Northern Voice, Day 2: Not so Wow

Maybe it was the fact that I was still a lit­tle tired from yes­ter­day, or per­haps it was the extra degree of struc­ture, but some­how, the sec­ond, more offi­cial day of North­ern Voice didn’t quite live up to the extra­or­di­nary ener­gy and stim­u­la­tion of the first one.

The day start­ed in the main The­atre, where Julie Leung of Bain­bridge Island gave a keynote address enti­tled “Start­ing with Fire: Why Sto­ries Are Essen­tial and How to Blog Effec­tive Tales”. She had clear­ly metic­u­lous­ly writ­ten every word, and placed some­times ele­gant, some­times poet­ic images to accom­pa­ny each and every idea. For me, it came off very earnest and a lit­tle… pre­cious. There were moments of humour, but most­ly it was very, very seri­ous, and at a few points I actu­al­ly thought she was on the verge of tears. What dis­turbed me the most was that she start­ed with a sto­ry of her own, of her expe­ri­ences as a lit­tle girl, wait­ing at the hos­pi­tal for her baby broth­er who was under­go­ing what must have been some seri­ous surgery, but that part of the tale was nev­er resolved (even though it wasn’t cen­tral to her nar­ra­tive). This had the per­haps unfore­seen effect of caus­ing me (and oth­ers in the audi­ence, I learned lat­er) to won­der if there was a hap­py or trag­ic end­ing wait­ing in the wings, per­haps to come in at the end to tie things up at the con­clu­sion, the way that Gar­ri­son Keil­lor does so often in his Lake Wobe­gon mono­logues. It nev­er came, and we were left hang­ing about the broth­er. I feel a bit churl­ish for crit­i­ciz­ing her — Could I do bet­ter? I’m not sure, but I cer­tain­ly would have done it dif­fer­ent­ly. More jokes, maybe.

Update: I learned that at the begin­ning of her speech last year, Julie spoke of scat­ter­ing her brother’s ash­es on the beach with her fam­i­ly. It is a shame that I had no way of know­ing that this year’s speech was part­ly an epi­logue to an emo­tion­al­ly-charged chap­ter last year, and these facts now account for the seri­ous tone of her remarks. While I don’t see a sim­ple answer as to how to bring new lis­ten­ers up-to-date, leav­ing the inci­dent large­ly unsaid was also prob­lem­at­ic. I take from this the les­son that one shouldn’t assume that your audi­ence is either the same peo­ple you spoke to at an ear­li­er time, or that the rest will some­how catch on. Audi­ences (myself includ­ed) are usu­al­ly unable to con­nect the dots.

Any­way, onward: The keynote got a fol­low up of Dave Sifry, the CEO and founder of Tech­no­rati , who I had heard a great deal from on the pre­vi­ous day. He was on stage with Tim Bray of Sun Microsys­tems. Togeth­er, they were some pret­ty heavy-hit­ters in the world of blog­ging. There wasn’t that much struc­ture here, aside from some inter­est­ing obser­va­tions and pre­dic­tions on the growth of blogs. in short, they seem to be par­al­lel­ing what we saw years ago with the rise of web sites: Rough­ly every sec­ond a new blog is being cre­at­ed. Half of the new blogs are get­ting posts from their authors once a week or less. This growth will lev­el off at some point — it has to. Nev­er­the­less, blog­ging is sig­nif­i­cant enough a phe­nom­e­non that last year the word ‘blog’ was the sin­gle-most impor­tant new word of 2005, accord­ing to the Oxford Eng­lish Dic­tio­nary (I learned this at a Pub­lic Library pre­sen­ta­tion about blog­ging a few weeks ago). Sifry had a fas­ci­nat­ing obser­va­tion on adver­tis­ing and how mar­keters haven’t learned that there are many times when we want ads: When­ev­er we call stores to request a cat­a­log. In addi­tion, there are mag­a­zines like InStyle and Gear that are essen­tial­ly all ads. Also, up here in Cana­da, I, along with most of the oth­er net-savvy geeks, got to see those cre­ative and fun­ny Super­Bowl ads only by get­ting them on the Inter­net (they weren’t shown on Cana­di­an TV so we actu­al­ly had to go and find them!) How’s that for a case of want­ed adver­tis­ing?

Before lunch, there were two fine pre­sen­ta­tions. The first was by Susie Gard­ner called ‘I’m Too Sexy for my Blog: Blog Design for Every­one’. She had a tough job of deal­ing with a sub­ject that about half the audi­ence were experts on, and the oth­er half were per­haps utter­ly unfa­mil­iar. I’ve seen her speak twice now, and both times she’s been a con­sis­tent­ly good pre­sen­ter.

Col­in Brumelle, who I’d met months ago at one of the Blog­ger Mee­tups for blog­gers, gave a beau­ti­ful­ly paced (and designed) pre­sen­ta­tion about Music 2.0. After an inter­est­ing sur­vey of the his­to­ry of music record­ing from Edi­son on, it was was real­ly about how the new dis­tri­b­u­tion medi­um of the Inter­net and file for­mats are mak­ing the only remain­ing rel­e­vant activ­i­ty by Record Labels the pro­mo­tion of artists. Gee, if we could do that via the Inter­net, the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a vast­ly larg­er and more diverse pop­u­la­tion of musi­cians could pro­duce what Col­in called a ‘Mid­dle-Class Musi­cian’, who is not a super­star, but is able to live off of their work as a musi­cian. Not unlike the days of Bach and Haydn, all the way up to per­haps, Strauss (in oth­er words, all the way to just about the ear­ly days of the advent of record­ing tech­nol­o­gy).

After a brief lunch break, I returned for a some­what less inspir­ing ses­sion on pod­cast­ing and videoblog­ging. Attempt­ing to recap­ture some of the excite­ment of the pre­vi­ous day, I next went to the ‘Geek Out’ ses­sion, which quick­ly devolved into a ses­sion for trad­ing tips on great Fire­fox plu­g­ins we seen or used. Rather than go to the last ses­sion, I actu­al­ly did what some oth­ers had done dur­ing the day, and chat­ted with atten­dees in the lob­by area of the con­fer­ence. There was no final wrap-up or evening activ­i­ty. It just sort of fiz­zled out. There are thou­sands of pic­tures of the whole event on Flickr (what would you expect). I’m even in a few of them.

My take from the past two days is that there is a truck­load of spec­tac­u­lar­ly tal­ent­ed and ded­i­cat­ed Inter­net devel­op­ers and con­tent pro­duc­ers in this area. It’s no won­der that impor­tant ser­vices and prod­ucts like Flickr and Now­Pub­lic are being pro­duced in Van­cou­ver. With the drop­ping price of soft­ware and abun­dance of cheap hard­ware, as one per­son put it: “These days all you need is a great idea and a good coder. So for­get about all of that dot-com ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist non­sense.” This is a healthy state of affairs, and very cheer­ing to me.

My main wish is that the entire two days could have been reversed, as the sec­ond day felt a bit anti­cli­mac­tic (as you can prob­a­bly see from the post title). I’ll look for­ward to attend­ing next year – and I have no doubt the momen­tum of Feb 10th can car­ry Dar­ren Bare­foot and his vol­un­teers for­ward to North­ern Voice 2007.