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.

Another Northern Voice in the books

nv08over

I don’t think this was my favorite edition of Northern Voice, but it wasn’t bad either. I’ll elaborate on that when I do a wrap-up post in a few days, but a few things have already been captured on the Post-Mortem wiki page.

I think Northern Voice is still a great event for people interesting in blogging and social media, and I admit I enjoyed it. If you’ve never experienced the conference, consider attending next year (yes it sounds like the organizers are definitely planning to hold NV again in 2009).

See you in twelve months!

What's new around here?

mlogo I’m so happy that I’ve made the switch to WordPress! It’s a great platform with a great community. One of the best things about WordPress is the gigantic list of available plugins. If I wanted to add a feature to my blog in Community Server, it was always incredibly difficult to do. With WordPress however, the feature has likely already been written by someone else!

I thought I’d take a moment to share with you some of these features.

  1. Comments rock! One of the biggest complaints my readers had about the old blog was that it never remembered their details on the comment form. I hated that too. That’s no longer an issue with WordPress. But wait, it gets better! I installed the Subscribe to Comments plugin, which means you can check a box when you leave a comment and you’ll get email notifications of all follow-up comments!
  2. Twitter! I displayed my Twitter status on my old blog, but I wrote the code to do it myself. I probably re-wrote it half a dozen times too. Anyway, I installed the Twitter Widget, and it rocks. Nice and simple to use. And best of all, when Twitter goes down, I can just deactivate the plugin – no code changes required!
  3. Collapsible Archives! I’ve been blogging since November 2003, which makes for an incredibly long list of monthly archives. With the old design I had everything contracted by default, but I didn’t really like that. Now I have the Flexo Archives Widget, which shows just the years. Click on a year, and it expands to show the months. Very cool!
  4. Tag Cloud! I’m a big fan of tag clouds, and I’m really happy that WordPress 2.3 includes this functionality right outta the box.
  5. AddThis! On every post is a button that lets you save the link to your favorite service. On the sidebar is a button that enables you to subscribe at your favorite service. This kind of functionality should be included on all blogs I think! I’m using plugins from AddThis.

And some non-WordPress things:

  • A wider page layout! I also made the font size a bit bigger.
  • I am quite happy with the way my icon bar turned out! Click on the icons to access my profiles around the web.

If you’re reading this in an aggregator of some kind, I apologize for the multiple items you likely saw in my feed! Should only be a one-time thing. The feed address shouldn’t need to change, however.

Thanks for reading! If you have any feedback, please let me know!

Community Server to WordPress: Part 3

wordpressMy blog is now running on WordPress! It was quite a bit of work, but the migration from Community Server is now complete. Here is what I wrote last July when I decided I wanted to switch to WordPress. You can also read part 1 and part 2 of the migration process.

Here’s what I did since part 2:

  • Removed some spam comments and invalid data from the CS database.
  • Finished up customizing the theme.
  • Spent far too much time trying to get email notifications working. I’m definitely not a PHP expert, but the way mail is implemented just seems bizarre. I eventually got it working, and decided to use the wpPHPMailer plugin for WordPress.
  • Installed some more plugins that I wanted to use, such as the wonderful Subscribe to Comments.
  • Made some additional adjustments to the code.
  • Upgraded PHP to the latest version.

I also setup a second WordPress installation and changed my website over to that.

After I ran the migration tool I had written, I did some more testing, and discovered a big problem with the redirections! In the C# code I had simply written “datePosted.Month.ToString()” and “datePosted.Day.ToString()” to build the URLs. The problem is that if the month was January, that would return a “1”. Community Server likes to have “01” however! Long story short – I just had to add some regex code to the list of redirections to make it work.

As far as I can tell, it’s all working wonderfully! I’ll be doing more testing over the weekend, and please if you notice anything wonky, let me know.

Next up: my Dad’s blog and the Blogosphere.ca blogs.

