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.