Yesterday, Darren wrote about Northern Voice’s “popularity problem”. It’s a nice problem to have! This year’s conference sold out in just three days, leading Darren to speculate that individuals who aren’t “in the know” probably missed out on registering. I think he’s right. I also agree that part of the problem is that NV only happens once a year. I don’t think hosting Fall and Spring editions of the event is going to solve the problem though. The real issue is that NV has always tried to cater to two different audiences across an enormous country – techies and noobies from eastern and western Canada – and perhaps that just isn’t realistic anymore. If there are going to be multiple NV events in a year, I think they need to be distinguished by target audience and perhaps by location.
I wrote a post-mortem for last year’s event which was actually rather negative. I think the main thing that keeps me coming back despite the problems is that I fall into the techie audience, and NV is basically the one opportunity each year where techies from across the country (or at least the western part of it) can get together in person relatively easily and inexpensively to interact with one another (other events, such as Mesh, cost about $500 not including travel expenses). For me, that’s the real value of NV.
What would the two events I’m talking about look like? Perhaps Northern Voice for the noobies, and BarCampCanada for the techies. And recognizing that our country is massive, we probably need eastern and western versions of each of those events. An idea that was floated back when Northern Voice was getting started was that it could travel around the country from year-to-year, so we might have “Northern Voice: YVR” one year and “Northern Voice: YEG” another. Obviously that didn’t happen, because it’s just too difficult to manage. I think “Northern Voice: West” and “Northern Voice: East” would be sufficient. Same goes for BarCampCanada, which has had its date pushed back numerous times for precisely the same reason.
I don’t mean to suggest that we should completely segregate techies and noobies, because we’d lose out on the opportunity to learn from one another if we did that. All I’m suggesting is that Northern Voice could be targeted at noobies and BarCampCanada could be targeted at techies. That would help solve the problem of having everyone try to register for the same event immediately. Some techies would go for NV and some noobies would go for BarCampCanada, sure, but I think there would be less issues with this than with Spring and Fall events targeted at everyone.
In case you’re wondering why I’m calling it BarCampCanada, it’s because I’ve always thought that NV got it backwards when they applied the “unconference” style to the Friday meant for noobies (this year seems to be different thankfully). And since most major Canadian cities already have fairly well-established BarCamps (that tend to be more for the techies than for the noobies), why not get them to help organize larger east and west events?
Anyway, as I said, it’s a nice problem to have. Those are my armchair thoughts on the situation. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone at Northern Voice 2009 – both techies and noobies!