BlogHer: My take on why the A-list matters
By Charlene Li
I came to network. I came to learn. And I came away inspired. Within the first few minutes of the start of BlogHer, I was moved to tears. As a woman (make that Asian-American woman) in the technology field, it’s rare that I have a chance to meet and connect with people like me -- I’m often one of a handful of women at technology conferences and frequently the only woman on a panel. So it was thrilling to see and then proceed to meet so many women who share the same passion that I have for blogging.
Hally Suitt and I had a good debate about the question of whether we should be “playing by the rules of the game, or to change the game”. Or in other words, should we care that so few women show up on “A-lists” like the i? For the record, I do think it’s important (you can also read Hally’s reasons for why we shouldn’t give a hoot – all very well thought out.) Here are my reasons on why it’s important to understand and to play by the rules:
- The A-Lists will always skew toward the Establishment. And when I say lists, it’s not just the Technorati 100 – it’s the list of sites that appear when you do a keyword search. The rules are basically the same – you’ll appear higher on the list if you have more links. And you’re more likely to have more links if you already appear on the top of those lists (for more information on this “power law distribution”, see Clay Shirky’s excellent essay on how it affects the blogospher). So to a great extent, you can’t change the rules – and if it’s important for you to be on the list (you’re trying to get ad dollars, spread influence, etc), then you’ll have to play by the rules.
- People pay attention to the lists. Take a look at the recent speaker list at AlwaysOn, a top technology conference just before BlogHer – Lisa Stone, one of the organizers of BlogHer, analyzed how many of them are women – as you can expect, there weren’t many. Now, granted, there are few women in technology to start, and the conference organizers shouldn’t be putting people on the speaker list just because they are women. But guess where speaker lists are drawn from – yup, you got it, the A-list of topic XYZ. Guess where journalists are turning for story ideas and quotes – the A-lists.
- The “Rules” are consistent with good blogging. What are the rules? 1) You have to network. This isn’t necessarily going out and asking for links – it’s understanding who is important in your space and developing relationships with them. 2) Be relevant; and 3) Be unique. Hey, maybe that’s why the top blogs in their spaces are the top blogs! I’m not advocating anything radical here, just stating the obvious that if it’s important to you as a blogger to be at the top of you’re A-list, then you have to write a good blog that people read and link to.
- If we don’t care, we can’t make a difference. There are many bloggers who say the lists don’t matter to them because they blog for themselves, their family and their friends. To them, I challenge them to look beyond the A-lists for the new voices that haven’t had a chance to gain traction yet. For me, this was the main reason why I so passionately believe in the mission of BlogHer – that here was a chance for use a different venue (creating our own women-only speaker conference) that hopefully will highlight these new voices and give those women an opportunity to rise in their own specific areas.
With that, let me highlight a few of those voices that I found so unique and inspiring last weekend:
Chris Halvoson – Chris writes four of the five blogs for Stonyfield Farm, some of the best issue-oriented corporate blogs out there. I got to eat two meals with Chris, and during one of them, we had an interesting discussion about our ages.
Koan Bremer – Another dinner companion, and speaker on the “identity blogger” panel, Koan writes a blog called “Multidimensional Me” which includes an audio show about her day-to-day experiences of living with gender dysphoria. What moved me the most about her comments is that Koan said that her blog had helped her learn so much more about herself. At the conclusion of the panel, she credited the blog for helping her proudly say (and wear a T-shirt that proclaimed) that she was proud to be transgender.
Marnie Webb – Marnie was one of the leaders of the “Advanced Tools” session, which came up with a bunch of cool new tools -- I was taking notes furiously! At the end, someone asked what the next big thing would be. I volunteered widgets – and the next thing I knew, Marnie and I were jabbering about something most of the audience had only the faintest idea of what we were talking about! I had found a soulmate! After the panel, we continued our discussion, and I found out that Marnie works CompuMentor which helps non-profits better use technology. Marnie had a great idea that non-profits could develop their own widgets to help spread information that supported their mission. One example: a desktop widget that monitors RSS feeds from Amber Alert.
Debi Jones – Debi led a session on moblogging, which is pretty straight forward if you’re using a camera phone and Flickr. But she raised an interesting idea around Moblogging 2.0, which is publishing blogs in a format so that it’s easy to read on a mobile phone. She suggested some new technologies, including Rabble, currently available on Verizon, and WINKsite, a service that make blogs readable on mobile devices. Why does this matter? Think about how many people in Europe and Asia where their main connection to the Internet is their phone.