The Northern Voice Vibe

On Friday, @granvillemag made the common observation that Robert looks more than a little like Philip Seymour Hoffman. Robert and Maryam came up for this year’s Northern Voice.

That comparison reminded me that I’d had the same thought when I met Robert back in 2004. At the time Boris generously invited me to a kind of impromptu geek lunch in Yaletown. Robert and Maryam were there, as were Tim and Lauren, Stewart, Cal, Roland (hey, I like the new theme). I met all of them for the first time. As it happens, we talked about how Vancouver could host a conference about this ‘weblogging’ thing. Northern Voice was borne over Thai food.

I mention all of those folks not to be a name-dropping douchebag, but to highlight my favourite thing about Northern Voice: the vibe. I think the conference maintains a lot of the easy, inclusive attitude of that day. I attend a lot of formal and informal events, and Northern Voice seems to strike a happy medium of sufficiently organized chaos. I can’t say for sure, but I get the sense that that (dare I say it?) energy makes it easy to meet new people, and hopefully diminishes some of the social barriers that exist at other events.

Almost everybody at that lunch attended this year’s Northern Voice. Maybe that’s a reflection of the current conference’s comfortable atmosphere?

I think Gnomedex was probably a big influence on Northern Voice’s vibe, as several early organizers had previously attended Chris’s great events. They have a similar feeling of a level, open playing field. I’d also give some credit to the conference venue. The Forest Sciences Centre has a gorgeous atrium and seating area that encourages casual interaction.

The Best Northern Voice Yet

A couple of people I spoke to said that this version of Northern Voice was the best one yet. I’d tend to agree. A big congratulations to the organizers who did a great job with everything, from recruiting sponsors in difficult times to building a really strong speaker lineup. A few observations that struck me about the weekend:

  • The conference is so much more diverse than it was five years ago. In the first year, I remember that the crowd was 80% male. This year we did a quick count and it turned out to be about 55% male, 45% female. It’s a sausage party no longer. I have no proof of this, but it also feels more diverse in terms of the age and ethnicity of attendees.
  • When one of the organizers asked “how many people are new to the conference this year”, at least 60% or 70% of those in the audience put up their hand. That’s really terrific, not what I expected, and probably reflective of Northern Voice’s popularity problem.
  • There were some sponsor prizes to give away, so I helped Travis devise some fiendish, space-specific trivia questions to ask using the Northern Voice Twitter account. My favourite question was “how many mustachioed men were in the 1948 Forestry program graduating class?” The graduating class portraits were hung on the walls of the building, so you had to hunt the right one down. Surprisingly, the correct answer was “two”.

I happened to notice that the registration list for PodCamp Toronto is about 850 people long. They’ve obviously got a much larger population base to draw upon, but I can imagine that Northern Voice could be nearly that big if it wanted to be. I think that’s the most important question going forward: how big does the conference want to be?

Photo by John Biehler


  1. hey,the kid was being born so i wasn’t at the lunch, i was there in spirit though and yeah cal probably wishes he could be at Northern Voice, love to see him sometime and finally the theme is the acquia drupal theme

  2. I invited you, only in the sense that I found out about the event when I got home in the middle of the night and knew it was something that you would be in to, so I let emailed you so you wouldn’t miss it.

    And man, doesn’t that feel like a long time ago.

    Northern Voice next year will be interesting. Especially since timing will have to move because of the Olympics.

  3. 1948 wasn’t a big year for moustaches — you need to go back a few decades. And I don’t think Northern Voice should get much bigger, not because it couldn’t handle more streams, but because the in-between and keynote/all-in-one times would require a much bigger and more impersonal venue. Even BarCamp Van 2008 at Granville Island felt too haphazard with sessions too far apart in different buildings.

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