Interview with co-founder Elisa Camahort, pre-BlogHer 2007

Elisa CamahortBefore departing to BlogHer 2007, I had the opportunity to interview Elisa Camahort, one of the co-founders of BlogHer. Not only did I want to learn about the original conception of BlogHer, but I thought it would be interesting to dig into the IT logistics behind the BlogHer conference.

Q: How was the idea of a BlogHer conference originally conceived?

A: Back in early 2005, all three BlogHer co-founders participating heavily in blogosphere, but from very different angles. Journalist Lisa Stone had become immersed in the political blogosphere by covering the DNC Convention for the L.A. Times. Media strategist and author Jory Des Jardins was merging the personal and professional every day in her popular, introspective blog, Pause, and I was at the vanguard of professional and business blogging, writing nine blogs for myself and for companies. At the same time, that question "Where are the women bloggers?" reared its ugly head. It was a corollary to other similar questions that were being asked, such as "Where are the women in Fortune 500 boardrooms?" "Where are the women on the OpEd pages of major newspapers?" and "Where are the women on conference speaking rosters?"

Lisa Stone and I met at the urging of a mutual friend, and we immediately bonded over our frustration with these questions. When it came to the blogosphere we all knew multitudes of amazing women bloggers, but it was sometimes frustratingly difficult to find them. Lisa threw out an idea she had been kicking around: What if we had a conference focused on women bloggers? The idea was that instead of talking about the fact that the contention that women weren't blogging about technology, politics, and other subjects, we would simply show up and answer the question "Where are the women bloggers" with a resounding "Right here!"

I had met Jory at a blogging conference, and we decided three heads were better than two and sucked her right in. The three of us blogged the idea to see what people thought, and the response was immediate, passionate and positive. So, we use our credit cards to make a deposit on a meeting space and just did it (apologies to Nike)!

Q: How has the BlogHer conference evolved over the past three years (since the first one was held in 2005)?

A: There's really two ways to answer that, and the first is to say that it has evolved by asking the community what they want and following their lead. Back in 2005, we called BlogHer "the conference the community built," and that's the philosophy we live by. So the "how" is by asking and by listening.

The second way to answer is to talk about what's different about the conference now vs. 2005. One obvious answer is that it's bigger in size. From one day to two days last year to three days this year. From 300 people to over 700 people.

Q: What is the BlogHer core audience? Do you have any idea how many tech folks are part of your audience?

A: Our core audience is people who blog. It's about that simple. And the definition of blogging seems to be evolving to include people who may not write a traditional blog, but rather participate in the social media world via social networking sites, micro-blogging, audio, video...and even active commenting. Our programming ranges from the deeply geeky to the purely personal to the professional to the political. Women are interested in lots of different things, and we don't ask them to segment their interests. We see this on all the time...members jump from commenting on a post about the latest Senate filibuster to a post about what to pack for BlogHer to a discussion of net neutrality (all posts from this last week on BlogHer.) We also see a small, but steady participation from male members and attendees. Most of our conference programming isn't gender-specific...we are all interested in the same issues!

Q: From a technology standpoint, what difficulties have you experienced the previous two years? What preparations have you made to overcome the same difficulties at this year's BlogHer conference?

A: I've never been to a conference with seamless Wi-Fi personally. But we're hoping to make it happen this year! I'm actually not an IT expert, but from what I've experienced, the difficulties often come in four flavors:

  1. Backhaul bandwidth
  2. Overloading router processors with initial networking requests, so you can't even get people on to use up the bandwidth!
  3. Too few WAPs for the space or population
  4. Running out of spectrum frequencies with too many people in one place (probably the hardest to overcome)

We think we've got a system architecture in place that will adequately address all three. We're contracting with the firm that runs Internet for the two largest convention spaces in Chicago, Navy Pier, and McCormick Place. They've handled networks for groups of thousands...including techies, so we feel pretty confident that they'll have a much better handle on the system requirements than our poor, overwhelmed hotel staff of one did last year.

Q: BlogHer claims to offer information for both novice and advanced bloggers. Is there a track at the conference that speaks specifically to women who are already established IT professionals? Can you talk a little bit about the more technical or IT-centric topics that are covered at BlogHer?

A: For our tech crowd, we've made a concerted effort to bring more advanced technical sessions to the conference. There is a 7-session technical track over both days of the conference. While we do have a couple of lab sessions with sub-sections geared specifically to help people start new blogs, we've mostly asked speakers to target an intermediate to advanced audience. Also, because I'm not a programmer, hacker, or true techie myself, I secured the assistance of two great geeks when building the track, Barb Dybwad from Weblogs Inc. and Nelly Yusupova from WebGrrls. I think they've helped us come up with tech content that's creative and rich.