Northern Voice 2009: My Post-Mortem Post

I’ve been meaning to write this for nearly a month now! Better late than never, I guess. For the fifth straight February in a row, I was in Vancouver for Northern Voice. While there are some similarities from year-to-year, each edition of Northern Voice is unique. Last year I was a little disappointed, but not enough to keep me away.

This year, I had a much better time.

I’m not sure why exactly, because some of my criticisms from last year are still relevant. The event still wasn’t downtown. The wireless was still spotty. But many of my criticisms were addressed. The website was completely revamped this year. The schedule was much more interesting and varied.

Most important of all, there were a lot of people new to blogging and social media in attendance this year. That surprised me, especially given that the conference sold out so quickly. I think that having so many new people brought some excitement back to the event!

Some other highlights for me:

  • Rob Cottingham’s keynote entitled Teh Funny. He was hilarious and completely entertaining, I loved it!
  • Like last year, lunch was included, and it was great! Very yummy.
  • Finally got to me Rob from Techvibes in person.
  • No surprise here, but Twitter was used heavily during the conference. It was great to be able to follow some of the other sessions I couldn’t get to.
  • Sun and grass. It was nice to get away from the snow for a weekend!

On Monday, the organizers sent out a post-conference survey. Due to the Olympics next year, Northern Voice isn’t going to be held in February. Combined with the desire to address the increasing demand for the event, I think it’s safe to say that NV 2010 is going to look quite a bit different than past years. That’ll be a good thing, in my opinion. It never hurts to change things up once in a while.

See you in 2010!

Northern Voice 2009: Passionately Local

Of all the sessions at Northern Voice 2009, I was perhaps most looking forward to the one presented by Briana Tomkinson of Tenth to the Fraser titled Passionately local: blogging about your own backyard. As someone who is definitely passionate about my hometown, I was really curious to learn about the experiences of others.

Tenth to the Fraser is a hyperlocal blog focused on New Westminster, a city in the Vancouver area. Briana talked about some of the motivations behind the site, some of the challenges, and some of the rewards.

Here are some notes I took from Briana’s slides:

  • The Greek Chorus of New West
    • Help the ‘audience’ follow the performance
    • Comment on themes
    • React to the drama
    • Provide insight
  • Passion for community
    • A desire to dig in to a place
    • An itch to uncover more
    • A calling to share the results
  • Everyone blogs from a place. The placeblogger blogs about a place.
  • Hyperlocal made interesting
    • Reveal the character of a place
    • Represent diverse perspectives
    • Keep focus narrow
    • Balanced mix of: aggregating local information, publishing original content, relationship-building
  • Finding your nice within the media ecosystem
    • Befriend the local media
    • Extend traditional news coverage
    • Reveal opinions and perspectives that are missed in mainstream coverage
    • Geek out: food, schools, politics, shopping
  • The Rewards
    • Pride of place
    • Local fame
    • Community
    • Knowledge
    • Giving back
  • Be the change you seek in your community

I really liked Briana’s talk, even though the end was a bit rushed as everyone started asking questions and she ran out of time! There were definitely moments when I thought “I know exactly what she means” and others when I thought “that wouldn’t work in Edmonton”.

With a population of nearly 60,000, New Westminster is about 13 times smaller than the City of Edmonton, and almost 20 times smaller than the Edmonton metro area. So while a single, focused blog in New Westminster probably would work very well, I don’t think it would fly in Edmonton. There’s just too much to write about for a single blog. I think, more than ever, that aggregation is the way to go for a city of Edmonton’s size.

There are some similarities, however. Tenth to the Fraser has started the #NewWest hashtag on Twitter, similar to our beloved #yeg. They seem to write a lot about politics, which is perhaps the most popular topic here too. And they have a relatively small, but rapidly growing online community.

I think there are lots of things that hyperlocal bloggers can learn from Tenth to the Fraser. Check it out, and let me know what you think. The first thing you’ll notice is that the site is free of any advertising. Briana and her team do it because they love their city, not because they’re in it for the money. We could use more blogs like Tenth to the Fraser!

Northern Voice 2009: Teh Funny

No, that’s not a typo! Rob Cottingham (@RobCottingham) was the second keynote speaker today, and he led us on “a lightning tour through both the intentionally and accidentally hilarious sides of social media.” I couldn’t really blog this keynote – it’s one of those things you needed to experience. I laughed a lot, as did everyone else in the room.

