I’m presenting at the Meeting Professionals International event in London in April: the Europeans Meetings and Events Conference. (Yes, the meta-ness of speaking at a conference about conferences is not lost on me).
I was invited to do something on Web 2.0 and ‘where is technology headed’. After some thought, I’ve written up some notes about social networking, user generated content and virtual worlds in relation to presentations, conferences and events. Inevitably, I ended up thinking mainly about the Backchannel, in its many current forms. Much of that is catching up with what’s been going on in the past few years.
Some of this goes back a long way. In 2003 the New York Times quoted a number of internet thought-leaders…
Some people, of course, ignore speakers entirely by surfing the Web or checking their e-mail — a practice that has led some lecturers to plead for connectionless auditoriums or bans on laptop use. But others are genuinely
interested in a lecturer’s topic and want to talk concurrently about what is being said. They may also like to pass around links to Web sites that relate to, and may refute, a speaker’s point. For them, wireless technology allows a back channel of communication, a second track that reveals their thoughts and feedback and records it all for future reference.
“We’re just moving the corridor into the room and time-shifting it by 30 minutes,” said Mr. [Cory] Doctorow, who takes notes and posts them to his Weblog, or blog, during conferences, enabling people to follow the
speaker and Mr. Doctorow’s take on the speaker at the same time.
“To me, it’s a little irritating, frankly,” said Stewart Butterfield, chief executive of Ludicorp, a company that is developing [Game] Neverending, a multiplayer online game [which would go on to become Flickr]”
Joi Ito: ”I want to make something that I can put in a suitcase and take to conferences,” he said. He describes it as a subversive device that will get people thinking about the significance of the back channel. From the chat
room, he said, ‘”you could send something like, ‘Stop pontificating.'”
That NYT piece also quoted Clay Shirky on in-room chat as a social tool. He has a great paper on the subject on OpenP2P.com from December 2002:
“once the meeting got rolling, the chat room became an invaluable tool”
“Group conversations are exercises in managing interruptions. When someone is speaking, the listeners are often balancing the pressure to be polite with a desire to interrupt, whether to add material, correct or contradict the speaker, or introduce an entirely new theme. These interruptions are often tangential, and can lead to still more interruptions or follow-up comments by still other listeners. Furthermore, conversations that proceed by interruption are governed by the people best at interrupting. People who are shy, polite, or like to take a moment to compose their thoughts before speaking are at a disadvantage.” … “The chat room undid these effects”
One of the interesting things about Clay Shirky’s work on in-meeting chat was the large shared screen showing the chat to everyone (in addition to the personal window into the chat.) Here we see that happening at a Le Blogs 2.0 panel…
Turning the backchannel from a private thing into a public part of the event is something Cote thought about when blogging about the use of Twitter at conference:
“Things get fascinating when people project that backchannel in a public place,if not right behind the speaker. The idea is to weave the “front-channel” and backchannel together as needed. In doing so, the hope is to add even more value to the talk and conference. This kind of thing freaks the crap out of some (most?) presenters, while others are neutral, and some like it.”
Elizabeth Lane Lawley describes herself as a Backchannel Queen:
“I like the IRC banter—and not just for its entertainment value. I find that particularly when a presentation might be rough, or something I’ve heard before, that the feedback loop provided by the other participants, snarky or
not, often helps me see the content in a new light, and immediately increases the value I take out of the experience.”
Teachers are getting into backchannels too:
“The backchannel has really become my favorite tool of choice when I’m presenting. I’ve purchased an inexpensive ad-free chat room at Chatzy that is password protected and use it for my backchannels when I present. I like to find two people to help: one to serve as Google Jockey (a/k/a Link dropper) and another to serve as a moderator — posing questions to me”
All of which brings us nicely up to date. I won’t be quoting all of that in the talk, but it’s now safely in my head. For the glimpse into the future, I’ll be bringing in virtual worlds and and their use in the backchannel (and more) too, but that’s a conversation for another post.