Well, that was fun!

by Yule Heibel on February 27, 2008

Northern Voice 2008 was amazing.

First off, Matt Mullenweg‘s keynote was amazing. Just for a taste, take a look (er, I mean listen) at this site and look at these photos posted to Flickr or this reverse liveblogging transcript from Stewart Mader.

Some key points that stuck in my mind: Exhortation #1, remove the FRICTION (“we need invisible software”); that volume is going to blow all predictions; that there’s no shortage of information anymore – what we need now are effective filters. Matt also talked about what he called the bloggers’ “hierarchy of needs”: 1 – Expression — presentaton / theme: make your online presence your own; 2 – Public — that you’re sharing with people; viral growth and permissions are in conflict; 3 – Interaction — comments on blogs; 4 – Validation — check stats.

What’s the Achilles Heel of web 2.0? Spam. Anything that takes attention away is spam (relates to the attention economy). This relates to Exhortation #2, Respect people’s time.

Exhortation #3, Kill the megabrands. The Age of Portals is over. Matt referenced Danah Boyd’s one company, ten brands: lessons from retail for tech companies post regarding this point.

There was much more, but don’t miss this photo, which shows Matt’s slide illustrating the 4 freedoms of open source. (Very important!)

Also during the morning session, Marc Canter spoke about putting the social back into software. See these Flickr images and perhaps watch this December 2007 video for an idea of what he presented at Northern Voice on Saturday. He’s a fantastic presenter – engaging, educational, entertaining.

Marc had a most fascinating re-imagining of capitalism, which I wish I’d noted more carefully. I thought at the time that I understood it — if not perfectly, at least implicitly. But now I notice that I can’t quite completely re-articulate what he said. It had, of course, something to do with making the relationship between users and providers more equitable, and with turning those laneways that too often today are one-ways into two-ways, which in turn could subvert the usual scenario of having the capitalists in the center of the picture (collecting the tolls?), and instead put the user-creator in the center, …with capitalists arrayed like happy campers around the flame of you as proceeds are shared out differently — and, one hopes, more equitably? With ideas flying fast and furiously from all angles and some tech/geek lingo thrown in just for fun, however, it’s not as easy to recapture the arguments once the presentation is over.

Marc strikes you as the kind of guy who can play hardball, but at the end of the day I screwed up my courage and introduced myself. I said that I’m one of those Berkman Center bloggers, the blogging enterprise that Dave Winer helped set up at Harvard. So he wanted to know if Dave and I were friends, and I said that I hadn’t ever actually met Dave, but that we were Facebook friends – another one of those weird virtual things. I also had to explain that I don’t live in the Boston area anymore — it’s difficult to explain to people at that sharp edge of the social software wedge that you live in a place like Victoria.

I had a similar P2C2E sensation when, just after registering on Saturday morning, I finally got to meet Roland Tanglao. By way of conversation, he innocently asked something like, So, are you planning on staying in Victoria? I’m getting defensive — I mean, Roland is such a sweet guy! I don’t think he knows the meaning of mean, and the question was just a …well, an off-the-cuff question. But of course for me it’s the question.

Am I going to stay in Victoria?

I guess it depends on what you mean by “stay.” Physically? Probably. I’m not into hopping about (although I don’t mind the occasional jumping-up-and-down event). Intellectually? I’d prefer not to.

But back to the conference and all the great people there.

During a coffee break, Isabelle Mori asked me to sign her digital guestbook, which was something I’ve never done anywhere else before. Thanks, Isabelle!

Mark Lise from Victoria’s Flock office (which Boris Mann and Marc Canter tested at NV08, with Boris giving it a big thumbs up here!) and I exchanged some quick emails during the morning session, in an effort to locate one another. We hadn’t met before, but Mark had left a comment on my blog entry about Rick on Rails, and we sort of agreed to find each other at Northern Voice. As I was eating my lunch, he sent another email that included a link to a just-posted Flickr photo showing him at the conference. So then I knew what he looked like, and was able to find him in the lounge area! Cool, eh?

