Conferences On-Line Science On-line 2011
In the past year, I have “attended” a number of on-line meetups such as the on-line ColdFusion meetup that is held weekly and hosted by Charlie Arehart. He gets a number of really good speakers to talk about topics that ColdFusion developers are interested in so it is easy to take part through Adobe Connect sessions. If you aren’t familiar with Adobe Connect, it allows a speaker to share out their desktop and speak while showing an on-line audience their presentation.
I had wondered if this could be a good way to put together a conference. Traveling to a conference is becoming more difficult and annoying. Travel in general (especially by air) has gone beyond annoying to down right awful. It is expensive and extremely tiring (at my age.) Hotel rooms, rental cars, and all the other expenses make attending an out of town conference difficult if not impossible for many people. So what if we could have an on-line conference? Would it work? Would you learn anything? Would you miss the personal contacts and late night bar discussions?
I thought of all this as I watched the SciO11 conference sessions on-line last weekend. Science Online 2011 is a science bloggers conference that has been held for the last few years. It attracts many highly regarded people from all over the US and other countries. I didn’t get into the 2010 conference and I looked forward to this one, but ended up on the waiting list after getting delayed at lunch when the registration opened. It was full in less than 15 minutes of so and I came in about 5 minutes later. So I waited on the list and eventually could have registered, but it seemed like I had too much going on to attend. I had not prepared myself for it and was pretty tired after a stressful week.
All this leads up to the on-line conference experience. I watched four or five sessions of SciO11 in whole or in part. Two of the five rooms were live streamed. I got a lot out of the session video and the chat helped as you could ask questions and give comments. I did not feel I got much of the experience of the conference though. Twitter helped as I followed the stream, but there were many interruptions as I tried to follow the discussion. Sometimes the audio would fade out as people didn’t use the microphones. I also didn’t get to meet people which is a big part of a conference. Networking is a big part of the conference experience.
In all, I don’t think watching on-line is much of a substitute for being at the conference. It is better than nothing, but I think the technology would need to advance tremendously for me to get a quality conference experience on-line. I know that a number of people have discussed the idea in the past, but I just don’t think it would be much value. The difficulty with an on-line SciO11 may be in part due to the unconference format. A conference that was mostly presentations that were structured with less audience participation might be more effective.
Technology and travel cost will probably make the on-line conference idea come to life, but I don’t think it will appear anytime soon. There will be more on-line experiences such as watching session video, podcasts, and videocasts. However, the live experience is definitely the best way.