Attention: the backchannel revisited

Not long before leaving for SXSW, I had posted some some thoughts and notes about ‘the backchannel’. The timing turned out to be pretty good, since the talk within and around SXSW became pretty much all about the various uses of backchannels during the conference. Twitter (which was discovered by many people at SXSW last year) is the obvious one, but there was the official Meebo chat rooms set up for each panel, plus thousands of blog posts. Cote flatteringly described my post as prescient, but it was only accidentally so. It was really something more like coincidence mixed with common sense.

I’m back from SXSW now, and while I’m still absorbing the things I learned, one highlight for me was seeing and taking part in the massive but very varied uses of backchannels during the event. Wired has a piece about a how ‘Meebo Users Plot Revolt During Dull Panels‘, Perfect Porridge talks about an ‘Audience Revolt at the Metrics Panel‘ and Jeremiah Owyang gives four examples of ‘groundswell’ events at SXSW.

The most talked about event, both during and after, was of course the Mark Zuckerberg / Sarah Lacy keynote. It was Live-blogged by CrunchGear, parodied hilariously by Paul Carr, dissected by, BuzzMachine, Brian Solis, Scoble and, well, everyone. Lessons were learned. There was an instant cartoon. GigaOM attempts to ignore the style and focus on the content, as does Lilly Rockwell. Sarah herself has responded here, but one of the more fascinating piece of analysis I’ve seen so far is the post in which Kee Hinckley wrote up some research on the interview, which includes this video (embedded below) of the Twitter messages sent during the interview, overlaid in near-real time with a video of the event.

I’m particularly glad to have this wonderful resource because I missed the keynote.  Our panel was unfortunately scheduled at the same time, but turned out to be quite a different beast. We displayed the official Meebo chat on-screen, for all to see. Dan Heaf, our moderator, took questions from the floor early and often, while several of us were reading and responding to the backchannel chat while it was happening, and weaving it into the panel as we went. The biggest problem was a fairly noticeable lag on the Meebo messages, but I’m very glad we put it up onscreen. It takes courage, and it’s probably easier for a panel than an individual to pay enough attention to it to get the most value from it, but it is something I would do again in an instant.


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  1. “coincidence mixed with common sense”? That’s what prescience is.

    Comment by kyb — March 18, 2008 #

  2. Knowledge of actions or events before they occur; foresight. Unusual or creative discernment or perception. The power to foresee the future.

    I don’t have any of these things. :-)

    Comment by Roo — March 18, 2008 #

  3. Nobody has the power to foresee the future or have knowledge of actions or events before they happen. But sometimes people appear to have that knowledge or power, so they can aptly be called prescience.

    If you want to go about appearing to have that power or knowledge, the path to follow is a mixture of luck and common sense.

    Comment by kyb — March 18, 2008 #

  4. Oh, fair enough. Go on then. :-)

    Comment by Roo — March 18, 2008 #

  5. Anyway, you’re too modest, ‘creative discernment’ sounds like it could be you.

    Comment by kyb — March 18, 2008 #

  6. […] to Roo, I came upon an interesting, in-depth analysis by Kee Hinckley of the Lacy/Zuckerberg keynote at […]

    Pingback by Out to Pasture » Blog Archive » Twitter Mob — March 19, 2008 #

  7. […] Reynolds has a worthwhile piece about backchannels at the recent SXSW. [Note to self. You were born in the wrong country to be at Yasgur’s farm. […]

    Pingback by Twitterprompter? — March 28, 2009 #

  8. […] at various points during the day. Regular readers will know that I’ve long been fascinated by backchannels and how they’re used at live events. The tool the Guardian were using today (developed […]

    Pingback by Guardian Activate 09 - Roo Reynolds — July 1, 2009 #

  9. […] Cliff Atkinson (, author of Beyond Bullet Points, opened the conference with a keynote called, “The Presentation Evangelist: How to change the world, one deck at a time.” He challenged the audience, many of whom consult or provide internal presentation advice within their companies, to become superheroes in the quest for better presentations. For example, presentation specialists can pull a meaningful story from a bunch of bullet points and help presenters understand design elements and the audience’s point of view. He said that the value of a presentation specialist is in getting results and urged the audience not to think in terms of x dollars per hour. By the way, Cliff is coming out with a new book, The Back Channel, about Twitter, chat room and other comments that go on while a presenter is talking. He told us about some of the events where the back channel became an event in itself. One example, from the SXSW conference is discussed here. […]

    Pingback by Back from the PPTLive conference! « PowerPoint Tips Blog — October 18, 2009 #

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