I had lunch at a table with Mike Tan, who’s one of the founders of Victoria-based TeamPages (company blog here). Mike was there with Naomi Buell, who currently works at TeamPages through UVic’s co-op program. Naomi is a student in UVic’s Commerce Department, which she gave a big thumbs up — good to hear, as my son is very interested in that program.

Also at the table, and busily uploading photos to Flickr, was Carol Browne. We didn’t get a chance to talk, since Mike, Naomi, and I were hashing out the intricacies of the Victoria scene — but check out her blog and her Flickr photos (the NV08 set here).

I got to say a few (good) words about LibraryThing at the conference at the end of one session called “From book to blog or blog to book,” moderated by Monique Trottier. That was a fun panel which included the authors kc dyer, Crawford Killian, Meg Tilly, Pete McCormack, and Robert Wiersema.

Meg Tilly is a firecracker — very funny woman with a most subversive and mischievous sense of humor. At the end of the session, a fellow named Brendon Wilson asked me if I work for LibraryThing, as I had my LT logo-emblazoned messenger bag over my shoulder.

“No,” I answered. “It’s just the only bag I have that’s big enough to hold my very heavy very unhip laptop!”

Well, I obviously didn’t mind being associated with LT, otherwise (a) I wouldn’t have bought the bag in the first place (via Cafe Press, incidentally) and (b) had I minded, I could have duct-taped over the logo, right?

So of course I sang its praises, and it turns out that Brendon is at work on a bar code reader with a twist. Unlike the CueCat type reader, which has to be plugged in to the computer and then passed over the bar code, Brendon’s model would be downloadable directly to one’s laptop, whereupon the omnipresent built-in camera would read the bar code when you hold the book up to the screen. It’s a pretty cool application.

I didn’t get to meet Boris Mann or Kris Krug or any of the other Northern Voice organizers aside from Roland Tanglao, but that was basically my fault for not going to MooseCamp, which took place on Friday, or the introductory party, which happened on Thursday night.

Next year I plan to remedy that. I have nothing but good things to say about the entire day — the vibe, the energy, the people, the whole package was really positive, upbeat, professional, heterogeneous (so many different voices!), sometimes hilarious, informative, goofy, and wise. All in all, a very quirky kind of thing that made me feel quite young but also strangely purposeful.

It’s like genres or niches or germinating things all being given their due in …oh, dare I say it? …in what struck me as a generally very non-judgemental (and therefore signature Canadian) sort of way. The conference was also peopled by many other persons of my sex: it didn’t achieve gender parity, but there were significantly more women there as audience, organizers, and presenters than you’d find at many an other tech conference. That said, you gotta read Gillian Gunson’s blog post, The lame at Northern Voice, where she – a geek and conference organizer – skewers (rightly so) an unnamed boor who chatted her up (or should that be “down”?) with typical male condescension. Let’s hope his ears are burning.

Overall, though, this conference is “two thumbs up” all the way.

Edit: I’ve added the tags DemoCampVictoria and democampvictoria01 to this entry as it relates directly to DemoCamp Victoria01’s genesis.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Boris Mann February 27, 2008 at 1:25 am

hi! I’ve got lots of friends in Victoria and am basically delinquent in not going over more often. Mark came to the last DemoCampVancouver, and has just kicked off DemoCampVictoria (http://barcamp.org/DemoCampVictoria).

So, I’m hoping to be over more often, and I’ll definitely try and make it for the first DemoCamp if I’m not on the road.

Glad you enjoyed Northern Voice. It’s still fun for us to put on, too.

melanie February 27, 2008 at 1:32 am

Staying in Victoria.

I used to live in a provincial capital (until the late ’80s) and felt very cut off. But is there a real reason to feel cut off these days – or is it just snobbery that makes people feel you can’t operate in the mainstream if you’re physically located in the periphery?

