Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Somewhat More Successful 2009 Jewish Bloggers Conference

The 2009 Jewish Bloggers Conference has ended. It was something of a mixture, with many signs of improvement, but the conference still has a ways to go to reach maturity.

It was good enough to give me hope for future iterations.

Location and Organization

The location and organization was excellent. Food was fine. Service was fine. Acoustics and timing were fine. Things even went, roughly, on schedule. Kol hakavod to the organizers.

There were a few snafus. The location of the event was announced in the initial email sent to those bloggers who were invited to attend, but then this information was not repeated. And the location was not listed on the web site!!! The organizer told me that this was done on purpose in order to prevent the uninvited from showing up, which I think is rather a strange thing to say. Many bloggers only found out where the event was by tweeting about it in the morning.

Also, for Track A, the first session was in room 102 and the second in room 103, while for Track B, the first session was in room 103 and the second in room 102. The room numbers were in teeny print, and thus I found myself suddenly in the wrong session when the second session began. I assume this devious room arrangement had something to do with the number of people who registered for each session (103 was bigger than 102), but the room change could have been made clearer. Such as signs on the doors listing the sessions that would be within and the Track numbers.

Vast numbers of people interrupted the beginning of both of these second sessions as they switched around.

One more thing: I had trouble seeing the video on the official site. In Firefox, it kept asking me to allow Flash to access more disk space, even after I had granted it unlimited disk space.

Topics and Targets

Unlike last year's conference, the topics for this year's conference were much improved, dealing with the thing that bloggers have in common - blogging - and not about what Nefesh b'Nefesh wished we would all have in common - hasbarah.

The first half of the convention was workshops. In the workshops, the first two tracks were about social media and monetization, while the third track was about "defending Israel", with the last session about being a better blogger.

The second half of the convention was only one track, and covered (allegedly) the topics: social media and community, social media and Jewish community, defending Israel (again), and social media and aliyah. More about these later.

I attended one session from each workshop track. From my understanding, all the sessions in the first two tracks were at an incredibly low level. But the audience, to my shock, was also at an incredibly low level, asking what a "trackback" was, what an "inbound link" was, and what Facebook was. So it appears that, while the workshops were uninteresting to me and a number of other bloggers, they were probably interesting to many.


David from Jewlicious talked about social networking. Jewlicious gets 8-10,000 visitors a day. They also use Twitter, Facebook, and sponsor a festival in NY.

According to David, the Internet was started by geeks, who gave lots of voluntary contributions for no money. Now there is a lot of money floating around. But those geeks who created the biggest sites (Google, Yahoo, ...) are the gatekeepers of the Internet. You can't be successful without them.

Geeks reward geek-like behavior: Google, etc will only link to you if you provide value to others "for free". Jewlicious leverages the social community for click-throughs and community-building activities. And they can raise money for donations, and make some money from banners and t-shirts.

David spoke well and was well prepared, within the time frame, and entertaining. It was very low level, but was news to many in the audience.


Ahuva Berger gave an introduction to Twitter.

Ahuva prepared and spoke well, and she gave a good low-level introduction.

However, she also added a lot of her own ideas as to the "right way" to use Twitter. If I didn't already know something about the subject, I would not have realized how subjective her ideas were.

True, she often said that SHE uses Twitter for such and such a reason, and SHE likes to see such and such. But then she implied, or said directly, that this was the right way to do it, and if you didn't do it this way, you should be using a different medium, like a blog.

Her way includes: not locking the feed, not posting only about your business, not being anonymous, engaging in a lot of @replies, not maintaining two accounts, not posting two posts containing a longer message, and a few others do's and don'ts. All of which are true if you're using Twitter for a certain social reason in a certain way. But not everyone has to use Twitter that way, and they don't.

(Come to think of it, when I gave my talk about corporate blogging at the Tech Writers evening, I might have done the same thing.)


David Bogner of Treppenwitz gave the highest level workshop presentation that I saw - not exactly high, but not entirely basic, either. He said that many of his ideas were inspired by the blogger MightyGirl, aka Maggie Mason, and her book Nobody Cares What You Had For Lunch.

It turns out that people actually are interested in your mundane experiences when you live in an exotic location (to them), e.g. such as Israel. Just practice the following:

Tempo: pace yourself. Don't burn out. But posting too little is also bad. No excuses for not blogging, though.

Length of posts: be yourself.

Save your writing often. Proofread.

Be more substantial than simply inspiring controversy. Be responsible to your readers.

Comments: Be responsive to commenters. Put up rules and delete or modify abusive comments when required. And encourage but moderate track-backs.

How personal should you get? Being personal gains you a real-world community of friends.

Stats: don't be a stat-crackhead, but do notice them.

All sound advice for beginners, if none too revelatory to experienced bloggers. David presented very well, was entertaining, and well-prepared.

From hereon, only a single track continued.


David Horovitz, editor of the Jerusalem Post

JPost gets a lot of traffic: 2.5M unique vistors/mo, and the online site makes the news day 24/7 the whole year, except Yom Kippur.

