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Northern Voice: Missing Big Conversation, Loving Small Example

Canada's Blogging and Social Media ConferenceThis is take two of a post I started writing yesterday. I’ve tossed that post, but I’ll sum up: I didn’t love the Northern Voice blogging and social-media conference. I enjoyed hanging out with Carol Browne (who also crocheted her badge lanyard), and it rocked to bump into Zak Greant, with whom I’m already enjoying thinking up some fun stuff. Overall, though, I found the sessions were too short or not particularly valuable or both. I see blogging and online social media as being pretty much entirely about conversation, and that was, fairly shockingly, something that was missing from almost every session I attended. Given the predominant attendance by locals, I’d prefer to have individual conversations not in a crowded room, and I doubt I’ll attend next year.

That said, the Saturday keynotes kicked some serious ass, and I did attend two sessions that made me think.

Nora Young of CBC’s Spark radio show and podcast delivered her keynote, of course, about the intersection of technology and culture. She’s brilliant, and her keynote reflected it. If you don’t listen to Spark, you should. She was followed by Rob Cottingham, the only comedian I’ve seen address a niche audience and actually be funny (he was wonderfully funny).

Ok, the two sessions I thought were valuable. The first was Darren Barefoot‘s on “whether there is profundity to be found in social media, what it looks like, and how we can make more of it.” He did a great job of only giving his talk for half the session; unfortunately, the group was too big—and, given we were in a lecture hall, too all-facing-forward—to have a truly interactive conversation about it. But people did participate, and it was great.

Steve Pratt‘s session on CBC Radio 3, though, was the only one that blew my mind. I guess I’d had the impression that the conference as a whole would be a bit higher-level than it was. I wanted to talk theory, I wanted to encounter case studies of good and bad, I wanted to learn. Steve’s session was the only one where I learned. And what I learned is this: CBC Radio 3 is a living, breathing, working example of content distribution gone glaringly, beautifully right.

I work and play online, and I have a fair amount of professional experience in print. And over the last few months, I’ve been paying a lot of attention to the conversation going on amongst publishing types about what on earth to do to save print. Now, I don’t think print is dead, or dying. Well, perhaps the tangible print products we assume must exist in order for the world to spin rightly on its axis might not end up being so plentiful, but text—text is not going to die.

Print people of the old-school variety have been pointing at the music industry and crying, “See? See how digital distribution killed the music industry? We can’t let that happen to print!”

Dude, there’s no crying in progress and innovation.

Print types, please direct your attention to CBC Radio 3. They’re part of the music industry, too, and they’re doing what many publishers should be doing, give or take a thing or two. Here’s what I couldn’t help but tweet during the session because I was so jacked up by what Steve was saying (read from the bottom up; they’re in reverse chronological order):

radio3-tweets

My husband argued with me when I told him how exited I was to see a living, breathing, successful example of all this. His point of contention, of course, is that CBC is publicly funded. He doesn’t fully buy my answer, but I stand by it: When an audience is engaged with a site/person/magazine/whatever; when creators are given control and engagement and are valued; when an audience feels it’s gaining tremendously from its involvement; when that audience feels loyal to it—people will pay for it. They’ll pay for subscriptions, for products, for dues, for whatever as long as they see value in it. Note the bit up there about Radio 3 specifically not shooting for enormity. We’re not talking about a model that would be based on tens of millions of people agreeing to pay up. (Look at Ravelry.) We’re talking about niche content, niche-oriented design, and niche-involvement. Need I say it? Need I go there? Long tail. There. I said it.

Are there other examples of success following this model? I might be in slightly too curmudgeonly a mood to think of any right now. They must exist.

There’s a big, important discussion to be had about this. Lemme know if you want to talk more about it.

(One of the tweets I took out of that montage because I needed to make it fit on one screen to take the screenshot: the one where I say I want to work with Radio 3. Who knows what I could do that they’d want, but that’s irrelevant. What’s relevant? That even just seeing what they’re doing—I hadn’t even ever listened to Radio 3, but I’m listening to it as I write this and it’s kicking Vancouver music radio’s sorry scrawny ass—I wanted to give them a part of my career. I don’t give parts of my career lightly.)

