This last Friday and Saturday I spent in the company of 250 or so people who self-define as contributors to the Net, at Northern Voice 2009. On the one hand, it’s like being in a warm bath; everyone here thinks it’s normal to want to tell your story to the world, usually on more than one channel. On the other, everyone goes around talking about “Social Media”; the clock is totally ticking on the time when you can do that unironically. Having said that, our traditional media are looking pathetically clapped-out and we are sure as hell going to need something to fill the gaps. With pictures.

Roland Tanglao films Derek Miller

Roland Tanglao making a 15-second video clip of Derek Miller.

The video is for the Mozilla Net Effects program, and you can see the videos shot that day, including one of me.

Are fifteen-second self-referential self-indulgent videos going to replace Big Broadcast Media? Doesn’t seem likely, on the other hand, certain segments of Big Broadcast Media are having their business model snatched out from under them. After they plunge like Wile E. Coyote into the canyon and the dust clears, something is going to have to replace them and the only way to find out what is experimentation.

Is Growth Good? · The conference was a hit, in that most people seemed to go away real happy, and in that it sold out, sans marketing, in a couple of days. On the other hand, with a little marketing and a bigger venue, its size could easily be doubled, probably. But could it retain its low-rent high-interaction geeks-and-newbs-together decent-gender-balance charm?

As whatever-it-is-we’re-building expands into the impact craters and burnouts left by the ungraceful shrinkage of incumbents, can we remain, as Stewart Butterfield eloquently put it, “Relationship-Based Media”? Or maybe that’s orthogonal to size; you could make an argument that there’s never been any other kind, but I wouldn’t believe it.

On Recording · Speaking of Stewart, I’ve kind of ignored Flickr for years because I went to quite a lot of work to set up the photo-publishing framework you are now looking at the results of. But it seems to be enriching the lives of many photographers, so I’ve given in; you can go check out the whole set of conference photos from which the seven here are taken.

Photographer at Northern Voice 2009
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Photographers at Northern Voice 2009

There’s no doubt that we are in the golden age of photography; Northern Voice was extravagantly over-recorded, and in the near future you’ll be able to watch comprehensive video of pretty well the whole thing; and multiple takes on lots of it.

Journalists have historically been “professional” due to the short-lived (in historical terms) anomaly whereby newspaper classifieds and 30-second TV spots were obscenely, ridiculously profitable. As these become thin on the ground, we obviously need not worry that important events are going unrecorded; see above. But that doesn’t replace the rest of journalism: synthesis, extracting a plausible narrative from the often baffling turns of observed events.

So who’s going to do that? We can and should hope that some sort of journalism-supporting business model will emerge. In the interim, pardon me for going all socialist here, but if one believes that there is a public interest in the occurrence of quality journalism, perhaps a resurgence of public broadcasting is in order? In particular at a time when, per Keynesian conventional wisdom, governments everywhere are scrambling to find “shovel-ready” places to invest stimulative money? Journalism doesn’t take much ramping up, the online flavor is not capital-intensive, and the output adds value to society.

Consider the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s CBC Radio 3; online-only, trying with considerable success to amplify the considerable energy and creativity of grass-roots music. In my wildest dreams I imagine its analogue for news: a certain amount of centralized infrastructure, talent-spotting, and professionalism swimming like a fish in the ocean of bloggers and Twitterers and Flickrers to get stories out that otherwise would go unheard.

People · Some are more equal than others; deal with it.

Nancy White at Northern Voice 2009

This is Nancy White. She participated in a whole bunch of sessions, and people came away smiling every time. I didn’t manage to come away with a good picture of any of the graphics she left behind, jazz-flavored improvisation with whatever on paper. If you’re at any event where she’s giving any kind of a session, you probably want to go.

Kris Krug at Northern Voice 2009
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Lauren Wood at Northern Voice 2009

Kris Krug and Lauren Wood, two of Northern Voice’s half-dozen-or-so organizers.

The way Northern Voice happened is, a bunch of local people who were contributing to the Net without asking permission decided to put together an event about contributing to the Net, without asking permission. They’ve done it five times now. They do it part-time, they don’t get paid, they get stressed-out but they have fun. The hierarchs of Web 2.0 will intone snottily: “that doesn’t scale”. Well, except for there are people like this in every city. I’ve always loathed the very idea of the Web 2.0 Summit, where the great and the good and anyone else with a lot of money can get together, exclusive of the Morlocks who actually build the sucker, and intone as to how it’s all gonna play out. The whole point of the thing is about imagination and engineering flowing in from the edges, not down from the summit. Occurrences like Northern Voice, growing organically in a thousand cities, would be so much more appropriate. But nobody’d rake in the big-time dough for being authoritatively meta.

Talking about Talking · I got to make a small contribution on Friday, the officially-unconference Moose Camp day; I facilitated PhotoCamp, where a room-full of people spend 90 minutes talking about taking and publishing pictures. I’m not going to try to summarize, because it was too loose and unstructured and flowing.

PhotoCamp at Northern Voice 2009

I was worried about getting people unjammed, so I opened by saying “Hi. How about we start by all grabbing our cameras and taking pictures of each other taking pictures of each other.” There was maybe a half-second’s worth of blank stares, then everyone was clickin’ and grinnin’.

And that’s one of the nastiest criticisms of what we’re all up to here: That we spend too much time blogging about blogging and tweeting about twittering and generally self-reinforcing to no good end.

I don’t really buy it. The proper study of mankind is man; language and conversation are after all defining characteristics of Homo sapiens and I think it’s important to devote some part of our conversation about ourselves to our conversation about ourselves.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Gene Blishen (Feb 23 2009, at 20:43)


Thank you for your contribution. You've put Northern Voice in a perspective that sometimes is forgotten. Wished we would have had more time in the photography session. But there is always next year.


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