On the long plane ride from Seattle into New York for TBEX, I grabbed a book that I had been meaning to read for years: Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky.
Turns out I couldn’t have made a better choice. The Travel Blog Exchange conference, now in its second year, personifies Shirky’s theory that social media has empowered like-minded people to interact and organize as never before. And when they do, they can bust up the existing paradigm, quickly.
I admit, I’m not always crazy about this trend. After all, the rise of the enthusiast has directly affected my ability to earn a living as a professional writer. The preponderance of travel blogs has forced down the wages earned by freelance writers and flooded an already saturated market. Why pay when you can get the milk for free? (or in the case of the Demand Media, $15 an article).
And yet, the traveler in me is thrilled. Never before has so much destination information been available for someone planning a trip. I read blog posts and become inspired by their photos and adventures. I scan TripAdvisor, Fodors and Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree planet for boots-on-the-ground practical information. I can even talk to super-experts, such as Pauline Frommer and Wendy Perrin on Twitter. Ordinary people have extraordinary resources at their disposal.
For those people who worry about the quality of the travel writing out there, well, you haven’t been looking in the right places. The blog posts that were read at the TBEX community keynotes were as well-written and meaningful as anything I’ve read in glossy travel magazines lately. The quest for robust story-telling, across all mediums, dominated the conversation; bloggers are eager to up their game and push the envelope. I came away thinking that editors are missing out if they aren’t mining some of these blogs for talent.
Shirky says that once social network-based communities grow, they change the way that larger companies do business. That’s becoming true in the travel world, and you could see the evidence all over TBEX. Companies such as American Express stepped up as sponsors, destinations such as British Columbia were out in force, the savviest public relations professionals were attendees. Already I’m finding that TBEX rivals the mainstream Society for American Travel Writers in professional development (I’m an SATW member, and there were a few other members at TBEX). It will be interesting to see how those two groups continue to stack up in relevancy.
Overall, my biggest TBEX takeaway is that the travel blogging community keeps becoming stronger and more professional. The writers and photographers that I met this weekend aren’t afraid to reveal their opinions and develop their voice. And that’s great news for readers and travelers. Here comes everybody? To me, that means there’s ways that every body can benefit.
I can’t wait to read what everyone else learned at TBEX. Feel free to link your piece to mine, and I’ll try to do the same. Or just tell me below. And let’s get ready for TBEX ’11 in Vancouver!