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 Cafe 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.