He welcomes suggestions from bloggers at

The Internet site, though huge, didn't detract from subscription or income from the printed edition. However, the huge online site doesn't add much to revenues, either.

David is of the opinion that news sites made a mistake releasing their content online for free, and is now looking for ways to lock up the content and charge money for it. In my opinion, this is a HUGE MISTAKE, not only huge, but so obviously a mistake that it's stunning that people as smart and clever as David still think it will work. I will explain more about why this is such a suicidal idea in a separate article.

David spoke very well and was well-prepared. As to his topic - how social media is influencing community - he only touched on that, by saying that news is now a 24 job and bloggers should um, I don't actually remember. Mostly, it was about the JPost.


A panel discussion. Topic was supposed to be about social media and the Jewish community.

Tova@JGooders: social networking sites make for better relationships, and NPOs should use them for fund-raising, better transparency, and getting info to people and spurring them to donate. NPOs who master the technology become sexier, which may distract from needier causes that don't do this.

David@Jewcy: Bloggers cover topics mainstream news doesn't/won't cover. Anonymous bloggers don't rise to the same level as named blogs, and they hide behind attacks.

And I zoned out for the rest.

Yonasan@JPost: The Haredi columnist. He doesn't know anything about the internet, blogging, or Facebook. But he thinks it all sounds neat.

And he said that the Haredi world is fearful of the blog world (loshon hora, etc.) but it is still in use for many kosher purposes.

And he used the word "Hegelian".

Orit@LA Jewish Journal: Social networking exists. People use it socially. For social purposes, like dating.

All of them spoke well enough, though I couldn't really follow what Yonasan was saying.

After all of this, there were questions from the audience, and things descended rapidly into disaster. Questions had even less to do with the topic than the speakers did. One guy began baiting liberal blogger David@Jewcy about his left-wing politics, and everyone was thoroughly bored, as far as I could tell. I left early.

This was the low point of the conference.


Benji Lovitt, a comedian who blogs at What War Zone was invited to do his thing.

He was "on" and often funny; I laughed out loud a few times. He spoke a little too rapidly and low at certain points, which wrecked a few of the punchlines for me.


Ron Dermer, Senior adviser to the PM spoke on Defending Israel. (Last year Bibi spoke.)

He started assuming that there is a generational gap for technology, but the audience proved him wrong (the majority were over 30). He admitted he was wrong.

He said: Govmt is looking for ways to use this tech. This tech is highly transformative.

Israel Govmt's have put too much emphasis on peace and not enough on rights. Our argument against their argument of "occupation" should not be "give 9X% of the land back". Also, the conflict has been taken out of context; namely that it is Israel (underdog) vs Arab nations, and not Palestinians (underdog) vs Israel.

Then he said something about the Palestinians dedicated to killing our innocents, while Israelis is dedicated to protecting our innocents. We each have engineers, but they are working on different projects.

We must use the right strategies, and our distribution of our ideas must be enhanced with social media.

So we should all use our blogs to ensure that "rights" are the subject of discussion, not occupation.

He promised to make sure bloggers gain press credentials, and that he will work on getting things going in the govmnt regarding social media.

He spoke very well.


The last panel, about aliyah and social media. Half or more of the people left before this panel began. I was falling asleep.

Clifton@Jobshuk: build your brand (via blog, social media) for employers to see. He spoke well, but later, in the questions, he appeared to not know that there were other Israeli job sites other than his. Which was annoying. So much for being a geek.

Zev Stub@Janglo: Janglo is a social network.

Rebecca@BigFelafel: Spoke about her blog, and why it's a good read for olim.

Assaf@OyPeople: Spoke about OyPeople, and why it will be a big social network for Jews.

Marc@NbN: Said that social networking is about relationships.

And that was that.


Better prepared speakers on appropriate topics (with exceptions), good physical organization, and separate tracks of interest, all contributed to making this a more successful conference.


The level of the conference talks must be raised, or additional higher-level tracks must be added. We need to get into Wordpress plug-ins, JS tools, out of the ordinary marketing techniques, and other more substantial discussions.

Panel speakers must stick to the topic, and have something of general interest to say, and not simply pimp their site.

Moderators must enforce that questions stick to the topic, and blowhards who turn every discussion into political or religious bashing should just stay home.



פקח השמורה said...

Hi Yehuda
Very intersting report i was there at the secound part of the day ( im with the Oypeople :)) i do hope that someone there is reading these reports.

All the best
Nisso Larden

Religion and State in Israel said...

Thanks Yehuda for your comprehensive review. I agree with most of your comments.

I'm a big believer that workshops need to based on 'level' and not topics. After @Ahoova mentioned that her talk on twitter was for beginners - i politely left and went to another workshop.

In addition, more Israelis (with good English) should be invited to present workshops and participate in panel discussions.

I hope NBN will look at how to attract a much wider audience for next year.

Joel Katz
Religion and State in Israel
Twitter @religion_state