New theme, new enthusiasm

It’s been a long time since I last posted anything here and some of that has been to do with the fact that I became frustrated by the WordPress [wp] theme I was using. Although I liked the design, the theme had limitations. I couldn’t change the sidebar to take advantage of the power of WordPress.

So, after much deliberation I decided to find a new theme, tweak it to suit my needs and uppdate the site. I’m hoping that the ability to play with widgets [wpw] will renew my enthusiasm for blogging as I’ve missed out on posting so much over the last few months.

Anyway, here’s to the re-launch.

Keynote un-musings from Northern Voice

Where to start? As I’d previously mentioned I’ve adopted WordPress as my platform of choice for this blog and today the founding developer of this open source application, Matt Mullenweg [wiki], gave the conference key note. Okay, I don’t mind admitting that I knew nothing about Matt other than his WordPress and Akismet achievements so it was both refreshing and surprising to find out that the guy’s not even reached his mid 20’s yet. What I really find refreshing is that Matt seems to be indicative of what this community is about, open, approachable and ready to share experience.

I was briefly speaking with my wife, Lesley, this morning and, okay, a touch heavy for 8am on a Saturday morning, but I was remarking on how I felt that as a tail-end ‘baby-boomer’ and pre Gen-Xer, there are times that I feel I sit in both camps, or indeed neither.
I don’t really subscribe to the material wealth and financial security thing on one hand, but through years of work there have been times when reasonable financial reward has led to what could be suggested as a comfortable life. But what’s been the end result of the years of toil?

Emigration to Canada has allowed for a real time of reflection as I view a healthy but declining bank balance, and no property, nor the likelihood of affording property in this white hot market. Some might say what a travesty, what a waste, but my values have been shifting for some time and, I seriously question what I’ve achieved over the years. I don’t fit the boomer profile of achievement, nor failure for that matter. To use that ‘oft quoted tech phrase, it’s been a vanilla life. Go figure. Now don’t get me wrong, a fantastic marriage and 2 great kids rate right up there as relationships are the hardest thing to maintain – it takes effort, but what else? Again, some might say that I should be happy with that (marriage and kids) as a contribution and for some that’s fine. Some isn’t me though. Mid-life crises I hear you cry, well maybe that’s a name that’s too often used. I’d prefer to call it reflection rather than crisis. Crisis is really associated with calamity or catastrophe, and reflection to me is more about a period of introspection before moving on. However, moving on to what?

That’s where I come back to the keynote. Matt touched on bloggers seeking expression through the presentation of their blog as well as the content – the need to personalise, not just fly with a standard theme or template. I actually think, that’s where I’m at, not wanting to fly with the standard template. Matt also suggested that from a communication perspective, form dictates writing and this led to his assertion that software should be invisible to facilitate creativity. I’m with him on that, open the world to non-tech savvy and a greater pool of talent will hopefully appear. Other areas covered were about respecting people’s time (something that rarely happens in this 24/7/365 life) by being able to filter the noise that can exist online from advertising. In a final pitch for participation in developing open source applications Matt used a nice paraphrase from JFK – “It’s not what your software can do for you, it’s what you can do for your software”. Feedback helps developers and better apps will be crafted by constructive feedback, so be involved.

This really didn’t end up as the post I’d thought it would be. It’s strange how listening to what many would consider to be a geeky keynote, can spark the mind off in all sorts of directions. Hey, the joys of blogging.

A good start to the day, Matt was engaging, humorous and thoughtful. I wish him every success in his life.

Getting a better Northern Voice

Come the afternoon, come more sessions.

Although I’m fairly well read in some areas, wiki’s are still an area that, if not a black art, are still unfamiliar. What better way to start to plug the gap than by checking out wiki101 with Stewart Mader. This was a really useful session as it opened up a new ways for me to consider how or why I would use wiki’s in the future.
Again, for the uninitiated a wiki is a website or page that can be edited anyone, or protected if that’s what you want. The biggest challenge for someone just entering business i, if I was to use a wiki, how much would I put ‘out there’. There’s the chance that allowing collaboration will create a better end result, however, I wouldn’t want to give away the crown jewels either. One to think about.

Next up was a session on SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). It wasn’t what I was expecting but still dead useful as Linda Bustos provided some great examples of how sites, using the power of keywords, tags and titles could rate really highly in the cherished search engine front page stakes. I think the gem for me was, in my words, go viral, get noticed.

Towards the end of the afternoon I finally bumped in to John and Rebecca. We haven’t seen each other since first meeting in June 07, so it was great to at least say hi. The bonus was some top tips from John on dissecting WordPress.
John’s pulled WordPress around a number of times and his work for a friend traveling the world is top quality, check out John’s post and move on the NoBoundaries.

Last session of the day was an inspiring walk through what can be done with WordPress as a Content Management System [wiki]. Alan Levine of CogDogBlog took us on a tour of “really cool sites that don’t look like blogs, but run on blog software”. I use WordPress to power this site and even though I’ve hardly touched the theme, it’s really encouraging to see what can be done using the platform. Both John and Alan have fired me up to use WordPress as the engine for my next business website.

Final thanks of an enjoyable first day must go to Rahel of Intentional Design Inc who kindly gave me a lift home and is also providing a lift on Saturday.

When I take in to consideration the facilities, lunch being provided, the quality of speakers and the sense of community, day one of Northern Voice 08 was worth the $60 conference fee alone, and day 2, the ‘real’ conference is still to come.

Learning to fly – Northern Voice 08

One great thing about being in BC is the easy access to events that would really bypass sleepy Kent back in the UK. Today was my introduction to Northern Voice, a 2 day blogging/social media event, held out at UBC. If I’m honest, the journey took as long as it would have taken to get in to central London, but hey, the mountain views are better here.

Something that may be unfamiliar to some is the concept of the unconference. Put simply, participants create the sessions at the event. So, rather than hit the pre-announced sessions I decided to check out the ad-hoc sessions. There’s nothing like diving in, and my first session was the political use of blogging, which actually turned out to be a fairly civil event.
The presenters, Kathleen Milberry and Marc Lee outlined their use of blogging in the world of activism. Nothing earth shattering from either presenters or delegates which in some ways I find encouraging. Even though I’m late to the game, my hands-off, watching how blogging has developed over the last few years, has stood me in good stead and I’m comfortable with the hows whats and whys.

The next session was loosely based on citizen journalism, led by Lisa Johnson of the CBC. It seems that the Your Story pages of the CBC website haven’t existed for that long, which I found surprising as Sky and the BBC have been providing this kind of space for ‘Joe Public’ for what seems like an age, especially the ‘your photos’ areas. Many people I speak to have the perception that Europe/UK is ahead of Canada in a lot of respects – environment, mobile phones and banking to name a few. It would seem that I need to add Citizen Journalism to the list.

A fair start and there’s lots more to come over the next day and a half.