To her fans, Dooce is wild

Not content with her official South by Southwest keynote, the famous blogger suggested a casual meet-up with fans. They came in droves.

Daniel Terdiman Former Senior Writer / News
Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.
Daniel Terdiman
5 min read
AUSTIN, Texas--There probably aren't many bloggers that dozens of people would wait an hour and a half to talk to for just three short minutes. But Heather Armstrong proved Monday that she's one of them.

Armstrong, also known as the popular blogger Dooce (rhymes with "juice"), is in town for the South by Southwest conference here, where she gave a keynote address Sunday.

Regularly scheduled speeches aside, when she found herself deluged with e-mails from fans asking to get together, she decided the only possible way to handle the requests was to have everyone gather at a cafe not far from the convention center.

Fittingly, she announced the idea on her blog, Dooce.com, last Tuesday, unsure of what the response would be.

On noon Monday, as she'd suggested, her fans began to show up. At first there were just four or five, and it looked as though the meet-up might be a bust.

But this was Dooce, and before long, a line had formed and was snaking out the door of the Halcyon Cafe.

Armstrong--who in 2002 became possibly the first person to be fired for blogging--is one of the most popular bloggers around.

She was fired, she writes, for blogging about co-workers.

Now, after her firing led to a slang term for being canned for blogging--"Dooced"--she offers these words of wisdom: "My advice to you is BE YE NOT SO STUPID. Never write about work on the Internet unless your boss knows and sanctions the fact that YOU ARE WRITING ABOUT WORK ON THE INTERNET."

Dooce.com is now most often about Armstrong's daily life, and particularly about her family--her 20-month-old daughter Leta, and her husband Jon Armstrong. In a previous life, she was a Web designer in Los Angeles, but her popularity comes from her writing style and her reputation among readers as frank and straightforward, regardless of the topic.

"She seems so real and so honest about everything she's gone through, "said Melissa Lomas, a 25-year-old event coordinator who drove an hour-and-a-half from San Antonio to meet Armstrong. "I guess I just want to meet that person who's so honest."

That seemed to be the common sentiment among those who waited in line to talk to Dooce (the name, by the way, derives from her inability to spell "dude" correctly in IM chats with friends).

"She's real up front, and real honest, and has a great perspective, and doesn't pull any punches," said Anne Adams, a 58-year-old IT project manager from Decatur, Texas. "She's real bold--crucifies her family sometimes, and talks about the good and the bad."

Besides wanting to celebrate Armstrong's frankness, her fans came to see her because she's famous. And they weren't shy about saying so.

"I'll tell her I came from San Antonio and that I've been reading her for a long time," said Lomas, as she waited in line to meet Armstrong. "I get kind of nervous because she's an Internet rock star."

Despite that notoriety, and the fact that she's tall, thin, blonde and has model-like good looks, Armstrong lived up to her down-to-earth reputation.

Each person who talked to her got about three or four minutes, and in almost every case, the quick conversation broke into easy laughter and a kind of intimacy that few people who can draw lines of fans 90 minutes long could engender.

While it's true that the event did, in some ways, feel like a best-selling author's book-tour stop, it differed in several key ways, aside from the feeling of intimacy.

For one, Armstrong stood in the middle of a crowded cafe rather than sitting behind a table. There also was no publicist governing what she said. And befitting her role in the blogosphere, the entire event came about through a single entry on her blog instead of through complex coordination with a venue.

But also befitting something that was planned online, word of the meet-up spread quickly, even reaching the attention of the owner of the cafe.

"The owner of this place found out about the (meet-up) and sent me an e-mail," Armstrong said, adding that she'd been told, "'We heard you're coming, and we're so excited you're coming, and if there's anything we can do to help, let us know.'"

Meanwhile, since Armstrong's writing is strongly from a woman's perspective and talks at length about issues related to being a mother, most of those lining up to meet Armstrong were women. But there was no shortage of men in the line. And while some of those were there with their girlfriends or wives, some had come of their own volition.

"I started reading (Dooce) and found it very amusing, and a great way to break up the monotony of the workday," said Kyle Crouse, a 26-year-old South by Southwest attendee from Richmond, Va. "I think she has a great way of turning everything into a story. She turns it into a great narrative, and it's a great way to live through somebody else's life and get out of your own for awhile. And, she almost always has a happy ending."

For many, one of Armstrong's biggest attractions as a blogger is her hip, peppy and humorous writing style. She is quick with colorful anecdotes and swift with expressive language.

For example, in a March 10 post about her daughter's constipation, she wrote, "Lately we have been sprinkling magic fairy dust into Leta's food to help combat her constipation. It's called MiraLax and looks suspiciously like artificial sweetener. MiraLax has to be taken with food which is all sorts of frustrating since we told the doctor that Leta doesn't eat food. He nodded and said, 'Sprinkle this on the food she doesn't eat.' What then? Is she supposed to stand near it? Spread it on her body so that it soaks in like moisturizer?"

Some of the men who came to meet Armstrong did so on their female partners' behalves, and they asked her to pose for a photograph, or said they had just been asked to meet her and report back to their girlfriends. One couple, however, had a unique way of sharing the experience with each other.

As one man was talking to Armstrong, he pulled out a cell phone and asked her to talk to his wife. She did, though she said later she'd been taken slightly aback.

In the end, though, Armstrong said that getting to meet her fans this way had been great, and something she would like to do again. She said she'd been warned--because she often gets strange or threatening e-mails from anonymous readers--that she might be assaulted at a public meet-up.

Her husband, Jon Armstrong, a blogger in his own right, said he and his wife aren't sure why anyone would threaten her other than possibly because her writing style is so open that some may feel they can say whatever they feel back to her.

Fortunately, there were no such incidents.

Instead, she got to connect with her fans, even if just for a few short minutes. And to her, that was worth spending the time and energy.

"I had an individual conversation with each person," she said. "I talked to this woman who worked for IBM, and my father worked for IBM for 35 years...So each conversation was really fulfilling, and this couldn't have worked out better than it did."