Northern Voice, Day 1: Wow!

Mac OSX on a ThinkPad at North­ern Voice

The first day of North­ern Voice is called Moose Camp. I’m not exact­ly sure why it’s called Moose Camp, but it has some­thing to do with Foo Camp and Bar Camp, the first of which was an attendee-pow­ered con­fer­ence by “Friends Of O’Reilly” (O’Reilly is the Devel­op­er Book Pub­lish­er and gen­er­al cen­tre of much of Web 2.0 information…and per­haps some of the hype).

The day start­ed ear­ly, at around 8:00 AM, where I descend­ed into the com­plex of rooms under­ground the cen­tre of down­town. It’s real­ly a shame that I spent a good deal of the day indoors under­ground, because there wasn’t a cloud in the sky today. As I wait­ed to reg­is­ter, I met the bene­fac­tor of my tick­et, Gene Blishen, who rep­re­sents the Mount Lehman Cred­it Union. I link to them here not only because they spon­sored the event, and also gave me the chance to attend, but also because I’m extreme­ly impressed with them. They’re a small busi­ness in an incred­i­bly com­pet­i­tive mar­ket (Cred­it Unions in Van­cou­ver are dom­i­nat­ed by big names like VanCi­ty), who com­petes by being both inno­v­a­tive tech­no­log­i­cal­ly, and mak­ing an effort to know each of their cus­tomers. Most of the oth­er spon­sors of the event were what you’d expect, some soft­ware com­pa­nies like Bryght, the domain reg­istry Webnames.ca, who I share office space with, Sun Microsys­tems, and so on. With the excep­tion of Rain­coast Books, Mount Lehman was the only local non-tech busi­ness to real­ize how impor­tant blog­ging is. I’m sure a lot of this is due to Gene, but I’m glad to see a banker with vision, all the same. George Bai­ley would be proud.

The ses­sions start­ed prompt­ly at 9 AM. They were put togeth­er quick­ly, in ad-hoc fash­ion. There were a few last minute changes, but for the most part the board of hand­writ­ten ses­sion names on 5-by-8 cards came pret­ty close to what I had read online in the past week. I attend­ed a ses­sion on sxore, the iden­ti­ty pro­to­col that would allow par­tic­i­pat­ing web sites and blogs to know who you are (and let you post com­ments) with­out you hav­ing to sign in each time (your cre­den­tials would sit on a serv­er you des­ig­nate as your home­site). It would also make post­ing eas­i­er, and allow sites to cut down on com­ment SPAM. It looks inter­est­ing, but time will tell whether it’s suc­cess­ful, since many sites will have to adopt their pro­to­col. Then, I saw an absolute­ly mind-blow­ing demon­stra­tion of Now­Pub­lic, a cit­i­zen-pow­ered news­pa­per that is real­ly Journalism’s answer to Wikipedia (and per­haps could become almost as pow­er­ful a force). It’s Van­cou­ver-based but Inter­na­tion­al in reach, and it also has some of the most fas­ci­nat­ing ways of point­ing to con­tent with a sophis­ti­cat­ed ‘wrap­per’ that neat­ly han­dles some of the rights issues by auto­mat­i­cal­ly build­ing in links back to the orig­i­nal con­tent, like this pho­to of the North­ern Voice Event:

I loved how Michael Tip­pett (who shares the name of one of my favourite British Com­posers of the 20th cen­tu­ry), described some of his con­trib­u­tors as ‘Acci­den­tal Jour­nal­ists’. The next ses­sion was pret­ty free-form, and led by Mark Hamil­ton (not sure of where he’s teach­ing, but he was clear­ly an aca­d­e­m­ic). The top­ic was Jour­nal­ism, and how blog­ging has changed the media land­scape for all of us. I had to admit that I am not as opti­mistic about the wis­dom of the mass­es as he seemed to be, and I down­right dis­agreed with his asser­tion that these days are the best for mass media deliv­ery choic­es for human­i­ty as well as alter­nate media. Hav­ing escaped the inex­orable con­sol­i­da­tion of News net­works and papers in the US into Cor­po­rate sur­ro­gates, I would def­i­nite­ly not think of the 21st cen­tu­ry as start­ing out with a robust and coura­geous Mass Media. In any case, it was a live­ly dis­cus­sion, and a bit of a breather. Not for long. Next came a demo of Ma.gnolia.com, a sort of blend of Flickr’s social aspects with the book­mark­ing of Del.icio.us (hence the sim­i­lar­i­ty of the name). Then, a ses­sion on videoblog­ging led by Robert San­za­lone, a cor­po­rate train­er who talked about how (among oth­er things), the video iPod has changed the demands of what video you should prob­a­bly pro­duce if you want it viewed by the widest pos­si­ble audi­ence (it turns out the sweet spot is to offer it in Flash video for the web, and Quick­Time movie for iPods and the iTunes podcast/videoblog feeds). The only site he’d found that trans-codes to the right for­mats for you turns out to be an out­fit in France called Dailymotion.com.

Get­ting out of breath? I haven’t even got­ten to lunch yet: I was just get­ting to noon and infor­ma­tion over­load was the order of the day.

The after­noon includ­ed a ses­sion on build­ing Com­mu­ni­ty with blog­ging. My favourite term from that ses­sion was a name for peo­ple you first meet online and then lat­er con­nect with in-per­son: an e-quain­tance. What a great neol­o­gism! Pho­tog­ra­ph­er Kris Krug tried to hit some of the more inter­est­ing top­ics on dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy (although he spent a long time curi­ous­ly enough talk­ing about shoot­ing with plain old film, and then hav­ing it processed with the ‘wrong’ chem­i­cals to pro­duce star­tling effects — I’d seen some of his pho­tos on exhi­bi­tion at The Wicked Café and it was great to find out how he achieved those wild por­traits. There was some use­ful infor­ma­tion on depth-of-field, as well as some oth­er tips. Then I saw yet anoth­er amaz­ing demo of an online data­base that any­body can use (not just geeks) called Dab­ble DB. It will have so many use­ful appli­ca­tions and looks so cool that I can’t wait for it to go live. Then there was a ses­sion on ‘Lead­er­ship Hacks’ with the founder and CEO of Tech­no­rati, David Sifry.

Final­ly (and boy, am I out of breath), there was a demo of the lat­est beta (only 48 hours old) of Win­dows Vista. I’m sad to say that it looked clunky and entire­ly deriv­a­tive of near­ly every fea­ture of Mac OSX, (which many peo­ple have already point­ed out). I was also dis­ap­point­ed to see that much of the ani­ma­tion or ‘eye can­dy’ was not real­ly thought through. When you close win­dows, they always fade out, instead of, per­haps, zoom­ing down to where they appeared from, which would pro­vide more use­ful infor­ma­tion. I hope that there will be more changed and added, but at this point, it’s no great leap for­ward. The ulti­mate irony is that when one of the pre­sen­ters for that ses­sion men­tioned at the end that he had suc­cess­ful­ly installed the new Mac OSX for Intel on his IBM Thinkpad and start­ed it up, the room went wild and cam­eras appeared from all sides to shoot this.
In the evening, I walked with many of the oth­er atten­dees to Stan­ley Park, where we drank hot choco­late and cof­fee and ate bar­be­cued sausages (and Tim Hor­tons donuts) while watch­ing the pink sky- sun­set was already most­ly over. A great end to a day full of intel­lec­tu­al stim­u­la­tion. I haven’t seen this much cool stuff in a long time. Hard to believe that tomor­row is the real, offi­cial part of the con­fer­ence. My brain is going to need some extra RAM.