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in real life: thoughts on tbex 2011

Vancouver cityscape Vancouver from the waterfront

"It is so nice to meet you in real life," the words drifted across the Vancouver Convention Center conference floor, across multiple conversations, as if 500 people were tied into a singular loop of ten words.  Hugs abounded amongst physical strangers, people who have met each other only in words, photographs, and tweets.

Michael, Keith, and Lisa

Michael from Go See Write, Anita from Anita Go Travel, Keith from Traveling Savage, and Lisa from LL World Tour

But, I knew these people.  In the two years since we started this blog, it has grown into something we never expected: a community of passionate travelers and foodies.  I have virtually traveled with many other round-the-world travelers, just as y'all have traveled with us.  This weekend, I met many of these virtual friends at TBEX 2011, a conference for travel bloggers. 

Cailin and Matt

 Cailin from Travel Yourself and Matt from Landlopers

I met bloggers who started out at the same time as me, like Michael Hodson from Go See Write, and Stephanie from Twenty-Something Travel.  I met some of the bloggers I followed before I first started blogging, like Anil from FoxNomad and Shannon from A Little Adrift.  I met bloggers who inspire me like Marilyn Terrell from National Geographic's Intelligent Travel and Evelyn Hannon from Journeywoman.  I met so many fantastic bloggers that if I named them all, I would be sitting here for the next hour or more. 

Pulled pork taco

Pulled pork taco from Feastro truck

There's a lot of discussion about TBEX in the blogosphere today.  Many are upset with the disorganization, as evidenced by faulty A/V equipment, miscommunication, and overly generic sessions.  But, those are minor nitpicks. 

Ultimately, I think TBEX failed to produce the conference experience most of us hoped to receive because it lacked purpose and focus.

Shrimp taco

Shrimp and prosciutto taco from the fantastic Feastro truck

Most of the panel sessions did not have independent travel bloggers on them, which I found quite strange considering that the conference is geared toward independent travel bloggers.  In the monetization section, the panel insisted that there is no way to make money via advertising, though I know for a fact that Dave from Go Backpacking funds most of his travel through advertising on his site.  There was no discussion about e-books or newsletters, two large sources of revenue for many bloggers. 

Many sessions were watered down because it is impossible to discuss video, photography, writing, or SEO in just one hour.  A "crowd-sourced" whiteboard of ethics topics devolved into name-calling on a sheet of paper, until Robert Reid saved the discussion by calling us neither journalists or bloggers but rather jourblists, which term I shall certainly use in the future.

Gareth from Tourist 2 Townie

Gareth from Tourist 2 Townie

So, the question I am left with is what is the purpose of TBEX?  Is it just a way for us to meet people in real life, essentially a massive networking opportunity?  If so, then it succeeded on all fronts because I did meet many people, both bloggers and PR folks. 

But, if you expect it to be a place to learn, and more importantly, discuss the future of travel blogging, it doesn't deliver.  And, that's a darn sad situation.  We bloggers are in a brand new industry----the oldest travel blogs have only been around for five years---and we need to talk about issues that are rapidly changing the field. 

Michael from Go See Write

Michael from Go See Write (and, yeah, neither he nor Gareth can run for Congress after the pics taken this weekend)

If I had my way, I would suggest an overarching theme, beginning with the keynote speaker and reaching across all sessions.  To handle the "beginner" and "advanced" gripes, I would suggest a program along the lines of BlogHer, in which there are "Skills" sessions, focused on video, photography, writing, and SEO, and simultaneous "Trends" sessions, focused on exploring some of the problematic areas of advanced blogging, such as dealing with trickier monetization issues (sales of text links, etc.), videography (should you go to the trouble of incorporating video on a site from an audience perspective), and so on.  I would include less panels and more breakout sessions, in which slightly more experienced bloggers can lead discussions that could be shared via Twitter.  I would include more opportunities for us to understand how we can treat blogging as a business (even if it is only a part-time business).

Veggie taco

Veggie taco

The truth, as I realized over the weekend, is that blogging is not merely virtual life.  It is my real life, too.  It is the real life of the 500 people who hauled themselves out to Vancouver (and not just for the fabulous food trucks) and the many others trying to make a living---or, at least trying to make a hobby---out of this strange writing world.  And, if this is our real life, we need to treat it with purpose and focus.

06/15/2011 15:51
Thanks for all the constructive feedback. Great ideas on structuring programming for TBEX '12!
06/27/2011 12:49
Thanks Kim! I think that many of us have ideas that we are happy to share with the TBEX crew because we all want to make the conference better.
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06/15/2011 16:18
First off, Akila, it was an absolute pleasure to meet you this weekend. I had a blast hanging out and talking with you.