Community Server to WordPress: Part 2

WordPress Okay, time for another update on the blog migration. I stopped keeping track of hours, but I would guess I’ve spent about 9 hours or so on it thus far. Part of that time is for the theme though, and I tend to take quite a while working on those.

Here’s what I’ve accomplished since part 1:

  • Discovered that extracting the tags from existing posts was harder than I first thought! That’s because I’ve used three or four different styles for including tags over the years, so I had to update the code to take that into account.
  • Same problem affected the “Read” link at the bottom of a post.
  • Ran into a bunch of crap data problems in Community Server, mainly around trackbacks and and spam comments. For some reason they were appearing to me as posts. I solved the problem by deleting them in the source where appropriate, and accounting for them in the code otherwise.
  • Another crap data issue – one post had four entries!
  • Implemented and tested the redirection code necessary so that existing links will continue to work. I think this part is really interesting because I’ve basically got PHP and ASP.NET running in the same application.
  • Spent some time working on the theme, which you can see at the test blog. It looks more or less the same as this theme, but with some nice improvements.
  • Also spent some time looking into plugins and activated a few.

After some trial and error, I was finally able to import all the content from Community Server to WordPress successfully. Yay!

I didn’t start tagging posts until early 2005, so there’s around 400 or so that aren’t tagged, but even still I think the tag cloud on the test blog is really interesting. Looks like I blog about Microsoft quite a bit! Maybe even more interesting is the fact that I’ve used 1843 different tags.

So I guess I’m about ready to make the switch. Just a few more “clean up” things I need to do (like delete more spam comments). I think I’m going to replace my website with another WordPress installation too, but that shouldn’t take long. The current site is really old, based on ugly code, and it’s mostly out-of-date because updating the pages is so difficult. I think WP will work nicely (plus I can use the same theme).

I’d say the migration is going much more smoothly than I anticipated!

Community Server to WordPress: Part 1

Post Image Back in July I mentioned that I wanted to switch to WordPress. Obviously I haven’t completed that yet, but I have started on it! So far I’ve spent about three and a half hours on the project, and it’s going well. You can see my test blog here.

It’s a difficult migration, for a number of reasons. Firstly, I am on Community Server 1.1 which has been pretty much abandoned. I have no desire to upgrade to a newer version – I’m trying to get rid of CS, after all. Secondly, I want to take advantage of the built-in tags that WordPress 2.3 has, among other things. In my current blog, the tags are actually part of the post content. Thirdly, I don’t want any links to break! So there’s a number of things to worry about.

Here’s what I’ve done so far:

  • Installed a test instance of WordPress 2.3.2.
  • Created a solution in Visual Studio 2008 with three projects: a WordPress data access layer (DAL), a Community Server DAL, and a command line app.
  • Configured SubSonic to automatically generate the two DALs.
  • Wrote some static functions to: extract the tags from my existing posts, remove the footer and reformat the link I sometimes have there, generate a slug for WordPress posts (the words in the link), and build the existing and new URLs for a post.
  • Started implementing the command line app to read a post from CS, apply all of the necessary transformations with the static functions, and then add it to WordPress.

For the most part it’s working well! I’m still tweaking the code a bit to deal with oddball posts, but it’s more or less ready to go. You can see on the test blog that I’ve started testing the code. I think the actual migration will take quite a while, considering I have almost 2000 posts and 5000 comments.

After the migration, I still need to work on a theme, and I need to ensure all the links are redirecting correctly. So there’s quite a bit of work to do, but I think the hardest stuff is out of the way. My goal is to have it all rockin and rollin by Northern Voice.

Microsoft's Internet TV strategy

You’ll recall that last week the first post in a two part series I wrote for last100 on Microsoft’s Internet TV strategy was posted. I’d say the post did very well, receiving over 20 comments from readers and 300 diggs. Today, part two is up:

The product to keep an eye on is definitely Mediaroom (and Mediaroom on the Xbox 360). There’s a reason Microsoft chose Mediaroom as the brand instead of simply Microsoft TV: they are looking to the future of entertainment, where TV is just one piece of the puzzle.

