn't to argue politics itself, but about how and whether to be a political activist. It might have helped the Gallery/Canvas attendees get a sense of one driving force behind this pretty broad topic.

Of course the Room of Your Own tracks were all over the place. The common theme could simply have named these track the "this is what I'm really passionate about" track.

Similar consideration was applied to Day One content.

For example: what if someone who really isn't that into technical instruction still bought a ticket to Day One..what would be there for them?

That's how we ended up with:

So You Have This Crazy Idea...
and 10 Types of Web Writing

Not strictly techie.

What if someone was into multimedia?

Audio
Video
Photography

What if someone was into the technology that supports making money?

Audience Building
$$$ Generation

And so on...we tried to put on different blogger hats and see if we could build a worthwhile day (on Day One and Two.)

The question is: would identify high level themes or tracks help attendees, or stifle them?

I think BlogHer Business in March will have to tackle that issue head on.

Not only will we have Newbies vs. Veterans, we will have small business or entrepreneurs vs. corporate or agency representatives. It'd be nice to envision a track that could appeal to all, but that seems somewhat unrealistic.

So, slicing and dicing the BlogHer Business content...how would you do it?

And slicing and dicing the BlogHer '07 content...is it time to define and schedule specific tracks?

And maybe include a track, Learning from Each Other, which could have sessions addressing head on some of the Us vs. Them themes we've seen in post-conference feedback.

Thoughts?

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