Sunday, 28 March 2010

Eat Drink Blog Conference - notes and reflections

Last year the idea of a food bloggers conference got wheels and an amazing amount of work went into making it happen last weekend. I was excited to get one of the golden tickets to attend and sorry it happened at a time when I am struggling to find time to read other blogs and on a weekend that I was particularly time-poor. There were some frustrations on the day but in general it was a pleasure. I am a compulsive note taker and consulted my scribbles to give a run down on the day.

Firstly, I find these big gatherings of people overwhelming. It didn’t help that I seemed to be last to arrive and first to leave due to having to schedule it around looking after Sylvia and organizing to go to Sydney the next day. It meant I couldn’t even stay for dinner. It didn’t help that I am not on twitter and couldn’t see the screen so I felt even more on the periphery when everyone was giggling at the screen listing the tweets. It didn’t help that there wasn’t a list of bloggers attending beforehand that I could read to compensate for my limited reading of local blogs (if I could have found time). Those grumbles aside, it did help to see some friendly familiar faces, to share good food and to be involved in some stimulating discussion of blogging.

Forty-five bloggers gathered at the Essential Ingredient at the Prahran Market in the upstairs cookery demonstration room upstairs. The walls were a warm red and covered with shelves of wine glasses, stockpots, stacks of plates etc. Just the sort of place to make a food blogger comfortable. Tammi was a fantastic MC, keeping us to time and facilitating everyone to join in the discussion.

How and Why we Blog

  • AOF described her blog as a ‘cooks journal’ and gave us her top ten tips for blogging.
  • Reem discussed blogging as a way of expressing herself and developing a community of interest.
  • Zoe took this idea further and described her blog as a way of marrying her loves of two crafts: writing and food. I loved her discussion of how food and blogging transform the solitary nature of writing into an interactive communal activity. She echoed my feelings too when she said that professional food media fails to provide what she wants to read.
  • An interesting discussion followed with some other interesting reasons to blog – to let your mum know what you are eating, to created your space which was compared to a man in his shed, as catharsis and to create a resource.
  • (Update - I notice a few bloggers have written posts on why we blog. I have written enough on this before so I wont write it again but I will direct you to my post of blogging reflections if you are interested.)

Practicalities of Photography
I am not much of a photographer and some of the technical language here was a bit above my head. I still don’t understand ISO though the discussion did make me dream of having an SLR camera. I did manage to visit the photography exhibition at St Ali which demonstrated the amazing talent with which some bloggers wield a camera. What I enjoyed on the day was hearing some of the quirky things people do.

  • Ellie entertained us with her stories of checking the light in every room in her house for food photography and making enough to have extra food over to photograph at the end of a meal (which she then ate for lunch the following day). She also gave excellent advice including finding inspiration by looking at how others plate their food.
  • Nola reinforced what an amateur photographer I am when she talked about her training as a photographer beginning with 4 weeks of photographing a tennis ball!
  • Matt’s discussion of his approach to photography was interesting but I was most comforted after seeing the high quality of his photos to hear that he coped with a messy kitchen by just keeping it out of focus. Now that is a reason for me to hone my photography skills!

Copyright, Ethics and Legalities
Claire discussed the new US Federal Trade Commission Guidelines on endorsements and how they might affect bloggers as well as some of the ethics of freebies. Disclosing a connection seems common sense but she pointed out some of the pitfalls. Ed discussed more legalistics with the sound advice to not be scared by intimidating lawyer’s letters. The issue of libelous comments was also discussed.

SEO and how to be social

  • Penny talked about social networking and the intersection between virtual and real worlds.
  • Michael gave some useful tips on thinking about how to get more traffic by understanding how Google searches work and using Google adwords to find out what readers are seeking.
  • Brian discussed the appeal of content sorted by locality rather than date. I found his ideas about what the future of blogging might bring fascinating but I am curious as to how content by places can be organized to ensure it is still up to date.

Making money through blogging
Jules gave an interesting talk about how she was using publications and affiliate links to support herself through blogging. I was amazed to hear that she was doing this without any advertising. It sounded like a wise decision when hearing Phil tell us that blogs are too small to interest large advertisers. I had to leave during his presentation (sorry) so am not sure if I missed any gems of wisdom.

Other issues that came up during the day:

  • Reviewing cafes and restaurants. What is fair? Should photos be posted that show the food in a poor light? Should this task be left to the ‘professional’ journos? I will add that I always feel that the term ‘review’ does not sit easily with me for the connotations it brings to mind. I would like to have another term - maybe a tasting journal (thanks AOF) that goes alongside my cooks journal.
  • Blogger vs Wordpress as blogging software. The group discussions seemed to suggest Wordpress was the way to go but in more individual discussions this was not necessarily everyone’s opinion
  • One of the benefits of blogging is learning new skills, whether they be related to writing, photography or technical issues.
  • One of the great things about blogging is the diversity in bloggers and blogs. Although some presenters naturally advocated for their approach, it was balanced by a diversity of opinions of the importance of photos, rankings and making a career out of blogging.

