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.