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carolbrowne

I've been listening to the CBC 3 since Saturday night. I'm ashamed to say I found the CBC to be too “old fashioned” for me until now. Doh! I totally HEART the CBC 3 now.

And I think that's the part that I missed in all this – people will pay when they are loyal – so that's a smaller audience and such a different way of thinking than the “sell cheap to the masses”. I hope niche market approach will be the new business model. I want to be a part of it.

I had a lovely time lunching with you! :-)

RobCottingham

A lot of food for thought in this post, Kim. You have me mulling. (And at 2 in the morning.)

Thanks for the kind words about the keynote – I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Raul Pacheco

Hi Kim,

Not sure if you attended the Coping Digitally panel, but that one was one that I think was very much mind-blowing (again, that's just my opinion). You can read some of my liveblogs and maybe some of the content you weren't able to check in other rooms might be useful to you.

http://hummingbird604.com/tag/northernvoice09

I'm in no way defending (or speaking for) Northern Voice 2009. I was very willing not to show up, but I think that in the end, I gained more by actually attending. A lot of the points you make are points I will make sure to raise to the committee next year (regardless of whether they invite me to sit on the committee or not).

Conversations were extremely limited but the truth is, I am guessing this was because they had over 200 submissions for a very small number of panels. Maybe we needed a four day conference? As someone who regularly organizes academic conferences (and give papers at those), I found this one particularly refreshing.

kathy

I was following your tweets from the keynote and feeling like I was totally missing out. I feel better now and I'm grateful for you sharing. I'm boggled that the conversation aspect was overlooked in many ways.

CBC Radio 3 will definitely get some attention from me when I'm back from West. I agree that I don't think “text” will die, but the manner in which it is delivered – well – it won't be the same or at a minimum won't be print alone. I had a magazine send me a survey this week and ask what it would take for me to advertise with them – what are my criteria. As clearly as I could possibly make it within the boundaries of the survey my message was – what support is there beyond print? What can you give me that is measurable, interactive, what will build my community – not just push my stuff.

Okay – deep breath. Thanks for always being a step ahead.

CBC Radio 3 – call Kim, seriously.

Raul Pacheco

Hi Kim,

Not sure if you attended the Coping Digitally panel, but that one was one that I think was very much mind-blowing (again, that's just my opinion). You can read some of my liveblogs and maybe some of the content you weren't able to check in other rooms might be useful to you.

http://hummingbird604.com/tag/northernvoice09

I'm in no way defending (or speaking for) Northern Voice 2009. I was very willing not to show up, but I think that in the end, I gained more by actually attending. A lot of the points you make are points I will make sure to raise to the committee next year (regardless of whether they invite me to sit on the committee or not).

Conversations were extremely limited but the truth is, I am guessing this was because they had over 200 submissions for a very small number of panels. Maybe we needed a four day conference? As someone who regularly organizes academic conferences (and give papers at those), I found this one particularly refreshing.

KathyElkins

I was following your tweets from the keynote and feeling like I was totally missing out. I feel better now and I'm grateful for you sharing. I'm boggled that the conversation aspect was overlooked in many ways.

CBC Radio 3 will definitely get some attention from me when I'm back from West. I agree that I don't think “text” will die, but the manner in which it is delivered – well – it won't be the same or at a minimum won't be print alone. I had a magazine send me a survey this week and ask what it would take for me to advertise with them – what are my criteria. As clearly as I could possibly make it within the boundaries of the survey my message was – what support is there beyond print? What can you give me that is measurable, interactive, what will build my community – not just push my stuff.

Okay – deep breath. Thanks for always being a step ahead.

CBC Radio 3 – call Kim, seriously.

Mr Lanyards

Thanks for Very nice post with a ton of informative information. I really appreciate the fact that you approach these topics from a stand point of knowledge and information
instead of the typical “I think” mentality that you see so much on the internet these days.

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