Maybe the cafe/pub remains more important than we think!

Yule February 27, 2008 at 11:50 am

Ah, the cafe/pub, i.e., place, Melanie — how true! It’s definitely important, in terms of aggregating people so they can connect in real time and place.

That’s what I like about Richard Florida’s emphases (see for example his interview here, posted to his blog, about the importance of where you choose to live: he describes place as the third leg of the stool on which you sit, the other two legs being your family relationship and your career). Place matters. And Victoria is far from perfect for any busy young career-minded person, but it has so many other things going for it that it’s important not to throw in the towel too quickly.

Florida also came up with the 3 Ts, to which he recently added a third: Talent, Technology, Tolerance, with the 4th being Territorial Assets. We’ve got all that, even if it’s not on the top burner right now. But it’s getting hotter.

We won’t be Vancouver, ever — I might write another post about that sometime soon. There are backwards-looking folks here who worry that we’ll turn into “just another Vancouver” (to which I would say, “we should be so lucky”), but it’s not gonna happen, ever, if only because of geography.

Did I just write “only”? Geography is important. That’s why Victoria got cut off from the action in the first place (when the railway was built, Vancouver became Terminal City and took over the number one spot from Victoria — no trains to this island location, see?)…

Vancouver is very yang, too, in terms of its setting/geography (and to this the built form responds), while Victoria is decidedly yin, also in terms of geography. Yeah, I know, that sounds so woo-woo New Age-y, but hey, the Chinese have been doing this for centuries, and I figure there’s something to all this feng shui business!

Boris, thanks for stopping by! I got an email from Mark about DemoCamp Victoria this morning, and plan to inundate him with as much feedback/ information as I can, as soon as I get a minute. When you get over to Victoria next time, give me a call if you have time (I’m in the phone book and I’ll send you an email, too). I’m all for making connections and knitting together all the talents here — heck, I’m the person who wrote the blurb about Victoria for FastCompany’s “Fast Cities 2007” (no longer live on the web, alas), and got Victoria accepted into that reader-nominated “Fast Cities” group (yeah, odd, eh?).

Take a look at the relevant blog entries: So “fast,” I’m nearly invisible, as well as my rather bitter-ish reaction to the MSM working of this story (this entry, warning: slightly bitter!), and also the article I wrote for Vibrant Victoria, The race that should be on: Victoria as “fast city?”.

My thinking is that we need to connect as many of the dots here as possible (urbanists, arts, techies, et al.) — and tear down the silos, too. Why? Because no city can afford to be an unsuccessful city, not even “li’l ole Victoria”!

Mark February 27, 2008 at 2:35 pm

li’l ole Victoria isn’t so little anymore. Direct flights to-from San Fransisco starting June 5, 2008 was recently announced by the Airport Authority. Whether we like it(and do we ever) or not, Victoria is going to wake up from it’s slumber. This is a great time to start blurring the lines between arts, culture, tech, and many other things that make our city wonderful. We have a unique opportunity to grow and we should look to our friends in Vancouver to teach us a few things.

Roland Tangalo February 28, 2008 at 3:09 am

ooops! didn’t mean to put you on the spot about Victoria, just the first thing that came to mind!

great meeting you!

Yule February 28, 2008 at 10:01 am

lol, not to worry — it’s usually what comes to my mind, too! Next year I’ll definitely be there for the whole shebang, and hope to get to chat with you more. Thanks for the discussion about the differences between forums and blogs and why/ how Google indexes them differently. I still need to get together with the folks from the forum at Vibrant Victoria to see whether they’d like to follow up on the idea of blogging selected forum threads each day or week, as a way of bringing that info into search engines a bit better.

Great meeting you Roland — and wow, Vancouver has just gotten more and more beautiful. What a gorgeous city!

Mike Tan February 28, 2008 at 11:10 am

Hi Yule,

It was great meeting you at Northern Voice. Go VICTORIA!!

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