With the advent of great video and audio recording of many conferences, is attending the ‘big conferences’ really an issue anymore?

I’ve been to some truly huge conferences MacWorld Expo (3,000) , Cisco Networkers (5,000) , and National Education Computing Conference (>10,000). There are some truly spectacular aspects of big conferences to be sure. I met Chuck Yeager at the Cisco conference where he was the Day 3 Keynote. I stood beside (actually got bumped out of the way) by Steve Jobs and John Mayer working the booth at MacWorld, and got Steve Wozniak to sign my Newton at a NCCE conference. Those types of names don’t show up for a couple hundred people.

Or do they ….

Northern Voice in Vancouver has drawn some pretty big names Anil Dash and Matt Mullenwag to a crowd of about 350. Those were the keynotes, attendees included social mavens like Robert Scoble and Chris Pirillo.

But more important than the names on the Keynote is the quality of the interaction. I can’t think of a conference worth attending where people haven’t raved about the lunch conversation and the debates over a beer.

In contrast, my worse conference experience was probably Networkers in Las Vegas. About a sterile experience as you can imagine. The content is great, don’t get me wrong, but I could have got as much from a video stream as I got from the cost and time of a 4 day trip. I wouldn’t trade any of my Northern Voice trips for a Networkers (well maybe the on where Chuck Yeager signed my logbook).

I’ve had a couple post about trying to sort out online service and what is worth paying attention to. I was happy to sit in on part of Alexandra Samuel‘s session at Northern Voice. In discussing, Coping with Social Media Alexandra hit some of the same things I had been struggling with.

There is just so many ways to contribute, participate and listen over social technology that you really have to pick your spots and, if you really want to drink from the fire hose, have a process in place to handle what will flow back in your direction.

Between the home centred pattern of Amusing Ourselves to Death and the work based Myth of Multitasking there is a real danger of technology reversing all the ‘productivity’ gains that we have supposedly reaped over the last decade. You could almost say that technology is eating its’ own (Long) tail.

From a personal point of view you really need to decide what it important and dump the rest. I’ve been fingered for missing important messages because they got piled under hundreds of lesser bits of noise. With a little technology, I’ve managed to get my inbox and RSS feeds down to a manageable, double-digit, daily traffic count.

The other key has been to get the tools align with a purpose. As a presenter, I’ve always tried to put my focus on who the audience is. What I haven’t done until recently is have my technology set up to provide information for the different situations when I prepared to receive content. That includes setting up different email accounts and use a small (but >1) set of tools for each type of content such as RSS, twitter, and Facebook.

In the end, it is a matter of all things in moderation. I’ve cut my social networks in half this year. Sometimes more isn’t better, it’s just more.

Social Network DTM* list

  • Yelp
  • Friendfeed
  • BrightKite
  • Ning
  • Yammer
  • Google Buzz (kinda dead on arrival actually)
  • Google Wave
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • Lastfm

*- Dead to Me

Two of the best sessions at Northern Voice were all about the graphical.Now drawing is cool, but I can’t draw. A good gentleman, Scott Leslie, kept the MooseCamp tradition alive with a series of sessions on Friday. The first was Rob Cottingham’s take on Webcomics. That wasn’t a natural fit for me because:

Did I mention, I can’t draw

But Rob really did a nice review of the range of online graphic ‘blogs’ that realy made me think. We are so hung up with words that frequently we don’t give the graphic arts the credibility that it deserves. As an example here’s Rob’s ‘notes’ from the Rachel Smith session

Rob Cottingham

And then, in a nice bit of Symmetry, Rachel shares her own graphic notes from the Friday Keynote: Ninmah Meets World blog>

Rachel Smith's notes from Friday Keynote

I also attended two sessions by my perennial favourite Nancy White. These are always the most engaging sessions I get at the conference. In both sessions Nancy made you do stuff. This is not class participation, I mean you are going to do something. The best was the second on making the invisible – visible. I really liked the quote – if CO2 was dark red and hung in the air – we’d have it cured by now.

We were sent out on a drawing/video/picture exercise about something else at the conference or surroundings. I sat in an another session and attempted to grasp the presentation there in a graphic form.

Field trip from Nancy session

And that is even for people like me that can’t draw.

Conferences always ask for feedback and the recent North Voice had a post conference Evaluation. In the middle of filling mine out I figured ‘why not share this’, I would hope other attendees would as well.

What was your favourite session and why?
David Ng Science session and Rob Cottingham Webcomics were both at the top of my list.

