Northern Voice 2008: My Post-Mortem Post

nv08 A week ago I was in Vancouver with Megan, getting ready for MooseCamp2008 which is the “unconference” part of Northern Voice. I’ve attended the conference ever since it began back in 2005, and I have enjoyed myself each time. I usually learn something new too (this year I learned that I am a WikiGnome). Attendance keeps going up, and the organizing committee is continuing to organize the conference, so it must be going well. It’s bigger and better each year!

Despite this, I find myself wondering why I should be attending Northern Voice. It just doesn’t feel like the “must attend” event that it was in 2005 and 2006. Yes, even last year felt a little different.

I don’t know why this is exactly, but here are some thoughts:

  • It’s less exciting. When NV started, blogging was still relatively new to most people. It was exciting. Lots of people were experimenting. Maybe it’s a bit tired now? Too many people doing it?
  • A related point: blogging is no longer enough. Just look at the website – NV is now a “blogging and social media” conference. Yet NV is still a two day event, which inevitably means that you can’t get as in-depth as in the past. There’s simply too much to cover.
  • It’s not downtown. The UBC campus is great, but it has a completely different feel. It’s further away from hotels and restaurants and people and general buzz. I think NV was better downtown.
  • The schedule sucks. Seriously, it has gone downhill in the last two years. Take a look at the schedules from 2005 and 2006, and compare that to 2007 and 2008. I don’t know about you, but I’d take the early two any day of the week. At least you can sort of make out what the sessions are about by reading the titles. This year the NV schedule had some really whacky session titles.
  • NV has become too Vancouver-specific. I love Vancouver, and I fully appreciate that it has been home to Northern Voice for four years now. I don’t think that justifies “Inhospitable Climate: Dating in Vancouver’s Techno-Mediated Scene” from this year’s schedule, however. MooseCamp is also getting fairly Vancouver-specific, with a couple Vancouver TransitCamp sessions in the last two years.
  • The website is stale. Aside from the fact that there are two websites (the main one and the wiki), I think simply changing the color scheme each year is bad. For long-time attendees like myself, it gives the impression that the organizers didn’t care enough to make it better. I know they’re all busy people and they truly do care about NV (and I do like all of them!), but that’s the impression it gives. Gnomedex gets a visual refresh each year, and I think that makes a difference.
  • It lacks polish. Kind of related to the website and schedule points. When it was just getting started, I loved that NV was a little rough around the edges. Four years in? I expect more. For instance, I expect the nametag to fit inside the nametag holder.
  • The wireless was spotty. Okay, this one is strictly related to this year, but lots of people were having connectivity problems all weekend. Too many live streams going maybe?

You should also have a look at the Post-Mortem page on the wiki for more comments.

All of that aside, there are still some awesome reasons to attend NV. There are some incredibly creative and smart people who do, like Duane Storey who created this amazing poster:

Northern Voice 2008

Some other positives:

  • Lunch is now included! This makes a huge difference, as I said last week.
  • Somehow, the organizers have managed to maintain a very diverse group of attendees. There are lots of women (somewhat unusual for a tech event), and people with varying levels of technical knowledge.
  • You will learn something new.
  • You will make new friends.
  • I like that I get to see some familiar faces in meatspace.
  • I also like meeting new people who I may have only communicated with online. There aren’t many opportunities for this.
  • It’s a personal conference. Unlike some other events, you’re not inundated with logos and slogans and pitches and buttons and stickers and such.

One other thing I wanted to mention is that James Sherrett should get the “top moose” award for 2008! Yeah I just made that award up, but seriously, he was everywhere. I have a feeling he put in more than his fair share of hours to make NV08 a success. His session entitled “Is advertising killing blogging?” was pretty good too.

So there you have it – my Northern Voice 2008 post-mortem post. Hopefully it doesn’t sound too negative! I look forward to seeing what NV09 is like.