ConvergeSouth 2007: Who are bloggers and why do they blog?

convergesouthlogobanner.gifConvergeSouth is an annual blogger conference in Greensboro, NC, held October 19 and 20th 2007. From the website, it’s a “combination of a blogger-con and a creativity center”

My questions about why people blog and how blogging can shape someone’s world were answered in a keynote presentation entitled “Changing Your World with Blogs” by Elisa Camahort, founder of BlogHer. Even if you don’t have your own blog, you are part of blogging community, by reading blogs and commenting, so your world is changing because of blogs. This session gave specific examples of blogs changing the world and I took many notes, summarized below.

Session Description: “People are using social media technology to change their lives, their careers, their communities, and the world around them. Whether you want to make a difference in the world or simply in your pocketbook, there are inspiring stories about how blogging technology does indeed level the playing field!”

Changing the way people age The fastest growing demographic of new users to the internet is 50 and above. Blogging is changing the way we see aging. Millie, 82, writes my mom’s blog. Millie gets up and logs on, checks her comments, checks her news feeds, checks on her friends – she lives in a different space in her retirement compared to the stereotyped elderly person. Studies have shown that keeping mentally engaged and socially connected is correlated with maintaining good health, so Millie’s online presence is likely to be very positive. (The world’s oldest blogger just turned 108.)

Ronni Bennet writes “As time goes by”, recording her life story. The poignant image at the top of her blog is composed of pictures of herself throughout her life. She writes because “From the popular press – magazines and newspapers – to scholarly and medical journals, books, government and non-profit agencies there was just one message: aging is all and only about disease, decline and debility. Older friends (and I) were living proof this is not true and since no one else was writing about what it’s really like to get old, I decided to do it myself.”

These blogs are more than just personal diary keeping; they are changing the way people are aging, sharing their stories, communicating and staying connected, and changing people’s perception of what it means to be elderly.

Changing the way we survive Several blogs detail progress as people go through an illnesses, like cancer. These blogs are changing the way we deal with loss, illness, survival, and getting support. The blogs are a supplement to support groups, an always-on source of support for others as well as the writer. Sometimes, the blogger affecting change by becoming politically or socially active. Diabetes mine issued a design challenge “if an iPod can be beautiful, why not an insulin pump?” Postpartum progress works to get legislation passed and raise awareness about postpartum mood disorders. What starts out as a way to communicate becomes a way to affect change, both politically and socially.

Changing the way we make a living Some bloggers are becoming professional. For example, women who come to BlogHer create business cards for their blog. Businesses are born among these groups of women. An example of a successful blogger is Chloe Spencer, who writes The Ultimate Neopets Cheats Site and brings in about $1000 a month from the ads on her site. Elise Bauer writes Simply recipes which supports her (When she started, 4 years ago, there were not that many food bloggers, so hers was unique.). Others use blogs to transform their careers. The writer sharing her shopping obsession online in A girl must shop! was offered a position as a web designer.

Changing the way we participate Blogs allow additional voices into the political conversation. There is a political blogosphere, but other bloggers are also having their say, promoting activities like 10 questions (users submitting video questions for presidential candidates). Candidates for public office are paying attention to bloggers. Sometimes, the local political machinery is difficult to break into, but blogs can facilitate the process.

Changing the way we take action There were several wonderful examples of using blogs to direct action. After hurricane Katrina, Grace Davis set up a blog in conjunction with Victoria Powell to list what was needed at the shelters that Victoria visited. Donors then shipped exactly what is needed where it was needed. Many blogs write about means of taking action.

Fundrising There are many examples of blogs for charitable fundraising. Chez Pim (and other food bloggers) promotes a menu for hope”, basically a raffle of wonderful food-related prizes to raise money for UN World Food Programme, which provides hunger relief for needy people worldwide. (My favorite blogs are aggregated at Scienceblogs, and they are competing to raise money for DonorsChoose, a nonprofit organization that funds public school education via a unique model wherein educators submit proposals detailing the projects they’d like to accomplish and the funding and resources needed. Contributors then select projects for donations.)

Awareness Blog Action day encouraged bloggers on one day to write on one topic – the result was 23,327 blog posts as well as coverage by news organizations. There are many other examples.

The evolution of community Bloggers trust each other. The entire concept of ConvergeSouth is a community of bloggers. Each blogger could have told personal stories about meeting people that they would not otherwise because of their blogs. The speaker asked how many people arranged to meet someone through a blog and everyone in the room raised their hand.

— end of session description

So what? Is this useful for teaching? Selected blogs could be useful class assignments – to change perceptions of a disease or group of people and create social connections. The bloggers at the session clearly felt connected to each other; this type of social connection could transform a course by engaging the students.

Other descriptions of this session:

Amber Rhea liveblogged the session

Laurie writes about it

More information from the conference:

  • Technorati Results for ConvergeSouth2007
  • Schedule for Friday
  • Schedule for Saturday
  • Who was there?
  • ConvergeSouth 2007 Flickr Group

One of the best quotes of the conference: Social networks amplify serendipity.

Consider attending ConvergeSouth 2008 to meet friendly, articulate, thoughtful people and see into the future: October 17-18, 2008 in Greensboro, NC.

Andrea Novicki

Author: Andrea Novicki

Andrea helps faculty teach effectively and efficiently. She works primarily with scientists, using her biology background, love of science and teaching experience. Her current enthusiasms include active learning, group learning (especially team-based learning) and assessment.