What session disappointed you and why?
Location mobile apps was a little too one sided and didn’t really have a message beyond this is cool – and the assumption that most/all attendees use Gowalla or 4Square. I want N.Voice to provide reality check on new media tools that include pros and cons.

In terms of session content, what kinds of sessions were the conference missing?
I seemed the local ‘startup’ community wasn’t as prominent at this conference as it has been in previous years. That may be an industry trend but Now Public, Flock, Sxipper, and dozens of others have either presented or been floating around the building.

What was your favourite thing or things about the conference?
The People: The keynotes that draw big names (Dash, Mullenwag, now Messina) are always a reason to go. For me this has become a community that I only get to see once a year. When I pick sessions, I research the presenter and go by their work rather than the session title or description. For example, I will always attend a Nancy White regardless of what it was about.

What disappointed you most about the conference?
Other than the Moosecamp track on Friday most sessions were fixed presentations with very little interaction/discussion. If the Conference is going to be bigger we need to increase the number of concurrent sessions. Many of the smaller rooms were horribly oversubscribed. A couple of big theatre sessions (LCS 2/3) are good but there should be enough smaller sessions to break up the attendees into manageable sizes.

Any other comments, suggestions or feedback?
How about a way to email or blog my conference evalutation when I hit the submit button on this form.

So I ran my iPhone through the wash yesterday night. Not intentionally you understand, but as a consequence of just being a little stupid. But it is still running this morning, slightly worse for wear thanks to a sandwich bag and a couple of scoops of rice – and a little science geekery.

I heard with a weird clunk, a noise as my washer finished up late last night. Then it hit me, the thunk was likely my iPhone left in the cargo pocket of my walking shorts. Oh no. A rumble through the laundry confirms the evil truth.

So my science teacher brain goes to what my options might be. Normally that moisture sucking gel that they pack with electronics would be the best choice, but not being an electronics supply store – that really wasn’t an option. The alternatives run through my mind and I settle on dry rice and a Ziplock bag. (Apparently this choice wasn’t unique) I pack the iPhone in and hope for the best. It recovered slightly in about an hour but I left it over night. The LCD is still a little rough, either from the water or the thumping in the washer. However it is working and functional enough that a replacement isn’t immediately required.

Science to the rescue – and it made me miss being a science teacher.

It wasn’t the only time in the last couple days that I wanted to jump back into a classroom. I attended Northern Voice this weekend as well. That will be the topic of a number of posts here – it is a blogging conference after all. On friday, David Ng’s session on science education which included the Phylomon Project. It is amazing that kids can keep track of thousands of animated characters, know the rules to complicated games – online and otherwise, and have the manual dexterity to run through the toughest first person shooters. Compared to most Flash-based maze games, the periodic table is a walk in the park. It all comes down to context.

School Science still hasn’t found a context that is compelling to kids on a regular basis. We still teach science as history in many cases rather than the practical reality of the world around us. Dave had a great quote that “Science is the closest approximation we have of the truth”. If that isn’t compelling I don’t know what is. Not to mention it helps you fix your wet iPhone.

Thanks David, you make me want to teach Science again:

David Ng is a geneticist, science educator, wannabe writer, and faculty based at the Michael Smith Laboratories at the University of British Columbia. You can find out more about his academic dabblings at http://bioteach.ubc.ca You can follow his twitter @dnghub

UPDATE: read David’s Comments on Northern Voice – Here (05/11)

Northern Voice 2010
So here is the longer story, before anyone really knew about ‘social media’ and when SEO was a slur for a company’s chief executive, a bunch of folks started a ‘blogging’ conference. It started a Robson square in downtown Vancouver and eventually moved to to the University of British Columbia. I’ve been to most (missed last year) and they are amazing. Started using just about everything from WordPress to Twitter in Feburary (when the conference has normally been held).
The regular attendees include both the Vancouver technorati (literally) – Darren Barefoot, Boris Mann, some of the best ‘Edtech’ people I know Darcy Norman, Brian Lamb; and social media mavens like Chris Pirillo, Robert Schoble. Keynotes have included Anil Dash, Dave Sifry, and Matt Mullenweg.
One day is a formal conference schedule, the other is a ‘Bar Camp’ style self organizing sessions on topics of collective interest.
The conference is intentionally kept small to facilitate the group collaboration vibe. In my mind it competes with the likes of SXSW and Gnomedex. Its in Vancouver and its a relatively cheap ticket ($45/day or $70 for both days).
With tools like Second Life, Flock, and Hootsuite coming from many of the people that attend this conference, it has as much online ‘street cred’ as you are like to find this side of San Jose – well maybe Burlingame.
@Northernvoice (twitter)
Flickr pics from NorthernVoice