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Tue, 22 Feb 2005
Northern Voice 2005 Recap

My experience at Northern Voice was different than most conferences that I attend, where I'm either speaking or have a bunch of people what I'm intent on meeting. This weekend, I was showing up mostly as Julie's spouse/tech support/childcare worker. Of course, I was interested in meeting other bloggers, and hearing some of the talks, as well. This was also the first conference that we've taken the girls to. They've been to some blogger meetups, and are reasonably comfortable around adults, but a day long conference is another thing entirely.

We arrived in plenty of time to register and we snagged a comfortable place along the walls of the auditorium, which had the standard rows of seats in the main area, and a stepped floor on either side. This gave us a nice perch, able to see, but also with enough space for the girls to spread out their amusements. They made it through the two keynotes, and then it was off to the room for Julie's talk. The girls ended up in the back row, and the older two were paying pretty good attention to their Mom's talk. The fact that Julie's entire presentation is all photographs (think 110MB PowerPoint file) certainly helped. Elisabeth had a tougher time of it. She'd gotten up early, sat through two long (for her) keynotes, and now she was separated from Mom by a decent sized crowd of people. It wasn't until about 3/4 of the way through that she started getting itchy. Then she wanted to go up and see her Mom, and I had to tell her that she need to stay in the back with us. She was (understandly) not happy about that, but she went along with it, and when the Q&A started, I let her wander up to the front, and Julie answered questions with Elisabeth in her lap and on the floor, and ... You get the idea. We took the rest of the day a little easier, which meant we missed a session here or there. But the girls did quite well, caused no major disturbances (that I'm aware of) and made some new friends. They've added some entries from their experience to their blog.

Julie did fantastically well. Yes, I know that I'm biased, but I'm not the only one who thinks so. When she told me that she was going to do a presentation that was all photos, I got kind of nervous, because I think that those are really hard to do well. A few nights before, she gave me a run through, and was pretty nervous about it -- giving the run through to me, that is. I was really impressed with what I saw, but I didn't get as excited as I actually was inside, because I didn't want to create any pressure for her. As it got closer to starting time, it looked like the room was about one-third full, respectable, but a little disappointing. I had to get the kids setup (we started behind the glass wall upstairs and ended up in the back row downstairs), so I lost track of how many people were in the room. As Julie got going, I noticed more people coming in, and we ended up with almost all the seats full, and people standing along the wall and sitting on one of the staircase up to the "balcony". Now I was nervous for a different reason: I started looking around the room: Tim Bray, Lauren Wood, Chris Pirillo and Ponzi, Marc Canter and his wife Lisa, Robert and Maryam Scoble, and some other familiar and famous faces -- yikes! Julie totally kept her cool. Photos flashed by, synchronized with personal stories, quotes from other bloggers, and some principles for making the private public. The applause was warm, and there were some questions, although I know Julie wanted to have a little more give and take. I was relieved that we had gotten the big event over with, and happy that people seemed to like what they had seen and heard.

The night before Julie and I agreed that we might use the session after hers as some decompression time for the kids, and that turned out to be a smart plan. They needed a little snack and some time to blow up all that kid energy that didn't get dissipated while they sat through three hours worth of presentations. We did end up with some nice hallway conversation, including a nice conversation with Julie Szabo (Darren Barefoot's wife) who is a very accomplished ice skater. We got invited to go to $.99 sushi (well, a piece), which is where Michaela's little demonstration for Chris occurred. Our lunch ended up cutting into the next session block, although we did sneak into last half of the panel on building blog traffic.

Julie was up for the next panel block, so we stayed put for that. As panels go, it went the way that a good panel ought to. The panelists spoke very briefly, leaving most of the time for questions from the audience. There were a bunch of questions around splitting up your online identity -- multiple blogs, how personal to be, etc. I don't really understand these questions because one of the whole points of blogging is to integrate all of that stuff.

I wasn't all that enthused about seeing the tools lightning talks, especially since most of the talks were on Windows. The presentation on Qumana definitely got my attention, because it looks like a fantastically nice interface for making posts. Maybe even nicer than Ecto, (which didn't get shown during David Shea's Mac tools talk). Then Nancy White got up and gave one of the most amazing 5 minute talks I've ever seen. She must have put a lot of thought into it because she gave a devastating critique of the usability barriers faced by people who need to somehow learn about RSS, trackbacks, HTML blog templates, blogrolls, and all the other stuff that experienced bloggers take for granted. And she did it in a light, funny, and warm way. I was definitely impressed, and it gave me a lot to think about.

