How about this for a start to a conference: have everyone line up in a pair of concentric circles and do a "speed dating" exercise to meet as many people as possible and find out why they are at BlogHer. I met over a dozen people. Interesting way to kick things off.
Actually, the best thing about the conference thus far has been the connections being made. I've met and re-met a bunch of people. Here is some link love: Leah, Jeanne, Marshall, Ari (what's your URL?), Wendy, Beth, Kori, Elise, Liz, Jocelyn, and more. And there are several people at the conference I want to meet, but we haven't found one another yet.
In the session on Life Stages of Online Communities, the topics ranged all over the life of communities. The discussion seemed to focus on the creation and maintenance end of things. They were just getting into "death throes" when the bell rang to end the session and head to lunch. I suspect this set of topics could span several discussion sessions. One comment really stood out for me: Being generous is the key to keeping a community alive.
The Building Your Blog Audience session, hosted by Elise Bauer and Vanessa Fox, covered some standard ground on building one's audience. Elise covered the basics with her three pillars of Content, Community and Technology. And since this was a session on technology, it stayed there. Vanessa covered aspects of making one's website search engine friendly: make it discoverable and crawlable, and then ensure the search engine can figure out that your content is relevant to a given search. One thing I learned: search engines pay attention to the "description" meta tag in the head section of a web page. This should be a description of the page, not a generic description of the website, for each page. Fortunately, I already create excerpts for each of my posts, so I can just add this to the template. I did this while sitting in the session. The code looks like this:
<meta name="description" content="description goes here" />
The final session I attended was on Mentoring and Coaching with a slant toward finding mentors to help one grow their blogging practice and business. The moderator, Colette Ellis, provided the primary distinction between coach and moderator as being the kind of relationship. A coach is paid and there are clear goals, while mentors typically volunteer and act more like guides over a longer period of time. The panelists covered a lot of interesting ground from how to get started to dealing with difficult situations. The one stand-out comment was that questions tend to be very educational both for the questioner and the "expert" (mentor). Questions force the expert to think about their topic and address it from the perspective of the asker, which often teaches the expert something new.