I think this was a great assessment of the weekend't events, and I love the ideas you put forth for improvement. Like I've said in other comments in reviews today, I thought the networking was the highlight of the weekend for me, and while I thought there were some definite low points (the "pitching" to PR folks was just brutal) and organizational issues, I think it would be impossible for someone in attendance to come out of TBEX having not learned anything new (unless they really didn't pay attention or put forth the effort).

I thought Evelyn's speech at the beginning on Saturday was spectacular. If you weren't inspired by that, you have no soul. Sean Keener's speech on Sunday was equally inspirational, entertaining, and full of great information. Robert Reid's panel presentation was excellent--full of great information and highly entertaining. And I thought Gary's address was also fantastic.

The smaller panels definitely left something to be desired, but even in the ones that weren't that great, I personally still got something out of them. The first post I wrote yesterday was filled with small tips and advice I got out of many of the sessions/speeches.

In my opinion, you get out of it what you put in. There's always going to be complaints, and I'm sure Kim and the rest of the team who put TBEX together will be the first to tell you that mistakes were made. Maybe since I didn't go last year and I am only about a year into this whole blogging thing, I would feel differently. I guess we'll see how I feel at this time next year. Hopefully they take some of this criticism to heart and make real, concerted efforts to change what needs to be changed.
06/27/2011 12:52
Adam, I very much enjoyed meeting you as well! I think that's a very good way to put it --- I thought Evelyn's and Robert Reid's speeches were the best --- but I also felt that it was important to put effort into TBEX. Meeting people and making connections is important but it's also important to have "unofficial" breakout sessions to learn what other people are talking about and doing with respect to blogging.
06/16/2011 00:33
Hi Akila, great to meet you on the weekend. I must say I go into the these events with low expectations anyway. My main purpose is for networking and seeing old friends, and in that regard the weekend was a success. Plus it put you on my radar so that has to be a good thing :)
06/27/2011 12:54
James, it was great to meet you, too! I probably should have gone in with lower expectations but I did love meeting everyone. It was a great way to meet old friends and make new ones.
06/16/2011 09:37
So great that you were able to connect with your e-friends! :)

I'm glad you were open and honest about your feelings re: TBEX. I had a feeling myself that there would be a lot of issues with it, thus I decided to skip it. I hope they work out the issues for the future TBEXs.
Andi of My Beautiful Adventures's recent blog post: My Wedding & Honeymoon: Day 3
06/27/2011 12:55
Me too! It was great to meet people, though, and I would definitely recommend it as a way to connect with lots of e-friends in one place.
06/16/2011 10:11
It was so wonderful to meet you over the weekend!

I agree that it lacked a theme, and it really needed to target independent bloggers better. I made lots of connections, but I didn't learn as much as I wanted to help improve my writing or marketing (I did learn how to take better photos). Workshops I think will be the key to TBEX's success in the future. Those are were you're able to have an a-ha moment and connect with people with similar concerns or interests.
ehalvey's recent blog post: TBEX 2011: Trying to Do Everything
06/27/2011 12:17
Erin, It was wonderful meeting you as well! I agree with you - some of the small groups and workshops (even informal ones) were the most useful because we all got a chance to discuss rather than just listening to the panel speaking. That being said, Robert Reid's speech was awesome and so useful.
06/16/2011 18:40
Thanks for sharing your candid views on the TBEX.. From the other reviews I read it seems just about everyone's in agreement about 1. Having a fantastic time meeting all the fellow bloggers and 2. Being disappointed about the TBEX conferences, meetings and organization.

Hope the TBEX crew will heed the views and improve for next year! And hopefully, I'll get to go! cheers, Lash
06/27/2011 12:16
Cheers Lash! I hope you get to go as well next year!
06/17/2011 07:27
For someone like me at the other end of the world, I often view these events with curiosity and wish I could be there. Thanks for your honest review. It gives me an idea of the workings of it. Not sure I'm missing out on a great deal though it would be great to connect with some people in person.
06/27/2011 12:13
I think connecting with people was the biggest benefit. It was great to talk to people who I knew (and some I didn't know) especially on various thoughts related to travel blogging.
06/17/2011 11:45
Not having been there I don't know if I should comment really. I still would love to attend one in the future if finances allow, but I think I'd be sure it wasn't a trip for TBEX alone, so it wouldn't be a wasted journey if it disappointed. Then again, the chance to meet people face to face with whom I've only had online communication is almost always irresistible for me. In the past these meetings have always turned out so well!

