The Northern Voice conference, a tradition in year six

Post by Mike Klassen in

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Bloggable Baby
A 'bloggable' baby steals the show at Northern Voice on Friday

Today and Saturday I'm locked up out at UBC in the Life Sciences building, the venue for this year's Northern Voice conference on social media and blogging. Northern Voice was initiated in 2005 by a collection of self-described local blogger geeks, and I was there too. I'm going to forget a bunch of names of those many volunteers who over the years have built up this great annual event, so I won't try to remember them all. However, the faces I'll always equate with Northern Voice are those of Vancouver's blogging über couple, Darren Barefoot and Julie Szabo, who even while living abroad at the time of the conference a couple years back managed to keep connected to this event.

I ran into Vancouver photographer Alex Waterhouse-Hayward early this morning who said to me, "I come here for 2 days with no expectations in hopes that I come away surprised." Alex has the perfect mindset for a conference about blogging – don't think you'll take away any pearls of wisdom going in, and you may stumble upon some anyway.

I read the program which basically provides a title, a room number and an event time. Each presentation gets 30 minutes before the doors open and the next speaker or panel takes over. While it should be a rule of thumb to keep your own narrative concise, I've seen many of these events dominated by the introductions. A case in point was the Government 2.0 talk I visited, which lacked a cohesive focus, and wound up nearly over before the audience began to participate. I think with a bit more time it could have found that focus and been a very compelling session.

It wasn't only that event where I saw this, which is why I respectfully and quietly head for the exit if I don't know what the talk is about within a few minutes. To me the best part of Northern Voice is a non-programmed set of sessions that are user driven labeled Moosecamp, which is a distinctly Canadian riff on the Barcamp concept. In the past I've tried to bring a topic for discussion such as in 2008, and in 2009 (which someone decided to record). For reasons only the organizers know this year's Moosecamp, which used to fill up four rooms, was cut back to only one room this year.

For the third year I brought a topic for the room to discuss at one of the Moosecamp sessions. This time I was interested in the interplay of social and traditional media as a subject, so after a very brief self-intro we conducted a good 30-minute conversation with many people in the room participating. I always assume that the people attending Northern Voice are pretty smart, which is why I want to hear from as many people who attend as possible, and not just the programmed presenters.

One talk that I wish there had been much more time for surrounded the use of social media tools in the dialogue around public planning. The talk titled From Tweets to Plans used up most of its half-hour providing context for the audience – which I should add was pretty engaged. On the panel was Andrew Pask of the excellent Vancouver Public Space Network, who could have easily conducted an hour on his own.

With Andrew were three other speakers that included a Skyped-in Daniella Fergusson, one of the creators of PlanningPool.com, a great new website that we've sourced here at CityCaucus.com and tried to promote. Daniella described their new site and their quest for more interactivity from readers. Her comments made me think of what topics in the area of planning have received the most response (and not just from comments but from shared links). I recall one specifically where I quoted Andrés Duany and his blunt assessment of public consultation.

In the very short time to comment I posed to them that they might wish to be more provocative at PlanningPool.com. As Andrew pointed out, the web and social media can be an "effective mobilizer" on some issues, and it can also be an "effective neutralizer." What Pask meant by this important observation is that while these tools can get your attention, they can also dupe you into thinking that public engagement begins and ends by joining a Facebook group.

I'm heading back out to UBC for another day of Northern Voice in hopes that I'll find a few more topics that resonate with me. The morning sessions include more discussion of that which cleaves social and traditional media, a session conducted by the Vancouver Sun's Kirk LaPointe and CBC's Lisa Johnson titled How (Should) Journalists Use Social Media? I'm also interested in hearing from Kris Krug & John Biehler on their "Olympic experience", if only to jog a few good memories of my own.

I'll continue to Tweet from the event throughout Saturday morning and early afternoon at Twitter.com/CityCaucus. Follow the Northern Voice tweets using the hash tag #nv10.

- post by Mike

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