I'm vacationing with my parents this week, and one of our primary conversations has been How Big Everything's Gotten. My grandparents built our family's cottage the year I was born, and while our place hasn't changed much since LBJ was president, lots of money has moved in around us. We've always treated the area as the place to get away from it all, but more of our neighbors want to bring it all with them. And remnants of a simpler past are more difficult to find, much less preserve.
I feel the same way about BlogHer, which no longer qualifies as a conference. It's a force of nature, a massive bloggernaut that has grown 20-fold since it began in 2005. There are still great opportunities to see old friends and make new ones--as well as FINALLY meet people you've been interacting with online forever. But it's still a strange reality that, after it ends, you usually have to confront a long list of people you knew were there but didn't see.
It's also easy to witness all the expanded infrastructure, the two gymnasiums' worth of expo booths, the massive CheeseburgHer party that was once expelled from a two-room hotel suite, and be a little wistful for a simpler time, when people wrote blog posts without an eye toward maximum SEO saturation.
That's part of the business now, of course, and since it's helped many of us rely on the written word for a living (and speak to a crowd more than twice the size of Dad 2.0), you won't see me complain. Besides, if blogging can attract the likes of Martha and Katie and POTUS, you might actually see more decision-makers stop calling us "New Media."
If you went to BlogHer '12 and felt overcome by the typhoon, you're not alone. But as large as it was, two things helped me remember that we still haven't lost sight of what brought us here.
The first was all the conversation with my friends, many of whom are navigating some really deep shit right now. Mental and physical assaults that would fell most of us. They came to BlogHer for the same reason they came to blogging: they needed to find their tribe. Say what you will about the trolls and illiterates and imbeciles that traffic within it, the Internet has brokered support for a lot of us who've desperately needed it.
The second was the Community Keynote (re-branded as Voices of the Year), which reminded us all that beneath all the brand-building and accelerated commerce is a wealth of great writing about things that inspire us, hurt us, and/or challenge us to reevaluate or redouble our core values. It was just an experiment back in 2008, when Eden the Magnificent thought it up, and it's grown to be as identifiable an event as anything BlogHer offers.
(I got the same vibe about the inaugural Fashion Show, when women of varying sizes, colors, and infirmities got primped to the teeth and shook their asses down the runway with an infectiously brash joy. This thing, too, is gonna be huge.)
We're getting huge because the money has arrived. But we also come back to conferences like this because of how they fire us up, and help us figure shit out. Demand for that will never be in short supply.