Thursday, November 5, 2009

Virtual Conferences

In a previous post I mentioned attending the Enterprise 2.0 conference being held in Boston MA...only I was not able to be in Boston... I was sitting in my home office in Cary NC.

Today, I upped my game and simultaneously attended Enterprise 2.0 from San Francisco CA and the Internet Summit from Raleigh NC. Plus I did some billable work for a client and was writing this post. Can I have a productive day? OR am I evolving to the attention span of a squirrel. Anyway, here is how I would compare the two conferences from a virtual attendance perspective:

Enterprise 2.0
This conference offers a quality virtual experience. There are several remote mechanisms offered to gather information:
Twitter - #e2conf 2719 followers, On a typical full conference day there were 17 tweets from the conference. However, approximately 1500 tweets related to the conference occurred in the same time period. For example,

RT @ terrigriffith: Linden Labs brilliant. Gifted laser pointers allowed responses to ?s shown on screen
BTW I thought the use of the lasers for audience participation is cool but they need to give me a virtual laser as well.

Facebook - 881 fans, There are a posts for each of the sessions, posts by exhibitors, and posts by participants.
LinkedIn - 50 members, 1 discussion posted. This is a weaker presence for this conference.
Video on Demand - David Berlind hosts demo presentations from the exhibit floor. Each session is about 10 minutes and what I like is that David asks some penetrating questions that expose weaknesses as well as strengths of the vendor's product.
Streaming Video - The A/V team uses multiple camera shots with some good closeups of the speaker and interweave slide images into the stream. Well managed scheduling.

Conference Blog - The blog is written by approximately 8 people and includes immediate summary of current conference presentations (e.g. Integrating Google Wave into the Enterprise) but also has entries between conferences (e.g. 10 posts in September).

Internet Summit -
This conference also focuses on the emerging web technologies and business models with content that covers both enterprise as well as consumer use of the web. They support the following virtual attendance tools:

Twitter - #isum09, 777 followers, all conference status posts. There were approximately 225 tweets per hour from individuals during the conference at mid day. Lots of commentary of speaker points that correlate directly with the video stream.
Facebook - 155 fans, 22 posts mainly status announcements.
Video on Demand - Replay of the main tent sessions.
Streaming Video - The A/V work is a little rough in a few areas 1) Listening to Richard Jalichandra of Technorati and was not able to see the slides he was showing. 2) Just before a session was to start the A/V person turned on the video of the stage including mikes that picked up some amusing "open mike" comments from the speakers. 3) They have a background music channel that they sometimes forget to turn off when the presentation starts.
However, during one panel session I experienced a first for me... the speaker was referencing a good book "Naked Conversations" by Scoble and Israel... while continuing to listen to the panel, I reached over to my Kindle, found the book online, and purchased / downloaded it.

I enjoyed both conferences but think the better virtual conference goes to Enterprise 2.0 put on by TechWeb.

So what is coming over the horizon? Recently, Ruven Cohen hosted a beta CloudCamp in the Cloud. This was a completely virtual event. A replay is available on UStream
So why is this not just a webinar? Well during the unpanel session the participating audience could ask questions which would be displayed and then people could raise their hands (virtually) to discuss the question raised.
I think that using a better social networking platform for real-time sharing of data / voice / video will give a better result.
There have also been several virtual conferences held in Second Life. The New Media Consortium (NMC) has thousands of members who participate in virtual conferences. The nice thing about a second life conference is the immerse experience... your avatar walks around the conference, talking with speakers and other participants, strolling through an exhibitor floor and even participating in pre/post conference social events. Unlike the remote participation in conferences like the two discussed above, the second life conference gives me the opportunity to actively contribute. After a virtual conference session I can walk up to the presenter and introduce myself and ask a question. What is lacking, is the ultimate realism of being at a real life conference or even watching a presenter over a good video stream. A lot of subtle communications is non verbal through facial expressions and hand gestures. Perhaps someday we will have technology that captures real time video of our faces and renders that onto an avatar.

Given the cost of travel and time away from work I imagine that more and more conferences will be moving to remote access it not complete virtual participation.