I dare to hope we might have another conference next year and I might attend again. Some suggestions for improvements are provide a morning tea, have some small break out sessions, provide alternative ways to enter competitions for those who aren’t on twitter, holding the photography exhibition at the conference venue, and circulating more information prior to the event including a list of attendees would be helpful. I also liked an idea I heard recently of a team building exercise where everyone cooked together and thought how great it would be to do this at a food bloggers conference and then sit down to share the food we made (all vegetarian in my vision of course!) However, I appreciate all the work that went into this by bloggers with day jobs and busy lives so these are suggestions rather than complaints. More of all the good things I have listed in this post would also be welcome.

Finally, this is a food blog so you probably want to know what I ate. A fridge full of drinks kept us hydrated all day. Lunch was sandwiches from St Ali (read about my visit to St Ali). They were delicious with amazingly good bread and roasted veg but I must protest at the lack of protein. It was also a shame that some missed out on sandwiches due to everyone assuming there was a bag each but we found out later that the two sandwiches per bag were meant for two people.

Best of all were the fantastic cakes after lunch. Dense fudgy chocolate cake, meltingly light buttery flaky apricot pastries and other fine fancies came in boxes that stayed temptingly close to me during the second half of the day. And it was all free thanks to the hard work of the organizers.

Many links to sponsors and posts on the conference from other bloggers can be found at the Eat.Drink.Blog website or you can read a mainstream commentary at The Age Newspaper.

12 comments:

  1. Agree it would have been great to get a list of bloggers in advance! It became embarrassingly obvious to me on the day that I read practically no omni blogs - I would have liked to been able to skim through the attendee's blogs in advance.

    Great round up! Zoe's presentation really resonated with me too.

    PS - I am going to tweet this blog post so the other attendees can see it...

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  2. Thanks Lisa - that would probably be useful to tweet this post - the conference just showed me how stubbornly luddite I am. I think that blogs with recipes are easy to follow but many local blogs have an eclectic style that requires a bit more investment in following them (ie more time than I have) I would like to start to follow a few more but am already struggling with my blog reader

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  3. Some very good feedback Johanna. I'm surprised we never got onto the whole is twitter killing blogging thing (tho that's probably so 2009 by now?). I found the twitter screen behind presenters distracting. A good way to encourage future presenters to have a powerpoint presentation to block it!

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  4. Great post, Johanna, and I think your suggestions for improvement are excellent, particularly the list of attendees (oh, and morning tea).

    I would LOVE a cook-in, I'm very jealous of the ones I've heard of amongst some of the Melbourne types, usually organised on twitter. I don't tweet from my phone, and had mixed feelings about the wall - it is seriously distracting, but there were some great jokes.

    It was great to meet you, and I've been really enjoying catching up with your blog.

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  5. Gosh, who knew there was so much to talk about??

    Sounds like an interesting day. Love the shed analogy. :)

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  6. Interesting to read your perspective Johanna. So many angles of blogging to talk about too. I am sure somethinglie this will happen in the U.K, it not already - but it'll down South, London way.

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  7. This is actually the summary/overview I've found most enjoyable to read, informative, and helpful about the conference. (And it's far better written than that sentence of mine.) Thank you for distilling the ideas so well, and for giving a balanced view.

    I hope there is another next year.. and that somehow, it might allow for a larger audience. I'd love to come along and glean knowledge from you blogging superstars! :)

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  8. Sounds like a great event, even if you had to miss the end. I'm going to go check out some of your links to the presentations and reviews. And the food does sound marvelous--but of course, one would expect that given it was a food bloggers' conference!

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  9. It's great that you have established a community of bloggers in Melbourne, as they have in Sydney. Nothing like this in Vegas.

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  10. Thanks AOF - I am sure there is a place for twitter but I have visions of a Twitter Lounge rather than it being a distraction during the presentations - though maybe that is for a bigger conference

    Thanks Zoe - really enjoyed your presentation and glad it is up on your site now to read at leisure - I haven't had cook-ins with bloggers but I have enjoyed bloggers potlucks where I find it exciting to actually taste some of the amazing food I see on blogs

    Thanks Wendy - it is amazing how much interesting stuff there is to say about blogs

    Thanks Mangocheeks - I think the UK food bloggers association is a great start and seems quite active from what I hear

    Thanks Hannah - glad to fill you in and would love to meet you at such a conference as I always love hearing your feedback

    Thanks Ricki - I think there is a lot of pressure to provide great food at a food bloggers get together - St Ali did do a good job - though it seems the dinner and cocktails had more of a wow factor than lunch and afternoon tea - but what I had was excellent quality

    Thanks Cakelaw - the conference was national but in reality it seemed mostly presenters who were from out of town - but I think/hope that future conferences will develop the national focus - but I agree that having a local community to connect with is great

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  11. Thanks for the recap Johanna! I was so upset to have missed it and it would have been so lovely to have met you too! :)

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  12. Thanks Lorraine - it is a shame not to meet you at this conference but another time maybe

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