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 2009: Stewart Butterfield Keynote

The first keynote of the conference was from Stewart Butterfield, one of the co-founders of Flickr. I really liked his session, mostly because as he said “I don’t need to have a point right?” He started out by sharing his history on the Internet – starting with his schooling at UVic, usenet groups, etc. His first three handles were “ui503”, “sbutterf”, and “dsb26”. Stewart is only ten years older than I am, but that’s enough for many of his first experiences on the net to be unknown to me. Very interesting stuff.

Stewart Butterfield Keynote

Stewart repeated this phrase throughout his presentation: “This is who I am.” He said he didn’t want to talk about identity too much, but he started with that and made his way toward talking about community. Stewart says that community changes the phrase to: “This is who we are.”

Next, he moved on to Flickr and photography. Stewart identified three trends:

  1. Ubiquity of capture devices
  2. Spread of the network
  3. Change in perceptions and attitudes – participation is no longer weird

He said that the desire to participate is becoming widespread. I think I agree with him that one of the most interesting aspects of “Web 2.0” is the drive toward participation.

Stewart’s last point was that we’re in an era of “relationship-based computing”. I think that’s a good way to describe it.

He finished by saying he loves the Internet. Me too!

I think this was a great way to start the conference – entertaining, and not too much thinking required.