Rob CottinghamNorthern Voice 2009

Which are funny?

  • Podcasting – Really funny.
  • End-User License Agreements – Yes, funny!
  • Beta – Not funny. Maybe kinda funny.
  • Memes – No, not funny.
  • Blogging – Funny!
  • Business – Rob thinks it’s hilarious, the audience isn’t so sure.
  • LOLcats – Audience is 50/50, Rob says it’s a matter of taste.

Some of the non-funny things Rob said:

  • At the heart of social media is creative self-expression and the need to connect.
  • The first Northern Voice was a techier crowd than it is today.
  • Teh funny is a big part of the way we connect on the social web. Shared laughter is something primal.
  • If you’re already doing teh funny, please, keep it up!

Two other interesting things about Rob’s keynote – first he attempted to become the first comic in history to heckle himself. He setup some scheduled tweets using HootSuite, very funny. Second, Nancy White drew an “illustrative interpretation” of Rob’s talk on the board behind him. It actually turned out quite well!

Fantastic keynote. I hope someone has some video to share!

Northern Voice 2009: On Buried Hatchets and Better Tomorrows

The first keynote of the conference was from Nora Young (@nora3000), a well-known Canadian broadcaster and podcaster. She is perhaps best known as the host and creator of Spark. I thought it was really interesting that she didn’t use any slides. Instead, she just stood at the front of the room and spoke, occasionally playing an audio clip.

Nora Young

Here are some notes I took during the first part of her talk:

  • Consider the telephone. When it first arrived, people didn’t know what to do with it! There’s always a learning curve with new communications technologies. Apparently people debated whether to say “ahoy” or “hello” when the phone was brand new.
  • Nora says we’re at the beginning with social media, and it’s up to us to shape the conversation about whether we use “ahoy” or “hello”.
  • Challenges for mainstream media: being transparent and not being the sole authority.

Looking ahead to the new “ecology of information”:

  • Mobile devices are important. More and more people are continually connected using their phones, and most people in Asia access the Internet via a mobile device.
  • If the web of 1990s was about globalism and anonymity, the web of today is about creating a layer in between online and offline.
  • The web doesn’t have to be global – it can be local, or even hyperlocal. Crime maps are a good example today.


  • A huge caveat is that many people lack fast, reliable access to the Internet. Another is the digital information divide around the world.
  • The new ecology of information implies that we’re just starting to see a big shift in the economy and in culture.
  • If the information you’re getting is based on the people you know (as is often the case in social media), what does that mean? What kind of an impact does that have?
  • If public broadcasting had never existed, how in 2009 would you make the case for it? Nora says it would be based upon social media.

So what’ll it be everyone? Ahoy or hello?

Northern Voice 2009: Borrowed Content

I did a presentation today at Northern Voice in the “bootcamp” stream called Borrowed Content: What’s OK, What’s Not. The session was intended to cover the basics of copyright, fair use, and Creative Commons for bloggers. I didn’t really know how advanced the audience would be, so I decided to keep things simple. I didn’t talk about Bill C-61 at all, instead pointing people to Michael Geist’s blog. I tried to cover the very basics, and had two key takeaways:

  1. When in doubt, just ask!
  2. Remember the Golden Rule

Basically, if you don’t know whether or not you have permission to use a piece of content, ask the person or organization who owns the rights to it. Chances are pretty good that they’ll say yes. The golden rule is of course to treat others the way you’d want to be treated – give attribution, link where possible, and say thank you.

Here are the resources I mentioned during the talk:

Thanks to everyone who came to the talk and to the folks to contributed with questions/comments/suggestions!

Download the slides for this session

Northern Voice speakers are primarily from Vancouver and use Twitter

logo by basco5 If you visit the Twitter page for Northern Voice, the one line bio says “Canada’s social media and blogging conference” (isn’t the blogging bit redundant?). The website isn’t quite as direct, but the impression you’re left with is the same: it’s a Canada-wide event. A few days ago they announced the schedule for Saturday, the “conference” part. I took a look at it today and was struck by how many of the speakers are located in Vancouver! Here’s the list, with speaker names linked to their Twitter profiles where available:

Kris Krug – Vancouver
Lauren Wood – Vancouver
Nora Young – Toronto
Rob Cottingham – Vancouver
Stewart Butterfield – San Francisco
Steve Pratt – Vancouver
Nate Elliott – Vancouver
Tod Maffin – Vancouver
Isabella Mori – Vancouver
Airdrie Miller – Vancouver
Briana Tomkinson – Vancouver
Rebecca Bollwitt – Vancouver
Linda Bustos – Vancouver
Jenn Lowther – Vancouver
Nadia Nascimento – Vancouver
Monica Hamburg – Vancouver
Kim Adamson-Sharpe – ?
Hilary Genders – Vancouver
Tim Bray – Vancouver
Robert Scales – Vancouver
Susannah Gardner – Vancouver
Barbara Ganley – Vermont?
Laura Blankenship – Pennsylvania
Nancy White – Seattle
Darren Barefoot – Vancouver
Alfred Hermida – Vancouver
David Eaves – Vancouver
Alan Levine – Arizona
Dave Johnson – Vancouver
Kate Trgovac – Vancouver
Rosemary Rowe – Vancouver?
Dave Olson – Vancouver
Bev Davies – Vancouver
Irwin Oostindie – Vancouver

This list may be inaccurate or incomplete – the NV site lacks bios and abstracts, has one “TBA” slot, and doesn’t make it clear where everyone is from so I did the best I could to look it up. If you spot an error let me know and I’ll correct it.

Canada’s social media and blogging conference? More like Vancouver’s.

A few final remarks: I fully appreciate that this is a community event and that speakers’ expenses are not covered, so it makes sense to have more locals. I noted the Vancouver-specific nature of the conference last year. I submitted a speaking proposal and was turned down for Saturday, but will be leading a session on Friday (hopefully the schedule for that goes up soon).

Thoughts on Northern Voice’s popularity problem

image by bascoYesterday, 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!

Registered for Northern Voice 2009

Early this morning I registered myself and Megan for Northern Voice 2009, taking place in Vancouver on February 20th and 21st. As you may recall, I submitted a speaking proposal back in December. Unfortunately, my submission wasn’t one of the 18 selected, but that’s okay. I’m glad to hear that the organizing committee received over 100 proposals as it suggests to me that the conference will once again have high quality content this year. Thanks to the committee for considering me and undertaking the nearly impossible task of narrowing that list down!

There are only 300 tickets available for the conference and as of earlier today, they were 75% sold out. If you haven’t already done so, you had better head on over to the registration site and book your spot! Keep an eye on their blog and Twitter account for updates. I suspect they’ll once again have a waiting list, but you don’t want to be on it.

Hopefully they announce the schedule soon – I’m keen to see who’s speaking!

You can read my previous posts related to Northern Voice here. You can also look at my photos from 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008.

Are you going to NV2009? Let me know!

Northern Voice 2009 Speaker Submission: Examining Twitter’s Impact on News Media

artwork by basco5I’ll be making my way to Vancouver once again this February for Northern Voice – Canada’s blogging and social media conference. I’ve attended every year since the event started in 2005, with varying levels of participation. In that first year, I was on a media panel. In 2006 and 2007, I did some recording and podcasting of the sessions. And last year, I was just a regular attendee. This year, I’d like to throw my hat in the ring to be a speaker. What would I like to talk about? Why, Twitter of course!

The deadline for speaker submissions is Friday. My intent with this post is to get some feedback – do you think what I’m pitching here would be an interesting and worthwhile session? Here’s what I’m thinking:

Examining Twitter’s Impact on News Media

Whether you “get it” or not, Twitter has changed news media forever. The microblogging service continues its push into the mainstream, and is wreaking all kinds of havoc along the way!

In this session we’re going to see how Twitter is impacting news media around the world. We’ll take a look at some notable examples from 2008, with particular focus placed on the American and Canadian political events. We’ll see why Twitter is the best place for breaking news, and how large news media organizations are starting to take advantage of the service – both for broadcasting and listening.

Local news is also being greatly affected by Twitter. We’ll examine one Canadian city in particular, Edmonton, to see how Twitter is used throughout the month of January 2009. Using data retrieved primarily from Twitter Search, we’ll examine the statistics (such as number of tweets posted, what time of day is most active, etc.) to identify trends and to help us correlate tweets with the local events and news of the month.

Finally, we’ll quickly examine how Twitter’s impact on news media translates to other industries – no one is safe!

I’d love to hear any comments or feedback you might have, as well as any suggestions on how to improve the session. Leave a comment below, or email me if that’s more your thing. I’d also encourage you to keep an eye on the Northern Voice site for updates! Thank you in advance!

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.