Marc Canter persuaded us to go to Guu for dinner (Marc can be very persuasive). What a treat that turned out to be! I think I could almost convince myself to move to Vancouver just so I could eat there. Julie and I both just loved it. This probably one of the few West Coast restaurants that has elicited this kind of reaction from both of us. Boris Mann and some of the guys from Bryght showed up, and promptly proceeded to charm my older two daughters. Incidentally, I love the city of Vancouver. This is only my second visit, but there's just something about the place that I really like. I suspect we'll be trying to find more excuses to go up to Vancouver. And now, we even know a whole pile of people there.

From Guu, we walked over the the party. Abigail and Michaela attached themselves to Boris for the walk, which left Julie and I to talk a little while Elisabeth rode along on my shoulders. On the last block before the Take 5 cafe, the front portion of the party (including Boris and the two older girls) crossed the street, while the back portion missed the traffic light. Julie and I stood on the curb watching Boris, Abigail, and Michaela receding into the distance and then into the door of the cafe. We look at each other and thought of the slide in her presentation that is a bunch of balloons flying off into the air. The commentary on the slide talks about releasing yourself into the internet -- and here we were, watching our daughters head off to a blogger party with one of our newfound blogger friends. Maybe you just had to be there. The length of the day meant that we were not long for the party, but I did get a chance to make a few more virtual to physical connections, with Dethe Elze, and Suw Charman. By the time we got back to the hotel and put the girls to bed, we were beat. In fact, both of us just fell asleep, which if you follow the times that we post, will seem highly improbable.

I haven't mentioned the two keynotes -- they've gotten a lot of coverage, so I'll be short. Tim Bray did a very solid and accessible talk on blogging principles. One of his principles stuck out to me -- "Flame judiciously". You may be seeing a bit more of that in coming days. I was curious to hear what Scoble had to say -- we've talked a few times at Seattle meetups and geek dinners, but I was curious to see him talk about his workflow, especially since I'm over the 1000 feed mark myself. The trend analysis that he's doing is in a slightly different arena than me, but it's interesting that t we're both interested in doing similar kinds of things. Both he and Tim emphasized the listening aspect of blogging, which is not being discussed enough.

Dim Sum on Sunday morning was fun. I wish that we could conveniently go for Dim Sum on weekend mornings -- another reason to like Vancouver. I found myself at a table with Seb Paquet, Boris, Nancy White, Phil Wolff, Abigail, and Michaela (Julie and I split the kids). The girls of course, were ecstatic that Boris was at the table (they did wander off to greet other folks that they knew). Conversation was good, and at one point, Nancy and I were on the floor between tables talking to Chris and Ponzi. What is it about Seattle people that they have to go somewhere else in order to get together and talk? This happens with a few of my other Seattle friends as well.

After that it was off to the Vancouver Aquarium for a little family vacation, followed by the drive home. Or as Elisabeth likes to say: "Drive, Drive, Burger King". We did manage to find a BK to dine at -- we hit McDonalds on the way up, and the kids really wanted Burger King. Also during the course of the drive, I did manage to cram in a few IT Conversations podcasts, keeping up the pretense that someday my queue might go to zero.

One that stuck out to me was the TechNation interview with Frans Johansson. Apparently Johansson's "The Medici Effect: Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection of Ideas, Concepts, and Cultures" is about breakthroughs as a result of mingling diverse viewpoints. In his other post on Northern Voice, Tim Bray wrote:

I think I’ve never previously been to a blogging conference. The whole idea seems somehow ludicrous.

The thing that I appreciated about this blogging conference was the opportunity to get together withe people from diverse backgrounds (i.e. not all technology people), and spend some time mixing it up. The organizers did a great job -- there wasn't chaos, but things weren't over produced, either. By keeping the conference affordable, they made it possible for a different type of person to show up and find out what all the fuss was about. Northern Voice also reinforced my conviction that the smallest conferences are the best. I know that I'd show up for another one.

[ update: fixed Qumana link ]

[09:08] | [computers/internet/weblogs] | # | TB | F | G | 3 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post
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