You can read the entire post at last100, and you can digg it here. As always, let me know what you think!

Read: last100

Microsoft on your telly

Post ImageI was fortunate enough to land a guest posting gig over at last100, a blog dedicated to tracking the digital lifestyle. My two part series is about “Microsoft on your telly” and my articles take a look at where Microsoft is and has been in the television market, and where they are going. You can read the first post here. Please let me know what you think!

If you’ve never heard of last100, check it out. From the About page:

The name last100 refers to what industry insiders call the “last 100 feet” problem, which is the gap between the typical home’s computer and its living-room TV set. Whilst the digital living room is a primary focus, we’ll also be covering other areas of the digital lifestyle (VoIP, portable media, mobile web etc).

I love the name!

Looks like my first post has received a bunch of attention on Digg too, so feel free to digg it (up to 95 diggs right now). All I can say is I am glad the Digg mob is focusing their attention on Microsoft rather than on me!

Read: last100

Switching to WordPress…Eventually!

Post ImageI’ve decided that I am going to switch my blog to WordPress. I am running Community Server 1.1 at the moment, and while it works well enough I know I’d be happier with WordPress. When I have time and have solved the issues with doing such a switch, I’ll make the move.

There’s a very large, very vibrant, and very active community surrounding WordPress. For example, it’s rare to find a blogging tool that supports Community Server – all of them support WordPress. Ditto for widgets and other third party services. Most of all though? WordPress just works the way I want it to.

I’ve used .Text and Community Server for this blog (and DasBlog waaaay back in the day). Blogosphere.ca is still running .Text if you can believe it. My Dad’s blog and the SportsGuru blog we co-author run on MovableType. I’ve played with Blogger, LiveJournal, Windows Live Spaces, and other hosted engines. I’ve seen WordPress used over the last couple years, and was particularly interested when Scoble switched. I started using WordPress quite extensively a couple weeks ago when I started WindowsMediaBlog.com. It became clear to me very quickly that WordPress is the way to go. Easy to setup and configure, easy to manage.

These are the goals I have for the switch:

  1. All posts, comments, trackbacks, etc. migrated to WordPress.
  2. All existing URLs will continue to work. The switch shouldn’t break anything.
  3. Existing content will be “cleaned up” a bit (tags stripped and stored in the database using a widget, for example).

I’ve looked around a little, and have come to the conclusion that the only way to achieve these goals is to write some code. WordPress cannot import from Community Server, and an RSS feed isn’t flexible enough to include comments and trackbacks. BlogML is promising, and it might help to an extent, but only with #1. If anyone has suggestions, I’d love to hear from you!

My blog will likely be the last that I’ll switch to WordPress, actually. EclecticBlogs, SportsGuru, and the Blogosphere.ca blogs will all be migrated first, in varying degrees (Blogosphere will likely be a fresh start using WordPress MU and a static archive of what currently exists). By the time I get to my blog, I should be an expert!

Thoughts? Suggestions? I’m all ears! I’ll share my migration experiences here as I go.

Analyzing my posting habits

I have been blogging for about three and half years now, and lately I’ve been wondering about my posting habits. Do I tend to post at a certain time of day? How about a certain day of the week? I certainly don’t try to – I just post when I have something to share.

I ran the numbers tonight, and here’s what I found (click on a graph to enlarge). The percentage on the Y-axis means “percentage of my posts”. For days of the week:

Looks like my post frequency drops off on the weekend, but not as much as I thought it might. For hours of the day:

Looks like I am definitely a late-afternoon/evening blogger! This is quite a bit different than the blogosphere as a whole.

When I do these numbers again, I’ll have to figure out how many posts are made on days where I post more than once. I’d also like to find out what the average number of words/characters per post is, but that calculation is a little more involved.

Kind of a neat exercise, I have to say. It’ll be interesting to see how these statistics change in another three and a half years!