What I really wanted to say was that your photos have made me incredibly hungry :=)
islandmomma's recent blog post: Signs Its Summer
06/27/2011 12:02
Thanks islandmomma! The food was quite sensational in Vancouver. I would definitely attend it was being held near me but if I have to cross borders or pay a lot for a flight, I might not, because we have been able to meet people elsewhere in the world.
06/17/2011 14:16
I've been seeing posts about TBEX around the blogosphere as well, and it certainly doesn't seem that you're alone in your assessment. Which is a pity, because the concept of TBEX has so much potential. At least you got to meet so many rad people, though! We're slightly (ok, madly) jealous. :)
Christy @ Technosyncratic's recent blog post: We’re heading to London!
06/27/2011 11:55
It was definitely awesome getting to meet so many people and, I think, for that reason alone, I'll try and head to another one. But, I wish we had learned more!
06/27/2011 11:55
It was definitely awesome getting to meet so many people and, I think, for that reason alone, I'll try and head to another one. But, I wish we had learned more!
06/17/2011 16:41
First of it was so nice to see you again!!

I agreed with you that I am fairly disappointed in the sessions offered but there are several sessions that I did find it useful for me.

I already provided my feedback on the survey which echo many things in your suggestion.

Hopefully, we will have a chance to meetup again. :)
06/27/2011 11:51
Amy, it was wonderful to meet you again! I hope that the TBEX crew takes a hard look at the surveys and works to incorporate more indie travel bloggers in their programming committee because I think they need fresh voices and faces to get this thing going better.
06/17/2011 18:45
Hey Akila- Like you said, great to finally meet you in person!

I echo many of the reviews around. This year, I enjoyed meeting people more than ever. Perhaps I was prepared for the onslaught of people from last year which made it easier for me somehow (since I am not a fan of HUGE groups). But the Convention center was big and airy and really allowed for nice chatting outside the rooms. I liked that more than last year which felt cramped with no where to really hang and chat.

I echoed your sentiments several times that weekend, saying it's gotten large enough to need different tracks to be able to speak to newbies and those of us in it for several years now.

I am happy (and proud!) to say I rec'd a lot of great feedback from our video panel in which i do feel like we really did cram in a lot of actual, usable advice. Since I taught TV production for 6 years, I really treated it as a crash course with lots of story, shooting, writing, and editing tips to help people think more when they shoot, etc.

I do think some new blood needs to be brought in for keynotes...not just the same people every year now. Perhaps some entrepreneur types and not just 'travel bloggers.'

See you soon!
Lisa | LLworldtour's recent blog post: Do You Do Video? LLmedia Video Consulting is here!
06/27/2011 11:45
Lisa, it was wonderful meeting you, as well! And, I think having the different tracks would help things along quite a bit because the presenters could also delve into the more advanced subjects that they'd like to discuss. [And, I'm all for some new keynote speakers. I think shaking up the conference every year is a good thing.]
06/18/2011 08:37
It's such a bummer that I couldn't make it to TBEX but out of your post I can read that it was a lot of fun. I hope I can make it to the next one!
Sebastian's recent blog post: The unknown country within Australia
06/27/2011 11:38
Sebastian, it was a LOT of fun! I think the Colorado one looks like it's going to be even bigger and better.
06/19/2011 23:59
I prefer meeting up with all my favorite bloggers--e.g. you and Patrick, for example!--in random places on the road. Seems fitting given that we're all travel bloggers, and then I'm not forced to compete for your attention and affections with 500 other people ;-)
06/27/2011 11:22
Kristin, that's very true! It's nice meeting up with people one on one but I did like meeting a bunch of new people at TBEX who I hadn't found online before.
06/21/2011 03:03
If it wasn't for TBEX, we wouldn't have met and I'm glad we did! That said, as Kristin says, I find it easier to meet on the road and have the one on one conversations. But for me, conferences like TBEX are a way to get those relationships forming. Thanks for the honest feedback.
Natalie T.'s recent blog post: Vancouver Foodie Wrap Up
06/27/2011 11:20
Natalie, It was wonderful to meet you as well at TBEX! You're right - the conferences help start up a conversation but I, too, have found meeting people on the road to be more meaningful because we've gotten to spend more one-on-one time there.
06/21/2011 09:07
I wasn't able to make TBEX this year (I attended in NYC) but it sounds like some of the wrinkles I saw then haven't been ironed out yet. That's a shame. It would've been great to network and socialize with a bigger group though.
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06/27/2011 11:18
The group was HUGE this year! Tons of people showed up and it was very nice to connect with such a large group.
06/27/2011 06:18
Nice to see that Kim is leaving nicer comments than on my first critical blog on TBex, way to grow! I didn't attend this year because I didn't find last year very useful either. I just think that conferences need to teach us something. Everyone goes on and on about the meetups that happen, but there should be more to it than just meeting up with your favourite bloggers. We can meet up with people around the world and have amazing discussions and inspiring conversations. When we go to a conference, there should be something more to the panels and presentations.
06/27/2011 11:16
Absolutely! I think TBEX has the real opportunity to help teach us to be better bloggers and help us tackle some of the difficult issues out there - so it only helps to keep giving out constructive criticism.
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